Deciding on and Choosing Lactose-Free Baby Formula

True Lactose Allergies Are Rare in Babies

Formula, Scoop and Bottle
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With allergies to cow's milk and milk proteins becoming more and more common, some parents will need to choose a lactose-free formula for their baby. However, most infant formulas are made with cow's milk protein (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), about 80% of infant formulas are made with cow's milk!). As a result, it isn't always easy to find the right lactose free formula for your baby that will meet all of his or her nutritional needs. 

What Is Lactose-Free Formula?

Many people misunderstand the differences between lactose-free formula, cow's milk-based formula, and soy formula. While neither lactose-free formula nor soy formula contain lactose, some lactose-free formula is created from cow's milk and thus contains cow's milk protein.

Lactose-free formulas are refined to remove the lactose and replace it with a different carbohydrate. Because it contains cow's milk protein, lactose-free formulas do not work for babies who are truly allergic to milk. Rather, it can be an alternative for babies who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance, however, is more common in children after they have turned age 2. 

The AAP explains that it's actually pretty common for some babies to have temporary problems digesting lactose. Those babies might have temporary bouts of diarrhea, which damages the digestive enzymes in the intestines that are necessary to digest the lactose. However, this is usually only temporary and doesn't require a switch to lactose-free formula. 

Which Babies Need Lactose-Free Formula?

The APP explains that only infants with cow's milk protein allergies or a very rare medical condition called galactosemia will need lactose-free formulas. Babies with galactosemia have an intolerance to galactose, one of the two sugars that make up lactose. These babies cannot tolerate breastmilk and must have a lactose-free formula. The newborn screening blood tests that your baby received at the hospital usually test for galactosemia and you will be notified by your infant's care provider if your infant has the condition. 

Babies who have a true milk allergy will display symptoms such as:

  • Colic
  • Failure to thrive
  • Bloody diarrhea

Unfortunately, many babies with true cow's milk protein allergies can also be allergic to soy, so they will need a specialized formula. Most major formula manufacturers now make very specialized formulas for babies with all different types of allergies, so you should be able to work with your baby's care provider to find a formula that will be best suited to your baby's needs. 

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