Understanding Lactose Intolerance in Children
Does your little munchkin react badly on consuming milk or dairy products, complaining of tummy aches, gurgling tummy or stomach upsets? It could either be because of milk allergy or lactose intolerance in kids. Both terms are often used interchangeably but are different, even though some symptoms. It is important for parents to understand the difference between the two to get the right test, treatments and diets for lactose intolerance in children.
What is lactose?
Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products such as frozen yogurt, cheese, ice creams, etc., foods that are often children’s favorite. Lactose is a large sugar molecule which is made up of two simple, smaller sugar molecules – glucose and galactose.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is when the body is unable to easily break down or digest lactose. Lactose intolerance starts in childhood to adolescence and becomes more noticeable in adulthood.
Lactose intolerance in children is different from milk allergies in that lactose intolerance is a digestive problem that can cause a great deal of discomfort while milk allergies are an immune system problem that cause life-threatening reactions like anaphylaxis.
What causes lactose intolerance?
For proper digestion of milk and other dairy products and absorption of the nutrients by the body, lactose needs be broken down into glucose and galactose by lactase, an enzyme/ digestive juice produced by the small intestine.
So, lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine doesn’t make enough lactase and causes the absorption of lactose to be ineffective. The unabsorbed lactose causes symptoms of lactose intolerance.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Do you suspect your little munchkin has lactose intolerance? Not all reactions to milk and dairy products are lactose intolerance. The following are the symptoms of lactose intolerance in toddlers/ kids.
3. Abdominal pain, cramping and bloating
4. Watery diarrhea
These symptoms can occur within minutes to hours after drinking milk/ consuming dairy products. These symptoms of lactose intolerance in toddlers/ kids can range from mild to severe based on the amount consumed and the amount tolerated.
Since most toddlers and children cannot express verbally when they are experiencing these symptoms, you need signs such as clenching of fists, passing gas while crying, etc. for stomach pain, and larger than normal stomach that is hard to touch for bloating.
If your little ones are displaying these symptoms whenever they consume milk, dairy products or other products with lactose, then you must consult a doctor. The doctor will conduct a lactose intolerance test in your baby such as lactose breath test or a hydrogen breath test to diagnose the condition.
Treatment and management
While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, the doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter lactase enzyme supplement for lactose intolerance in babies’ treatment to help alleviate and manage the symptoms.
The best way to manage lactose intolerance in children is to reduce the amount of lactose in their diet. Read on for lactose-intolerant toddler’s diet tips.
Foods that are OK to have:
- Cheese with small lactose content – Camembert, brie, cheddar, fetta, mozzarella, and parmesan.
- Yogurt – Probiotic bacteria in yogurt breaks down the lactose so it is fine for your lactose intolerant kid to eat.
- Calcium fortified soy products – Soy yogurt, Soy milk, Soy ice-cream and soy cheese
- Lactose free cow’s milk
- Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and other protein foods.
Watch out for these foods:
- Ice-cream with milk
- Milk desserts
- Muesli bars
Even some baked goods are known to have lactose.
Check the ingredients in these foods:
- Biscuits, cakes & cake mixes
- Milk chocolate
Does avoiding milk-based products lead to Calcium deficiency?
Yes, it will lead to Calcium deficiency. To combat the deficiency in your lactose intolerant child, include foods that are rich in calcium, other than dairy products.
Foods to boost Calcium level in lactose intolerant kids
- Lactose free dairy products
- Bengal gram, rajma, soybean
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, drumstick leaves, broccoli, etc.
Lactose intolerance in kids is manageable when diagnosed early. Early diagnosis and effective management will pave the way for you to have a happier and less fussy little one.