Can I give my son Lactose-Free Milk if he has Cow’s milk allergy?

No. But many people do confuse Cow’s milk protein allergy with Lactose intolerance. Let me explain…essentially:

  • Milk is made up of both proteins and sugars (amongst lots of other nutrients). Milk allergy is a reaction to the proteins in milk, whereas Lactose intolerance is a reaction to the sugars.
  • An allergy involves an attack by the body’s immune system producing antibodies against the offender whereas an intolerance does not.

Lactose is a sugar in milk – and it is broken down by an enzyme called Lactase in your small intestine before it can be absorbed. If lactase is absent or deficient, lactose is not broken down and cause symptoms of ‘lactose intolerance’ such as diarrhea and bloating. The immune system is not involved and the symptoms are due to an interaction of lactose with the bacteria in the large intestine, fermentation, thus drawing water into the intestines. Lactose tolerance in babies is extremely rare and is usually congenital (i.e. they are born with a genetic defect that causes an absence of lactase in their small intestine), so you will see symptoms from day 1. *Lactose intolerance we see in adults has entirely different causes.

On the other hand, in Cow’s milk protein allergy, the immune system is involved and mounts an attack on the proteins in the milk. So if you buy lactose-free milk, it doesn’t help people with milk allergy because, although the lactose has been broken down, the proteins are still present in their whole forms and will still cause allergic symptoms.

What helps Cow’s milk allergy instead is hydrolysed formula where the proteins are broken down like Similac Alimentum. There are different degrees to which these milk proteins are broken down so the severity of the allergy will dictate which formula is suitable.

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