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Lactose Intolerance in Children and Babies

Updated on September 23, 2013

Lactose Intolerance in Children and Babies

What is Lactose Intolerance in children?

Sugar found in milk and other dairy products such as soft cheese and ice cream is called lactose. People who cannot digest lactose are prey to lactose intolerance. The root cause of this problem is less production of lactase (natural enzyme) by the intestinal tract, which is responsible for the digestion of lactose.

The ingested lactose is not digested properly and accumulates in the intestine because of insufficient production of lactase. This leads to problems such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, gas, and bloating.

Lactose intolerance can be a problem of life time for grownups but in case of children, it can be a temporary problem that has occurred when they have some gastrointestinal infections or after taking some antibiotics. Lactose intolerance can be confused with milk allergy by some parents as they develop similar symptoms, but they are caused due to different problems and are dissimilar in nature. Milk allergy is caused due to immune system problems while lactose intolerance is a digestive problem. But when the symptoms get prominent, the child needs to be tested for both the problems.

For children who get cramps, gas, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products such as cool milk, ice cream sundae etc. the chances of having lactose intolerance are high. Lactose intolerance is a frequent problem with people of Africa, Asia, Hispanic descent, and Native America.


Depending upon the amount of lactose consumed and the ability of the child to tolerate lactose, the symptoms of lactose intolerance can range from mild to severe. Children suffering from this problem starts to feel the following symptoms after 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming any lactose containing drink or food item.

  • Nausea

  • Gas

  • Stomach cramps

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal bloating


Lactose intolerance in children occurs when their body produces less lactase which is responsible to break down the lactose into two parts of sugar called galactose and glucose. When this break down does not occur due to deficiency of lactase in the body, it passes to large intestine through small intestine. In large intestine the bacterial fermentation occurs and it is transformed into acids and gases.

In case of children and babies, their body produces natural enzyme so that breast milk or milk can be digested. This problem of less lactase production happens in premature infants who are born too early. In normal and mature babies this problem is not usually reported until they are around 3 years of age. In Caucasians, this problem usually occurs in children who are above 5 years of age, whereas in African Americans, this problem is found to occur more early at the age of 2 years. This lactose intolerance problem is less common in the children of western or northern European background. Other causes of lactose intolerance may be intestinal disease like celiac sprue, bowel surgery, and small intestine infections from parasites, bacteria, and viruses.


The symptoms of lactose intolerance may be similar to other problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. This can be ascertained by changing substituting the ice cream which gave you cramps with mashed potatoes, milk, or certain candies; if you still get the same cramps within 2 hours of consumption then chances of lactose intolerance are higher than other problems. Other tests which can be conducted to be certain about the exact problem include the following:

  • Stool pH

  • Lactose-hydrogen breath test

  • Lactose intolerance test


Lactose intolerance is not curable but changes in diet can help you ease the symptoms. Cutting down the milk products in the diet is usually recommended. Milk products which can easily be digested include the following:

  • Goat’s milk

  • Cheese and buttermilk as they have less lactose than milk

  • Ice cream, hard cheese, and milkshakes

  • Yogurt and other fermented milk products

  • Rice milk or soy for toddlers

  • Soy formula for kids less than 2 years

  • Milk treated with lactase for older children

  • Lactase free milk and milk products

Most of the children with lactose intolerance can drink 8oz. of milk without much difficulty so lactase enzyme can be added to this milk and taken in. Otherwise it can be given to kids in form of chewable tablets or capsules. Nutritionists say that not consuming milk in lead to shortage of vitamin D, calcium, protein, and riboflavin in children so they should consume dairy in small quantities as it can fulfil these deficiencies. This helps the colon bacteria to slowly balance the increasing load of carbohydrate by digesting the things which can not be digested in the small intestine. A part from this other calcium rich suppliments should be consumed such as orange juice, oyester, canned salmon, broccoli, leafy grens, sardines, and shrimp. This helps the children to lead a normal life.


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