After drinking milk or eating ice cream, does your child have stomach cramps or get diarrhea? If so, your child may have lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance can make your child quite uncomfortable, but small changes in your child’s diet may help treat the problem.
Read more to learn about what lactose intolerance is and how to help your child live with it.
Many parents confuse the terms
It’s rare for a baby to be born with lactose intolerance. However, after a bout of severe diarrhea, which can temporarily affect the ability to produce lactase, a toddler or older child may have trouble digesting milk for 1 to 2 weeks. Drinking milk or eating certain dairy foods may result in the common symptoms of lactose intolerance and more diarrhea.
If your toddler or older child wants milk and has these symptoms, use only lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk for 1 to 2 weeks. Yogurt and aged cheeses usually are digestible because the lactose is broken down when they’re made.
Between 30 and 50 million people in the United States are lactose intolerant. If your child is lactose intolerant, you may see symptoms around the time he starts school or during the teen years.
One cause of lactose intolerance is genetic. Certain ethnic groups are more likely to become lactose intolerant. About 90% of Asian Americans, 80% of African Americans, 62% to 100% of American Indians, 53% of Mexican Americans, and 15% of people of northern European descent are lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance also can occur in people who have a disease affecting the small intestine, such as celiac disease or Crohn disease.
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include
These symptoms usually begin about 30 minutes to 2 hours after drinking or eating foods containing lactose.
One way to check if your child has trouble digesting lactose is to take all milk products out of your child’s diet for 2 weeks and see if symptoms improve. After 2 weeks, slowly reintroduce them in small amounts each day to see if symptoms return.
Because many non-dairy and prepared foods contain lactose, it may be hard to remove all of these food from your child’s diet. (See ?Other foods that may contain lactose.?)
If you think your child is lactose intolerant, talk with your pediatrician. Your child may need to be tested. The most common test for lactose intolerance is the
Your pediatrician may refer you to a specialist. If needed, a specialist can measure lactase and other enzymes from a small intestine sample. The sample usually is obtained during a diagnostic endoscopy. This procedure lets doctors view the inside of the intestines and obtain tissue samples.
Dry milk solids
Non-fat dry milk powder
Lactose also may be added to many non-dairy and prepared foods. If your child has a very low tolerance for lactose, she may be sensitive to the following food products that may contain lactose:
Bread, baked goods
Breakfast cereals and drinks
Instant potatoes and soups
Lunch meat (not including kosher meat)
Dry mixes for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies
Powdered coffee creamer
Non-dairy whipped topping
There is no cure for lactose intolerance. However, if your child is lactose intolerant, diet changes can make a big difference. You can help decide what changes are best for your child.
By trial and error. In time your child will learn, by trial and error, how much milk or milk-based foods she can handle. Younger children with lactose intolerance should avoid foods containing lactose. These foods include milk, ice cream, and soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, American cheese, and mozzarella. Older children usually can eat small amounts of lactose-containing foods, particularly if the foods are eaten as part of a meal and not alone. Many children can keep eating yogurt and aged cheeses, such as Swiss, cheddar, and Parmesan.
Over-the-counter lactase. Give your child over-the-counter lactase right before each meal. This may help her body digest foods that contain lactose.
Lactose-free or lactose-reduced. Offer your child lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk and other dairy products. Lactose-reduced milk retains all the ingredients of regular milk. You can store it in the refrigerator the same length of time.
In the rare cases in which all milk and dairy products have to be avoided, it’s important that your child get other sources of calcium. A variety of calcium-rich foods include
Lettuce greens such as spinach and kale
Canned fish with bones such as sardines, salmon, and tuna
Juices with added calcium
If your child isn’t getting the daily recommended amount of calcium (see chart), your pediatrician may recommend a calcium supplement.
|Age group||Recommended Daily Amount of Calcium|
|1?3 years||500 mg|
|4?8 years||800 mg|
|9?18 years||1,300 mg|
Lactose intolerance doesn’t have to make your child’s life miserable. There are many options for children who are lactose intolerant. Talk with your pediatrician about what products or diet changes would be best for your child.