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I am lactose intolerant. Could this be passed onto my baby - could she be allergic to my breast milk?

As you may know, there are two types of lactose intolerance, primary and secondary. Primary is hereditary and extremely rare. It is primary lactose intolerance when you (or your baby) lack the ability to produce the enzyme which digests lactase, the sugar found in milk. A baby who has primary lactose intolerance won’t gain weight, may show signs of dehydration and malnourishment at the time of birth. The condition may be recognised soon after birth.

Secondary lactose intolerance is more common, but not in babies. It is caused when there is damage to the gut in the section where lactase is produced. The damage can be caused by a number of conditions ranging from a bout of gastroenteritis to a food intolerance or allergy.

For breastfed babies, the proteins can be passed to your baby through your breast milk, from dairy products you have eaten, or from cows' milk, or formula based on cows' milk which has been given to your baby. It can also be caused by coeliac disease (intolerance to the gluten in wheat products). Secondary lactose intolerance is considered more of a temporary condition as it disappears once the gut has healed.

There is also an inherited form of lactose intolerance, which is known as ‘Acquired Lactose Intolerance’, however, it rarely affects a child before the age of 4 years (often not developing until late adolescence) and it usually only occurs in people from countries were milk is not given following infancy.

If your baby is displaying symptoms such as rashes, diarrhoea, vomiting or stomach cramps, then consult your healthcare provider. If you are breastfeeding and your baby is actually diagnosed with lactose intolerance by experts, which is rare, you may have to discontinue breastfeeding since breast milk contains lactose. However do not stop breastfeeding without a full medical diagnosis as there may be other temporary conditions going on such as baby colic. It may be helpful to seek the on going support of your Health Visitor or GP if your baby is diagnosed with this condition.

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