Sometimes babies experience tummy issues after feeding, which leads parents to consider milk allergy vs lactose intolerance. Actually, these issues are quite different and not that common. There are high chances that your baby has eaten too fast or that it only has gas.
Symptoms can be easily mixed with digestive problems. So, let’s break things down about milk allergy in babies and formula intolerance so you can decide whether it is time to visit a doctor.
Signs of milk allergy in baby vary from mild to severe. Lactose intolerance causes different issues that can be mixed with symptoms of colic. Let’s learn what is what and discuss the symptoms and causes.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body cannot digest the ingredient – lactose, found in milk and dairy products. It happens because the body doesn’t have enough gut enzyme – lactase. Both breastfed babies and babies who feed on formula can develop it.
According to Genetics.thetech.org, dairy intolerance in babies is rare, and only one in 60.000 newborns are born with the problem.  Most babies are born with lactase enzymes, but in rare cases, the enzyme production can drop, and dairy sensitivity in toddlers can occur at an early stage and pass as the baby grows.
Lactose intolerance symptoms in baby include:
- Inability to feed
- The baby doesn’t get weight
- Tummy pain and swelling
- Tummy swelling
The primary difference between milk allergy and lactose intolerance is in the cause of the problem. While lactose intolerant in babies means digestive issues, infant milk allergy signalizes issues with the immune system, it is a reaction to the protein in milk. 
In simple words, babies allergic to milk experience symptoms because their bodies mistake milk protein as bad, and fight against it.
The symptoms of milk allergy in infants are:
- Persistent spitting and vomiting.
- Tummy pain after feeding
- Blood in the poop
- Skin rash
- Wheezing or coughing after eating
Dairy allergy symptoms are more common in babies on formula, because the formula contains proteins from cow’s milk. A baby can develop a cow’s milk allergy after consuming protein for the first time – either through formula or in the case of breastfeeding babies, after cow’s milk is introduced.
Also, milk allergy symptoms in 1 year old are more common than lactose intolerance.
Analyzing milk sensitivity in babies is an expert’s task. You can use the difference between lactose intolerance and dairy allergy symptoms table as a guideline on what to pay attention to before you visit a doctor.
If you have noticed symptoms from the middle column, you should talk to an allergy specialist. A medical professional directs skin and blood tests to determine lactose intolerance and infant formula allergy.
You can also inspect the baby’s poop after diarrhea, to look for mucus – slippery secretion in the stool, as it can be one of the signs baby is allergic to formula.
One of the accurate methods for diagnosing is the skin prick test. A doctor will put a small amount of milk on the baby’s skin, and if the skin starts to swell, turn red or get itchy, milk allergy is quite likely.
After a successful diagnosis, a doctor will suggest treatment for the baby.
In case of milk allergy, you shouldn’t administer any food or drinks that contain milk protein to the baby. Breastfeeding exclusively for six months to the age of two years and more is the best treatment. For babies on formula, your health care provider will suggest an appropriate formula for feeding.
The Enfamil baby formula like the Enfamil Nutramigen is safe for lactose intolerant and babies with milk allergy. This hypoallergenic formula contains all essential ingredients and has a mild flavor.
On the other hand, if your baby is lactose intolerant, you can ask your doctor about goat’s milk-based formulas, such as Kabrita formula. Most lactose intolerant babies tolerate goat’s milk better than cow’s milk.
If a doctor diagnoses lactose intolerance, he or she will suggest you reduce drinks and food with lactose. Babies and adults with lactose intolerance can take small amounts of lactose without any discomfort.
Sometimes, the doctor will advise you to administer baby lactase enzyme supplements to help the baby digest it.
Milk Sensitivity in Babies Not Caused By Milk Intolerance or Lactose Intolerance
Tummy issues are common in all babies despite having allergies or not. If your baby spits occasionally and has stomach cramps or similar symptoms, but the doctor rules out milk allergy or lactose intolerance, reflux or colic can be the reasons.
Spitting up multiple times a day happens when the food comes back from the stomach. It is harmful and passes on its own as the baby grows, but can cause discomfort.
Colic, or prolonged episodes of crying and fussiness followed by bloating, gases, and tummy pain can be quite frustrating. You can try tummy massage or gripe water to calm the baby and relieve symptoms.
Alternatively, you could go for specially formulated formula for gassy babies. Using anti-colic bottles also helps to reduce gas, reflux and colic.
You should follow the advice from the doctor. But, the first thing that can be very helpful is to learn how to read product labels on formulas and baby food puree pouches, jars, and other packaging.
Distinguish the differences between:
- Contains milk
- May contain milk
- Contains milk ingredients
- May contain milk ingredients
The verb “may”, in this case, indicates that the manufacturer isn’t sure whether the products are free of milk ingredients or milk or not.
In most cases, “may contain milk ingredients” means that the product is made with the same machines that handled milk products.
Some milk ingredients aren’t harmful to lactose-intolerant babies but can cause discomfort to babies with milk allergies.
Also, labels don’t always state whether they contain milk or not. In most cases, the ingredient list of the product will include some of the following ingredients (not limited to one) which signalizes that the product is made with milk:
- milk protein
- milk powder,
- skim milk powder,
- milk protein,
- whey protein,
If you are unsure if the product is safe for the baby, pass it and choose the safe, hypoallergenic alternative.
According to Healthychildren.org, you can choose milk alternatives such as rice, coconut, hemp, oat, almond, and soy milk, fortified with calcium and vitamin D. 
Here are the answers to the most common questions about baby allergy to formula and lactose intolerance!
How can you tell the difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance?
A medical professional will diagnose one or the other condition by identifying symptoms and doing tests and break any confusion about it.
Does lactose intolerance or milk allergy go away in babies?
When asked about when do babies outgrow milk protein allergy, a specialist told Cleveland Clinic that it happens by the time the baby reaches 18 months.  The lactose intolerance can also be temporary, and the baby can outgrow it within several months after proper feeding.
What does lactose intolerance baby poop look like?
It can be watery, foamy, or contain mucus.
Is gas a sign of milk allergy in a baby?
It can be a sign followed by other symptoms, such as rash and diarrhea. But, it can also be a sign of colic or a completely normal baby’s reaction to food.
How long does it take for lactose to leave the baby system?
Lactose can take three weeks to leave the baby’s system, but in most cases, it happens before the second week.
Having a baby means learning things on the go, consulting with doctors, looking for other people’s experiences. If you suspect your baby is lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, you should talk with a doctor. I know I was relieved after talking with a doctor when my daughter had episodes of bloating and gases. It turned out that she ate too fast and ingested too much air.
If the baby tests positive for the issues, be patient and optimistic that the condition will pass as the baby grows. Reduce or cut the intake of products with cow’s milk and look for alternatives. Don’t forget to read labels and understand what ambiguous statements on the products mean!
Feel free to share your experience, recommendations, and questions in the comment section, and I’ll be happy to help!
Last update on 2021-05-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API