Ice cream, milk and cookies, yogurt tubes, and cheese sticks. Favorite snacks for many — but not for the child with a lactose intolerance. For these kids, dairy products are a one-way ticket to the bathroom with cramping, gas and diarrhea.
Whether your child is newborn or a teenager, she could develop lactose intolerance, a condition caused by the lack of the enzyme lactase. Inadequate amounts of lactase make the body unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk products.
How do you know if your child has a lactose intolerance? About 30 minutes to two hours after consuming foods with lactose, your child may experience nausea, cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhea.
The severity of symptoms depends on the amount of lactose your child consumes and how well or poorly her body can tolerate it. Some children can’t tolerate any lactose, while others can consume a small amount of the milk sugar without any adverse side effects. Your child’s doctor can conduct diagnostic tests to confirm that she’s lactose intolerant.
Digestive diseases or injuries to the small intestine can reduce the amount of enzymes your child’s body produces and can be the cause of lactose intolerance in children. However, most cases develop over many years and individuals become symptomatic when they are adolescents or adults.
Sometimes lactose intolerance is a temporary condition caused by an intestinal virus that strips the intestines of lactase. Most children recover from this quickly with no long-term effects.
There is no treatment for lactose intolerance other than diet modification. Some people do find a measure of relief in taking a lactase tablet or liquid before consuming a dairy product, but it’s not a cure. There are many foods and digestive aids made especially for people with this condition, such as Lactaid® milk.
Milk and milk products are the only natural sources of lactose, but beware of products made with dry milk powder, whey, curds and milk solids, which are commonly used in processed foods. Baked goods, pancake mixes, cereals, lunch meat and margarine are just some of the foods that could cause distress to someone who is especially sensitive to lactose.
Cutting out milk products from a child’s diet could be detrimental to his calcium intake unless he compensates for it by eating non-dairy foods rich in calcium, such as:
Your child’s pediatrician may prescribe a calcium supplement, as well. Make sure your child gets vitamin D in her diet (or by sunlight), since the body needs it to absorb calcium. Please discuss the benefits of vitamin D from foods, supplements and incidental sun exposure with your child’s pediatrician.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: March 2013