LilM is a lactose intolerant baby. It is very rare for children to be born with this issue but not unheard of. Most of us get this issue in one form or the other (yup! most of us...read on to get shocked about just how common this really is) sometime during adolescence or in adulthood. Which is why I thought of this blog for the benefit of other parents out there. A lot of this stuff is available on the internet, but I had to read through many sites and also discuss with our doctor to get a clear understanding. So, I thought I will just put it all in one place and make it easier for you.  Today, we are talking about everything related to Lactose Intolerance.

(digressing a little here) Speaking of gyaan, it is amazing how almost all moms will have some information on child development, health, medicines and common home remedies for stuff like the flu and the like. My mom is also like this one encyclopedia on medicines. She keeps saying that by the time you have two grown children, you become half a doctor. Something I understand now, because i am just going to go all scientific here, in spite of my non-medical background. (end of digression)

WHAT IS LACTOSE INTOLERANCE?

Lactose is a sugar that is found in the milk of all mammals. (including humans). Our breast milk, Cow’s milk, buffalo’s milk etc all have lactose in it. Our intestines have to produce an enzyme called ‘lactase‘ to break down lactose into smaller units that can be absorbed by our body. When our body does not produce lactase, or produces it in a small quantity you are officially, lactose intolerant. In a way, Lactose intolerance is actually lactase deficiency.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LACTOSE INTOLERANCE? 

Without lactase to break it down, undigested lactose just stays in our intestines with nowhere to go. The bacteria in our digestive tract, really love this lactose-thing. They ferment it and you are left with the feeling of bloating, gas etc.  Common symptoms of this intolerance in your baby include:

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Bloating
  3. Gurgling sound near the tummy
  4. Gas and/or tummy pain
  5.  Frothy or very loose stools
  6. Reddish rash (could be like blisters) around the anus

Many of these symptoms are common in babies in the first few months because their little digestive systems are just getting set up. So, make sure you keep your baby’s doctor posted on the developing symptoms to be sure about what you are looking at. Our doctor told us to wait for a bit, to make sure of a diagnosis. There is no test as such for this, but experienced doctors can tell from your family history, the type of rashes and stools.

LACTOSE INTOLERANCE VS COW’S MILK ALLERGY (CMA)/MILK PROTEIN ALLERGY 

Lactose Intolerance is related to your digestive system’s inability to deal with a nutrient, whereas Cow Milk Allergy/dairy Allergy is your immune system over-reacting to a particular milk protein. So for CMA apart from the symptoms of the lactose intolerance you may also notice some allergic reaction (say, on the skin, maybe even in the respiratory system).

Lactose Intolerance is different from your regular food allergy, though symptomatically there are similarities, which is another good reason to pick it up with your doctor even if you are sure about which one your baby has.

 WHAT CAUSES LACTOSE INTOLERANCE? 

Genetics is the No.1 reason for this. When our doctor told us this, I just thought it meant, I got it from my maternal side and my child got it from me. But there is so much more to this! Worldwide, 75% of Africa, 50% of Europe, 35% of America and almost all of Asia is lactose intolerant. Studies attribute this trend to the early rise of the pastoral communities in the Europe, they then brought dairy rich diet with them to the places they colonised, but since those colonised communities (like India) are still new to this source of nutrition, our genetic pool is still only in the process of adapting, while the European genes are already loving dairy and all that is lactose.

Even within India, it is said that South Indians are more prone to it. This is because most of North India is basically descending from the Aryan race who were an early pastoral community and well adjusted to the consumption of dairy,  while a lot of South India descends from the Dravidian race where this is relatively new.

Like me you might also be stunned by the figures related to Asia; because hey! every second person you know does not have this problem!! Heck! you’ve never even heard of it till your kid got it! This is because the intolerance seen in adults is most often temporary and very mild. Some of us can take-in some amount of lactose everyday, and since we have never really overdosed on it, we do not know what the repercussions will be. So, a lot of times in adults it goes unnoticed because we do not make the connection between the condition and the symptoms as they appear only occasionally.

HOW DO WE WORK AROUND IT?

  1. Remove all Dairy products from your child’s diet
  2. Pay attention to your baby’s nutritional needs
  3. Calcium and other important nutrients come from milk. So, look for substitutes in green leafy vegetables, fruits etc.
  4. If you are breastfeeding,  try to balance it with some lactose free-formula feeds, how often you breastfeed and when you give formula feeds will depend on the intensity of the intolerance in the child.
  5. Breastfeeding moms should remove all dairy and other sources of lactose from their diet
  6. Check these products carefully before giving it to children, they are not the most obvious lactose carrying food options, but they do have it in them and sometimes the quantity present in them may not agree with your child.
  • Processed breakfast foods – doughnuts, waffles
  • Instant Soup Mix
  • Salad dressings
  • Sorbet
  • Baked food like bread, biscuits or cookies
  • Protein Bars

** Yogurt and Curd also have lactose in them, but they also have ‘good bacteria’ that would have broken it down already for us. A lot of people who are lactose intolerant, can actually have yogurt and curd without much issues. 

7. In the ingredients section, of all the food products you buy, beware of these terms  (apart from milk and lactose); they don’t spell-out as L-A-C-T-O-S-E but do carry it.

  • curds
  •  Whey
  • Dry milk solids
  • Milk by-products

8. For severe rash resulting from the lactose intolerance, you can use a generous amount of butter on the affected area, this acts as a lubricant and reduces irritation when there is frequent passing of stools. A zinc oxide based paste can also be useful along with a lot of airing to aid with the healing.

9. Consult a doctor about your child’s diet plans before introducing the food to your lactose intolerant child.

OUR EXPERIENCE WITH LACTOSE INTOLERANCE IN BABIES AND CHILDREN