When choosing a formula for babies, many parents choose one made with cow’s milk. In fact, 80% of infant formulas are made from cow’s milk. However, some babies find it difficult to digest this type of formula because they have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
Even less often, babies may have a condition called galactosemia in which exposure to lactose-containing formulas can be life-threatening.
What is the lactose-free formula?
The lactose-free formula is usually made from cow’s milk that has been refined to remove lactose and replace it with a different form of sugar. Many people do not understand the differences between the lactose-free formula cow’s milk and soy formula .
Although neither the lactose-free nor the soy-free formula contains lactose, the lactose-free formula is made from cow’s milk and therefore contains protein from cow’s milk.
These formulas are not tolerated by babies who are really allergic to cow’s milk proteins. .
Lactose intolerance in children
To digest lactose, the body must produce an enzyme called lactase. Some babies do not get enough of this enzyme. A primary or permanent inability to produce lactase is rare.
However, many children and infants experience a temporary reduction in lactase availability. This often occurs after an episode of diarrhea, during which the lining of the intestine is damaged. In general, it is not necessary to switch to a lactose-free formula.
Other children do not have the ability to produce enough lactase in the long run, which leads to symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and colic. Babies with a long-term lactase production problem can benefit from the lactose-free formula if it helps them avoid the symptoms of lactose malabsorption.
Allergy to milk proteins
Cow’s milk is one of the main allergens for children. However, this allergy is usually due to milk protein and not lactose (which is a sugar). An allergy to milk proteins may be present at birth or may develop as the baby grows. Lactose intolerance is more common in children 2 years of age and older.
Symptoms of a milk protein allergy include hives, runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting and irritability. Parents sometimes confuse the symptoms of an allergy to milk proteins with those of colic, gas or other digestive problems common in children.
The worst reactions to milk proteins include swelling of the lips, tongue and throat and anaphylaxis. If your baby has a severe reaction to a potential allergen, call 911.
Babies who are allergic to milk protein will not tolerate any formula made from cow’s milk, even those that do not contain lactose.
Does my child need lactose-free formula?
A baby who is allergic to cow’s milk protein may also be allergic to soy, in which case the baby will need a specialized formula. Research has shown that few children really need a lactose-free formula. For example, a study published in 2015 showed that lactose-free formulas do not reduce agitation in children. .
However, babies with a rare inherited disease called galactosemia need a formula that does not contain lactose. Babies with this condition cannot safely digest galactose, one of the two sugars that make up lactose.
The condition is diagnosed at birth using screening tests for newborns or can be detected before birth. Babies with galactosemia cannot tolerate breast milk and must receive a lactose-free formula that is not derived from cow’s milk.
Most major formula manufacturers make specialized formulas for babies with all types of allergies. If you are not sure which type of formula is best for your baby, consult your pediatrician.