Lactaid is a lactase enzyme supplement made for people who have trouble digesting lactose in milk and other milk products. Although Lactaid benefits many lactose-intolerant people, it is simply unsafe for use in infants and younger babies. Lactaid milk is not a safe substitute for milk either. So, if your baby has lactose intolerance, you can opt for lactose-free formula milk instead. Breastmilk does contain lactose but is generally tolerable for most babies. However, breastfeeding is still recommended unless your baby’s intolerance is severe that it hampers his growth, but this condition is rare.
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What is Lactaid?
Lactaid markets a line of milk or tablet supplement products intended to help digest lactose in dairy.
Lactaid products contain lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose into digestible sugars.
Dairy foods contain sugars, and Lactaid works by breaking those sugars down. In this form, the digestive system can easily process milk without stomach discomfort.
Lactaid milk contains similar nutrients found in regular milk.
The only difference perhaps is in their taste since Lactaid milk tastes slightly sweeter because of the broken-down sugars.
Lactose intolerance in infants
Lactose is the sugars – glucose and galactose – found in milk and dairy products.
As a carbohydrate, it is an important source of energy for babies. It is also necessary to enhance the absorption and retention of other minerals and aid the baby’s growth and development.
Unfortunately, some conditions and instances disable the baby from digesting lactose, which results in lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance (LI) is rare in full-term infants but more prevalent in premature babies, toddlers, and older children.
All babies are born with lactase, the enzyme that digests the sugar or lactose in milk and its products.
As a person grows out of infancy, lactase tends to decrease. When there is a reduction or absence of lactase, the body will not break down lactose, leading to malabsorption.
The undigested lactose will pass into the gut and gets broken down by the bacteria. The process causes gas and acid that results in various digestive upsets.
It is often hard to diagnose lactose intolerance. Some people may display stomach discomfort, but others may not manifest symptoms at all.
Doctors diagnose LI when the baby has recurrent infectious diarrhea or rotavirus. They may also perform a hydrogen breath test and check the stool acidity.
If they suspect lactose intolerance, the physicians may refer you to a pediatric gastroenterologist (GI).
The GI may then perform a biopsy by doing an endoscopy to measure the lactase level in the child’s intestine.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance
It is also observed when a child experiences symptoms within a few minutes to an hour after drinking milk.
Other products with lactose are cheese, ice cream, cream, yogurt, or butter.
Lactose intolerance is difficult to diagnose in infants because its symptoms mimic the signs of other common tummy problems.
Below are some of the signs, but according to AAP, babies may have them even if they are not lactose intolerant at all:
- Loose stools
- Frothy or bubbly poop
- Bloating and tummy pain
- Rumbling tummy
- Nappy rash
- Irritability and fussiness
- Attachment problems when breastfeeding
- Failure to gain weight
Causes of lactose intolerance
The inability of the body to produce lactase has three causes:
- Lactase non-persistence (hypolactasia) is the most common cause of lactose intolerance. It happens when the child’s lactase enzymes gradually decrease in infancy. But, children with hypolactasia can often tolerate a small amount of lactose in their diet.
- Congenital lactase deficiency (Alactasia) is a rare genetic condition that occurs when babies are born without lactase. If a child has Alactasia, he will have poor growth and may need a special diet to help his physiological development.
- Secondary Lactose Intolerance is short-term that happens when a child has digestive infections. Gastroenteritis can cause temporary damage to the lining of the intestine. It will result in short-term lactose intolerance that usually clears after a week.
If your baby can tolerate a small amount of lactose, don’t worry.
There is a fair chance that he will outgrow it eventually. Feeding him a small amount of lactose at a time will gradually increase his tolerance.
Meanwhile, babies with congenital lactase deficiency will have a special diet guided by a pediatrician or dietician. Often, they wean off breastmilk and are restricted from lactose for life, depending on the severity.
For secondary lactose intolerance, it is advisable to continue breastfeeding. If formula-feeding, doctors may recommend switching formula for a limited trial.
Some moms may switch back to the old formula milk after the stomach bug is cured, which is fine.
Lactase enzymes for treating lactose intolerance
Lactose is still an important nutrient needed by the body, especially in growing children. Thus, they cannot be weaned out of it unless in severe cases of alactasia.
Oral lactase supplements like Lactaid may be able to ameliorate the deficiency, but only for the short term and whenever applicable.
Lactaid supplements come in different formulations: drops, original, extra, ultra, and fast-act.
Lactase drops are often added to milk to break down the sugars before feeding. But its use should be according to the physician’s discretion, especially for children under four years of age.
Lactaid milk is likewise not recommended as a milk substitute for children under one-year-old.
The doctor’s advice for the best milk or supplement can change according to the child’s age. So, always check with your physician for the proper diagnosis, evaluation, and recommendation if you suspect infant lactose intolerance.
What is the available lactose-free milk substitute?
Plant-based milk like soy, almond, hemp, rice, and oat milk are lactose-free milk.
These are ideal for toddlers, but parents should ensure that the child also gets lactose from other sources.
Please note that soy milk is not advisable for babies under six months of age.
Are lactose intolerance and milk allergy the same?
No, it may share the same symptoms, but milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is the inability of the digestive system to break down lactose because of low or inexistent lactase enzymes.
Milk allergy is an immune response to milk and milk products, most common in cow’s milk. Milk allergy is also noticeable in the first year of life.
Lactose intolerance is more prevalent after infancy and may persist until adolescence and adulthood.
I have lactose intolerance. Can I breastfeed my baby?
Yes, you can. Breastfeeding your baby will not put him at any health risk or cause him to acquire lactose intolerance through the breastmilk.
Lactose is an important mineral needed for the baby’s growth and development. However, there are chances – short-term or lifetime – when a baby cannot metabolize lactose.
It results in lactose intolerance that can cause some digestive symptoms. Therefore, you must consult your doctor when you suspect lactose intolerance in your child, regardless of age.
He might recommend switching to formula or supplementing with lactase enzymes or other appropriate alternatives.