lactose intolerance children

17 Facts About Lactose Intolerance in Children

Does your child develop crampy stomach aches or diarrhea after consuming milk or milk-derived products? You have have thought about the possibility of lactose intolerance. If this is the case, there are some changes that you can do to help with this uncomfortable problem.

In this article I will help you understand why lactose intolerance happens, what other conditions may look like lactose intolerance but are not, and what you can do to help your child.

1. Lactose is the sugar found in milk.

It is also present in milk derived products such as some cheeses and ice cream. Lactose is digested in our gut with an enzyme our body produces that is called lactase (very appropriately named). When we don’t have enough lactase in our gut, lactose can’t be digested.

2. Lactase deficiency causes lactose intolerance

Undigested lactose that stays in the bowel causes problem in our intestines like cramps, diarrhea, bloating, and a lot of gas. That is why people without enough lactase are said to have lactose intolerance.

3. Symptoms of undigested lactose are caused in part by our normal gut bacteria.

When they get a hold of the undigested lactose, the bacteria eat that lactose and produce gas, which accumulates.

4. Lactose intolerance is not the same a cow milk protein allergy.

It is extremely rare for a baby to be born with lactose intolerance. A more common condition in babies is milk protein allergy. Parents often confuse milk protein allergy with lactose intolerance. In milk protein allergy, babies tolerate and digest lactose fine, but have an immune allergy response to the proteins in milk. Removing lactose from the diet of babies with milk allergies does not solve their problem.

5. Toddlers and older children can become lactose intolerant temporarily.

If a child has been sick with severe diarrhea (for example, with infectious enteritis), remaining bowel inflammation may have a reduced ability to create lactase. For the following weeks, that toddler or older child may have less ability to digest lactose and can experience lactose intolerance symptoms. When the bowel is fully healed, about 2 weeks later, lactase should be produced again.

In the meantime, they can consume lactose-free milk, like Lactaid.

6. Lactose intolerance symptoms typically develop around the time kids start school

Another common time to start noting the symptoms of lactose intolerance is in the teenage period. Symptoms tend of become more noticeable as kids and teens become older.

7. Lactose intolerance can predisposition can be inherited from our genes.

People from certain ethnic groups are more likely to become lactose intolerant. United States statistics show that lactose intolerance is present in:

  • 60-100% of American Indians
  • 90% of Asian Americans
  • 80% of African Americans
  • 53% of Mexican Americans
  • 15% of people of northern European descent

8. Certain chronic diseases can predispose people to lactose intolerance

Diseases that affect the small bowel like Crohn disease and celiac disease can affect an individual’s ability to produce lactase and be a cause of lactose intolerance.

9. Children may need to be tested for lactose intolerance if it’s suspected

One way to check if your kid has difficulty breaking down lactose is to remove all milk products from the child’s diet for 2 weeks to see if symptoms go away. After 2 weeks, slowly reintroduce the removed milk products to see if symptoms come back. However, this method is not foolproof because there are non dairy products that contain lactose.

So if you think your child may have lactose intolerance talk to their pediatrician to see if laboratory testing is needed. There are a few ways to check for lactose intolerance, but your pediatrician will be able to determine which one is indicated after doing a thorough history and physical exam.

10. Not all dairy is loaded with lactose.

Many children with lactose intolerance can eat yogurt and aged cheeses like Parmesan, Swiss, and cheddar. This is because the processes of manufacturing these products often remove lactose.

11. With time, children learn how much milk and milk products they can tolerate

Younger children with lactose intolerance really should try to avoid common sources of lactose, such as milk, ice cream, soft cheeses (for example, American cheese and Mozzarella cheese).

Older children can often eat a small amount of these and other lactose-containing foods.

12. There can be “hidden” lactose in many products besides milk.

Children with lactose intolerance and their parents must learn how to read food labels. This will ensure that you can detect if a certain food item contains lactose before consuming it. Take a look at the ingredients list of everything, but don’t just look for the terms “milk” or “lactose”. The following words may also mean the food item has lactose:

  • Dry milk solids
  • Curds
  • Milk by-products
  • Whey
  • Non-fat dry milk powder

Lactose may also be added as an ingredient to many other unexpected food items. Their tolerance can be variable, but children with very low tolerance for lactose may develop symptoms with these:

  • Bread, baked goods
  • Breakfast cereals and drinks
  • Instant potatoes and soups
  • Margarine
  • Lunch meat (not including kosher meat)
  • Salad dressing
  • Candy
  • Snack foods
  • Dry mixes for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies
  • Powdered coffee creamer
  • Non-dairy whipped topping

13. You can get over-the-counter lactase

While there is not a cure for lactose intolerance, you can actually buy lactase enzyme over-the-counter (OTC). It can be given to children right before a meal, and it may help in digesting lactose. Talk to your pediatrician about this option to see if it is right for your child.

Check out this product for example, found at Walmart.

14. Children can drink lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk (like Lactaid)

Lactaid milk and other similarly formulated lactose-free milks can be consumed by children with lactose intolerance. These milk products have the same ingredients as regular milk and can be store in the refrigerator for just as long. Lactase enzyme is added to these products to help the body digest it.

Some brands like Lactaid make lactose-free ice cream as well. Those are some tasty news! 😉

15. Lactose-intolerant mothers can safely breastfeed their baby.

Breastfeeding is safe for mothers who are lactose intolerant. Intolerance cannot be passed along from mother to baby by means of breastfeeding.

16. There are other sources of calcium that children can consume besides milk.

You may find yourself in one of those rare cases in which all milk and dairy products have to be avoided, you may worry about your child’s calcium intake. The good news is that there are many other sources of calcium that your child can incorporate in their diet. Some are: broccoli, sweet potatoes, oranges, and pinto beans.

I found this awesome article about plant sources of calcium with portion sizes. I recommend taking a look at it if you need inspiration for grocery shopping and in the kitchen.

17. You child may still need calcium supplementation

As a follow up to the statement above: if your child falls in the small category of people who have to avoid dairy altogether, and incorporating other food sources of calcium as described above has not worked out, supplements may be in place. The recommended amount of calcium for otherwise healthy children depends on their age, as follows:

Age groupRecommended Daily Amount of Calcium
1–3 years500 mg
4–8 years800 mg
9–18 years1,300 mg

These are estimates, and there are even more age-specific tables that break down further the age ranges. So, these numbers may look a bit different for your child’s specific case. If goals are not met, talk to your child’s pediatrician. They will give you more personalized recommendations about supplementing, including the dose and formulation that is adequate for your child.

I hope you learned something from this article! Share it with others to spread the word and maybe help some who needs to know this information.


Have you ever considered that your child may be lactose intolerant? This problem affects many children, yet there are some sneaky ways in which …

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