Advice Column, Baby, Health, Lifestyle, Pregnancy & Baby

Colic – Transient Lactase Deficiency

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  • Category Advice Column, Baby, Health, Lifestyle, Pregnancy & Baby

It can be incredibly distressing to hear your baby crying endlessly with colic, yet feel unable to stop it.  Colic is defined as repeated episodes of excessive and inconsolable crying for at least 3 hours per day, at least 3 days per week.  The condition can affect between 5 to 20% of babies typically starting in the first weeks of life and tends to resolve by three to four months.

It is generally unknown what causes colic.  One possible cause, which has been researched, is a transient lactase deficiency which may occur due to some babies being born with an immature digestive system.  A deficiency of lactase enzyme in the small intestine results in the inability of the body to fully digest the milk-sugar lactose.  This causes undigested lactose in milk to be broken down by bacterial activity in the bowel which can result in severe discomfort, bloatedness and wind.  By the time the baby is 3 to 4 months old their digestive system usually develops sufficiently to produce adequate levels of lactase enzyme.

Research at Cork University Hospital in the early 1990s demonstrated that a lactase-reduced feed was effective in reducing infant colic and the hours of crying.  This was presented to the Royal College of Paediatricians and confirmed in a larger study completed at Guys Hospital, England and published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in October 2001.

Essentially, drops containing lactase, an enzyme which occurs naturally within the body, are added to the feed and work by breaking down most of the lactose in the baby’s usual milk before the baby is fed, making the feed more digestible.  The drops can be added either to some expressed breast milk or with infant formula.  If the baby is lactase deficient a real benefit is that the colic symptoms are prevented rather than trying to treat the symptoms in a stressful situation.

Colief infant drops, the lactase drops, used in these trials are available in South Africa.  For some mothers these drops may help facilitate continued breastfeeding and save having to switch to special formula milks.  The drops are used until the baby is approximately three to four months old, by which time their digestive system will be producing their own lactase enzyme and the symptoms of colic should have disappeared.

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