Can Breastfed Babies Be Lactose Intolerant?

As a parent, you may have concerns about your baby’s health and wonder if breastfed babies can be lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance, a condition where the body has difficulty digesting lactose, is more commonly associated with older children and adults.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore lactose intolerance in breastfed babies, providing valuable insights to help you understand the condition better.

What Is Lactose Intolerance in Babies?

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body lacks an enzyme called lactase, responsible for breaking down lactose into simpler sugars that can be absorbed and utilized.

This results in undigested lactose, causing digestive symptoms. While lactose intolerance is rare in infants, it can still affect breastfed babies under certain circumstances.

Does Breastfeeding Influence Infant Lactose Intolerance?

Breast milk is the natural and optimal source of nutrition for infants, containing lactose as the primary carbohydrate. Breast milk also provides essential antibodies and immune-boosting factors, promoting healthy development. Breast milk naturally contains lactose and lactase, the enzyme that helps digest lactose. Therefore, true lactose intolerance is uncommon in breastfed babies.

Studies support the idea that lactose intolerance is rare in breastfed babies. Research has shown that breast milk itself may help protect against lactose intolerance by stimulating the production of lactase in the baby’s intestines. Breast milk contains growth factors and bioactive components that support the development of the digestive system, including the production of lactase enzymes.

Symptoms: Is My Baby Lactose Intolerant?

If you suspect your baby may be lactose intolerant, it’s essential to recognize the symptoms. Common signs of lactose intolerance in breastfed babies include:

  1. Abdominal pain and swelling
  2. Fussiness and irritability after feeding
  3. Excessive gas and bloating
  4. Diarrhea or loose stools
  5. Weight loss or poor weight gain
  6. Bulky, frothy, and watery feces
  7. Nappy rash and skin irritation in the diaper area
  8. Trouble settling and frequent waking during sleep
  9. Irritability during breastfeeding and difficulty latching

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be associated with other conditions, so consulting a healthcare professional is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

How Common Is Lactose Intolerance in Breastfed Babies?

True lactose intolerance is rare in breastfed babies. Research indicates that only a small percentage, approximately 2-3%, of infants develop lactose intolerance during the first few months of life.

This low incidence suggests that the majority of breastfed babies can digest lactose without any issues.

It’s important to understand that lactose intolerance can occur in babies under certain circumstances, such as when the lining of the intestine has been damaged or in cases of infection.

However, these instances are not common, and most breastfed babies can tolerate lactose well.

Does Mother’s Diet Affect Lactose in Breast Milk?

The lactose content in breast milk is not significantly influenced by a mother’s diet. Even if a breastfeeding mother consumes lactose-containing foods, the lactose molecules are too large to be absorbed into her bloodstream and subsequently passed into breast milk.

Therefore, breastfeeding mothers do not need to follow a lactose-free or low-lactose diet unless they have lactose intolerance themselves.

It’s important for breastfeeding mothers to maintain a healthy and balanced diet to provide adequate nutrition for themselves and their babies.

Avoiding specific foods due to concerns about lactose content is generally unnecessary and may even result in nutrient deficiencies.

How to Differentiate Colic and Lactose Intolerance?

Colic and lactose intolerance can both cause fussiness and crying in infants, making it challenging to differentiate between the two. However, there are some distinguishing factors to consider:

  1. Onset: Colic often starts within the first few weeks of life and gradually improves by the age of three to four months. Lactose intolerance symptoms usually manifest immediately or within a few hours after feeding.
  2. Duration of Symptoms: Colic symptoms can occur throughout the day, while lactose intolerance symptoms are often associated with feedings.
  3. Persistence: Colic symptoms may persist even when the baby is not feeding, while lactose intolerance symptoms are typically triggered by lactose-containing foods or breast milk.
  4. Other Symptoms: Colicky babies may display symptoms such as excessive gas, arching of the back, and difficulty settling, while lactose-intolerant babies may experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, and poor weight gain.

If you suspect your baby may have lactose intolerance or colic, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and guidance.

Will My Baby Outgrow Lactose Intolerance?

Most babies who experience lactose intolerance will outgrow it as they get older. As the baby’s digestive system matures, the production of lactase enzymes increases, facilitating the digestion of lactose.

Therefore, it is rare for lactose intolerance to persist beyond infancy. However, if your baby’s symptoms persist or worsen, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Can Lactase Supplements Help My Breastfed Baby?

Lactase supplements, available in the form of drops or tablets, can be beneficial in managing lactose intolerance in some cases. These supplements contain the lactase enzyme, which helps break down lactose in the digestive system.

However, it’s important to note that lactase supplements should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as dosage and timing are crucial.

Is My Baby Allergic to Milk or Just Lactose Intolerant?

It’s important to differentiate between lactose intolerance and milk allergy, as they are two distinct conditions. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, while milk allergy is an immune response to proteins present in milk.

If your baby experiences symptoms such as hives, wheezing, vomiting, or difficulty breathing after consuming milk or dairy products, they may have a milk allergy rather than lactose intolerance.

Consulting a healthcare professional is crucial to determine the underlying cause of your baby’s symptoms and provide appropriate guidance.

Breastfeeding Challenges: How to Comfort a Lactose Intolerant Baby?

If your baby is diagnosed with lactose intolerance, there are several strategies you can implement to help comfort them:

  1. Adjust Feeding Positions: Experiment with different feeding positions, such as upright or semi-upright, to minimize discomfort and reduce reflux.
  2. Offer Smaller, Frequent Feedings: Instead of large feedings, try offering smaller, more frequent feedings to prevent the baby’s stomach from becoming overloaded.
  3. Burp Frequently: Burping your baby during and after feedings can help alleviate gas and reduce discomfort.
  4. Consider Lactose-Free Formula: In some cases, a lactose-free formula may be recommended temporarily while the baby’s digestive system heals. However, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for guidance before making any changes to your baby’s diet.
  5. Monitor Diaper Rash: Lactose intolerance can sometimes lead to diaper rash. Keeping the diaper area clean and dry, using gentle wipes or warm water for cleaning, and applying a diaper cream can help alleviate discomfort and promote healing.

Remember, each baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized advice to ensure your baby’s well-being.


In conclusion, while lactose intolerance is rare in breastfed babies, it can occur under certain circumstances. Breast milk, which naturally contains lactose and lactase, is well-tolerated by the majority of infants. If you suspect your baby may have lactose intolerance, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and guidance. With proper support and management, lactose intolerance can be effectively addressed, ensuring the health and well-being of your breastfed baby.

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