Congenital Lactase Deficiency in Infants & Feeding Alternatives

Congenital Lactase Deficiency in Infants

Although it is a rare disorder, congenital lactase deficiency in infants is a condition that makes their bodies unable to break down the lactose contained in breastmilk or regular formula. Babies who cannot properly digest food they are given will often develop gas, abdominal pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Here is a discussion congenital lactase deficiency in infants and the feeding alternatives that are available for babies with this rare condition.

Symptoms of Congenital Lactase Deficiency in Infants

One of the first symptoms that arise in an infant with this condition after feeding is gas. OTC medications like PediaCare’s Infants Gas Relief Drops may ease a baby’s abdominal pain that is caused by certain foods.

However, severe diarrhea is also very common among these infants. The diarrhea is typically watery, occurs right after feeding, and is not accompanied by vomiting. If their diet is not changed immediately to cut out milk products, the baby may become severely dehydrated and lose weight. Hospitalization is often required for infants that develop advanced symptoms.

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Prevalence of Congenital Lactase Deficiency

Interestingly, this condition has been found most commonly in Finland, a country in which approximately one in 60,000 newborns are affected. When researchers look at the greater human population, lactose intolerance is most common among people with East Asian, West African, Arab, Jewish, Italian, and Greek descent. The condition is believed to be passed down through families.

The Problem with Breastfeeding and Milk-Based Formulas

It is caused by a mutation of the LCT gene, which is the gene that tells the body how to make the lactase enzyme. Lactose is a complex sugar that some babies’ systems aren’t able to handle because of this autosomal recessive genetic disorder of the gastrointestinal system. This is problematic for parents because breastmilk and formula are the most common, affordable, and available ways to feed a newborn baby.

Alternative Feeding for Congenital Lactase Deficient Babies

Most babies that have a congenital lactase deficiency continue to have good appetites. But it is advised to put babies on a lactose-free diet as soon as a diagnosis is made. A physician can run tests to determine why severe diarrhea is happening and whether this condition is the cause.

These babies need to be fed a diet with all essential nutrients except for lactose, so they can’t be breastfed or drink standard formula. Instead, these babies need lactose-free formula and to later be weaned onto solid foods that don’t contain lactose. Babies who cannot tolerate lactose will often not be able to tolerate it as a child or adult as well.

In lactose-free formulas, lactose sugar is replaced with other types of sugar. However, the protein and fat contents remain the same. These types of specialty formulas tend to be more expensive than standard feeding options and can be more difficult to find in small stores. But it’s important for parents to carefully review the nutritional quality of lactose-free formulas to ensure that other essential nutrients meet the recommended daily values and that they do not contain additives that could negatively impact a baby.

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