Can lactose intolerant babies drink breast milk?
In this article, we will answer the question, “Can lactose intolerant babies drink breast milk?” and clarify the most common doubts about lactose consumption by lactose intolerant babies.
Can lactose-intolerant babies drink breast milk?
Yes, lactose intolerant babies can drink breast milk in most cases, it only must be avoided if it’s congenital (due to genetic factors) if your baby has a major intestinal disease, or if an inability to digest galactose (galactosemia) (1).
Lactose has many important biological functions, such as contributing to milk production, protecting against diseases by stimulating the immune system, and helping in the modulation of the babies’ gut microbiota (2).
Does breast milk contain lactose?
Yes, breast milk contains lactose, it’s the main carbohydrate present in breast milk, and is an important component of more complex carbohydrates like human milk oligosaccharides, that contribute to babies’ health (2).
Lactose in breast milk also represents a relevant source of energy, along with lipids, so for the ideal growth of babies, lactose is present, and breast milk shouldn’t be avoided unless lactose strongly compromises your baby’s health (confirmed by a healthcare professional).
Is lactose safe for lactose intolerant babies?
Yes, lactose is safe for the majority of lactose intolerant babies, but remember that it all depends on the presence and severity of symptoms, even minor diarrhea doesn’t overcome the benefits of breast milk (3).
Lactose intolerance in babies, also requires an adequate diagnosis, the consumption of breast milk and the presence of diarrhea doesn’t mean avoiding immediate breast milk because of lactose, to the contrary, if you avoid breast milk, symptoms may worsen (2).
Remember to get professional health care advice if you aren’t sure if your baby is lactose intolerant, and to avoid the misconception that lactose is harmful to health, babies need lactose from breast milk to grow healthy(3).
Why are babies lactose intolerant?
Babies may be lactose intolerant because of genetic predisposition, but it represents very few cases, also intestinal diseases may cause lactose intolerance, but this may be reversible with adequate treatment in most cases (3).
If you are wondering if your baby is lactose intolerant, it is a legitimate concern, lactose intolerance around the world is about 65%, but most of it starts once we consume different food rather than milk (4).
Remember that lactose intolerance always needs a confirmed diagnosis, most babies produce an adequate amount of lactase, so lactose may be well tolerated, so make sure to visit a healthcare professional, to dispel doubts.
Is there better milk for lactose intolerant babies?
Yes, the best milk for most lactose intolerant babies is breast milk, the majority of babies when born produce adequate amounts of lactase ( the enzyme required to metabolize lactose) (3), and the health outcomes overcome its avoidance.
But, If your baby has a confirmed diagnosis of lactose intolerance and the symptoms are severe, then you may find free lactose formulas but remember to use them only with a confirmed diagnosis and that lactose compromises your baby’s health.
You may also find plant-based formulas “free of lactose”, but those are not recommended, they don’t have adequate nutritional properties, in addition to the lack of bioactive components typical in breast milk (2).
Is there a way to reduce lactose in breast milk?
No, there’s no way to reduce lactose in breast milk, remember that lactose is an important nutrient in breast milk, inherent and necessary, it’s produced by all mammals and present in their milk (5).
Also, the consumption of lactose by the mother has no direct association with the lactose content in breast milk, indeed with more milk production more lactose has been found in breast milk (6).
In this article, we answered the question, “Can lactose intolerant babies drink breast milk?” and clarified the most common doubts about lactose consumption by lactose intolerant babies.
1. Castellano VE, Giglio ND, Pacchiotti AC, Gentile Á. Lactose intolerance: myths and facts. An update. Arch Argent Pediatr [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 18];120(1):46–53.
2. Zhang S, Li T, Xie J, Zhang D, Pi C, Zhou L, et al. Gold standard for nutrition: a review of human milk oligosaccharide and its effects on infant gut microbiota. Microbial Cell Factories 2021 20:1 [Internet]. 2021 May 28 [cited 2023 Jun 19];20(1):1–16.
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