Do you find that whenever your child has milk or other dairy products, a stomachache follows? If this is a reoccurring problem, you may want to learn more about a condition called lactose intolerance. This ailment, which is more common in adults than in children (although it can still occur at a young age), occurs when the body is unable to digest lactose or milk sugar. As a result, when someone who is lactose intolerant eats something that contains lactose, the lactose ferments in the small intestine instead of being absorbed, and as a result, causes a host of uncomfortable symptoms.

Intolerance to Milk

While lactose intolerance is often confused with a milk allergy, in fact being lactose intolerant is not at all the same thing. In a true milk allergy, the immune system reacts to milk products as a foreign invader and in extreme cases, this reaction poses the risk of being fatal. In the case of lactose intolerance, on the other hand, the situation is uncomfortable more than dangerous.

When a child with lactose intolerance ingests a product containing milk sugar, the small intestine doesn't have enough of the enzyme needed to break this ingredient down. As a result, it ferments in the stomach and causes a host of uncomfortable symptoms.

Signs of Lactose Intolerance

If you suspect your child could have lactose intolerance but you aren't quite sure, you should know that some of the common signs of being lactose intolerant, which usually occur within a short time of eating a dairy product. These can include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance

The inability to break down lactose can be passed down from generation to generation. This means that if you have a family history of the condition, your child could be more likely to develop it.

If your child shows signs of the ailment, your pediatrician may ask you to temporarily eliminate products containing lactose to see if the symptoms disappear. There are also several tests that can help to narrow in on this diagnosis.

Getting Dairy Benefits

Lactose intolerance can't be cured, but it can easily be managed with some careful planning. If your child is diagnosed as lactose intolerant, it is important to make sure he or she avoids the food that cause the stomach symptoms without missing any essential nutrients. Often, this takes a multi-strategy approach to find the perfect balance. Some of the things you can do for your child include:

  • Incorporate small amounts of dairy foods that are easier to digest, such as yogurt and hard cheeses (try cheddar, swiss and parmesan).
  • Limit or avoid milk, ice cream and soft cheeses.
  • Give dairy foods as part of a larger meal, so the other foods can help make it easier to digest the lactose.
  • Opt for dairy products that are lactose-free or lactose-reduced.
  • Have your child take vitamins or supplements.
  • Give your child lactose replacement pills, which contain the enzyme needed to break down lactose and can provide temporary relief from symptoms.




American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI)

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)

USDA, Food and Nutrition Services