How to Know If Your Baby Is Lactose Intolerant

Do you think your baby may be lactose intolerant? If so, as well as a distressing time for your baby, it’s likely to be confusing for you. Can you still breastfeed? Should you switch to goat milk formula? Will this be forever? Relax: help is at hand. Read on for our brief guide that will answer some of your questions about lactose intolerance in babies.

What does it mean?

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. In order for your body to break down lactose and convert it into energy, in needs an enzyme known as lactase. Lactose intolerance means that your body does not produce enough lactase, and so cannot digest lactose properly.

Lactose intolerance is not rare, but congenital intolerance is unusual in a baby. It’s more likely to occur as a temporary inability to produce sufficient lactase following a severe bout of diarrhea.

Signs and symptoms

In a lactose intolerant baby, the symptoms will occur between 30 minutes to three hours after consuming dairy (including breast milk). Symptoms may include diarrhea, stomach cramps, bloating and/or excessive gas. Of course, none of these are unusual in babies, and they are also potential symptoms of a number of other conditions, so it can be hard to identify whether lactose intolerance is the problem. 

If your baby is experiencing frequent digestive upsets, keep an eye on when they occur – and, if your baby is weaned or weaning, what they had recently consumed – and you should soon spot a pattern.

Is it lactose intolerance or milk protein intolerance?

Similar symptoms may also occur as a result of an allergy or intolerance to one of the proteins in cow’s milk. This is different from lactose intolerance, which is a digestive condition rather than an immune response.

If your baby displays allergy symptoms – a dry rash, itching or swelling, hives, watery eyes or a runny nose – instead of or in addition to the tummy upsets, then it may be a milk protein allergy or intolerance: in which case, you may want to avoid cow’s milk, for example by switching to a goat milk baby formula.

Why goat milk? Goat milk contains different proteins to cow’s milk, so your baby is unlikely to have the same sensitivity to it. Speak to your doctor for advice.

Always speak to a doctor

Once you have identified your baby’s symptoms, go straight to your pediatrician. They can help you confirm the cause of the problem and make a plan to help you and your baby get through this.

What to do if you’re breastfeeding

If you are nursing a lactose intolerant baby, cutting out lactose from your own diet won’t help: your body produces lactose all by itself. Depending on the extent of the intolerance, you may be able to help your baby tolerate the lactose in your breast milk by giving them lactase drops before a feed; if it’s a more severe intolerance, your baby might need lactose-free baby formula. Again, speak to your doctor for advice.

Lactose can turn up in unexpected foods

If you have a weaned lactose-intolerant baby, it’s obvious that you’ll need to avoid giving them milk – but you’ll also need to avoid all other food that contains lactose. Get used to checking the label.


Some lactose-free food choices may surprise you – for example, butter often contains less lactose than margarine. Low-lactose milks are available if you prefer not to avoid dairy altogether. Ask your doctor for advice.

It might not be forever

Whether your baby’s lactose intolerance is permanent or temporary depends on the cause. Your baby may recover altogether, or at least be able to tolerate more lactose as they get older. Your doctor may be able to help you gradually re-introduce lactose into your baby’s diet.

Now that you know what lactose intolerance is and how it differs from a cow’s milk allergy, we hope you will have a better idea of how to help your baby and whether alternatives such as goat milk baby formula are the right choice for you and your family.