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Does Breast Milk Have Lactose and Should I Stop Breastfeeding?

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There are a lot of misunderstanding and myths about lactose intolerance and breastfeeding. If lactose intolerance runs in your family, you may wonder does breastmilk have lactose.

One thing to remember is that there is no correlation between lactose intolerance in family members. Here are the things you need to know about lactose and potential intolerance.

What is Lactose?

Despite the odd name, lactose is very simple. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and any products made from milk.

Digested lactose is broken down into different sugars: galactose and glucose.

Lactose is in many foods produced from milk like ice cream, cheese, puddings, cream soups, and milk chocolate.

Breastmilk contains lactose because it is a milk product; lactose is made inside the breasts during production. Unlike some myths, there is no way to stop your breastmilk from containing any lactose.

Lactose is present in all mammalian milk. Infant formula also contains lactose because it contains cow’s milk. However, there are some formulas modified to contain a different sugar.


Lactose Intolerance

When you consume lactose, your body produces an enzyme, or chemical, called lactase, which is used to break down and digest the lactose. There are three general types of lactose intolerance.

Primary Lactose Intolerance is more common in adults. It is often called late-onset lactose intolerance. Primary lactose intolerance happens when your body’s production of lactase slows down.

It doesn’t happen rapidly. Instead, over a few years, you notice the signs; it takes 2 to 5 years for this to happen.

Congenital Lactose Intolerance is rare and is not an allergy. Instead, you inherit a metabolic disorder. Soon after birth, you would notice signs that something is very wrong with your newborn. These symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting, failure to thrive, and dehydration. However, it does resolve itself after a few months.

Premature babies can have problems with lactose intolerance because their bodies have yet to start making lactase. As your premature baby matures, their body will begin the production of lactase.

Secondary Lactose Intolerance happens at any age. It will appear when your intestinal border is damaged by an infection, allergy or inflammation, which reduces the lactase activity. The cause of secondary lactose includes celiac disease, bowel surgery, food intolerance, or a food allergy.

Babies who have a lactose intolerance will exhibit some or all of these symptoms.

  • Eczema
  • Frequent spitting up
  • ​Crying and irritability
  • ​Bloated stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • ​Gas
  • ​Failure to thrive
  • Green, frothy stools

There is a test called a hydrogen breath test used to determine if your child is truly lactose intolerant. Speaking with your doctor is the best course if you suspect an intolerance.


Lactose Intolerance or Food Allergy

Many breastfed babies will show signs of lactose intolerance because they are receiving too much lactose. Chances are your child is just sensitive to dairy products rather than lactose intolerance.

Also, food allergies or intolerances can lead to very similar signs. The foods that a mother consumes will pass through the breastmilk.

If your suspect your baby has a food intolerance, the first step is to remove the suspected food from your diet. However, it can take a while to determine the exact food intolerance.

Babies who are sensitive to dairy their mother’s milk are sensitive to the proteins, not lactose, from cow’s milk. The symptoms of a cow’s milk sensitivity include eczema, colic-like behavior, vomiting, wheezing, diarrhea, stuffy nose, hives, and constipation.

In these circumstances, the mother has to remove dairy out of her diet altogether. Using lactose-free dairy products won’t solve the problem either because the baby is allergic to the protein.

Many babies who react to the protein will also react to soy. It can take ten days to 3 weeks for cow’s milk protein to leave your system. Then, evaluate your baby for 2 to 3 weeks to determine the results.

Lactose Overload

When mothers have an oversupply of breastmilk, their babies may drink significant amounts of breastmilk.

These babies may grow at an above average rate. Their bowel movements may be green and frothy, which is similar to the poops of a lactose intolerant infant.

Lactose overload is a vicious cycle. Baby wants to breastfeed all the time because sucking soothes their little stomach. The mother assumes she has a low supply because baby wants to nurse constantly.

In these situations, the best choice is to chance from an on-demand schedule to a block-feeding schedule. Switching schedules can solve the problems within a short period.


Determining Your Baby is Lactose Intolerant

Once you decide that lactose is the issue with your baby, the next step is to decide how to help your infant. There are many ways to manage lactose intolerance without having to stop breastfeeding. In fact, there are very few circumstances when breastfeeding should be stopped for intolerance.

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One of the times when breastmilk has to be removed the rare times when newborn babies make no lactase at all. They are very sick the first few weeks of their lives.

The only way to stop the problems and to start growing is to remove all lactose from their diet. However, these circumstances are rare.

Cows’ milk protein allergy can be misdiagnosed as lactose intolerance, but it is much more likely to be the problem. Luckily, these intolerances are only temporary so long as the gut has a chance to heal.

They are confused because the signs and symptoms both arise due to the same foods. The problem happens when an allergy to milk protein causes secondary lactose intolerance.

Secondary lactose intolerance is short term, but the gut has to heal. Your doctor will be able to pinpoint lactose intolerance.

There are different suggestions for helping a baby with this issue. Some say that mothers should alternate between breastfeeding and feeding artificial, lactose-free milk or removing the baby from breast altogether.

However, giving only artificial, lactose-free, milk is only recommended when the baby is failure to thrive.


What to Do Now

As you can tell, there are very few circumstances in which a breastfeeding mother has to stop feeding her baby because of lactose intolerance.

The first step is to determine if your baby is suffering from intolerance or a milk protein allergy. If your baby has an allergy, removing all dairy products from your diet will improve the symptoms.

If your child has secondary lactose intolerance, the focus should be on solving the problem that is causing the intolerance. Removing breastmilk will not fix the problem, rather it will just mask the symptoms. Speak to your doctor about a course of action. If your baby has a congenital intolerance, artificial milk may be the only option.

Did you have trouble with a cow milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance? We would love to hear your experience in the comments!

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Hi! I’m Serena. The first time that I knew the term “being mommy” was fantastic and unforgettable. It brought me a lot of changes in my body, my habit, my feeling and my whole life. I started Kittymoms in order to share my knowledge and experience to those who are first-time mommies and who have a long time to be back to mom's work, all who need to search advice during the time taking care of their babies.
  1. Dear Serena,
    I found your website nifty and with great user experience.
    And being a mom is more great and touchy for other new moms.
    Iam Ahmed a pharmacist and i work for breastfeedo.com and I have an infographic related to what is lactose tolerance in babies and if u interested i would share it with u to get your insights about it
    Looking forward to co-operating in the near future.Thanks, best wishes

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