Lactose Intolerance in Children Presents a Special Challenge to Parents
Lactose intolerance in children leads to the same symptoms experienced by adults -- bloating, cramps, gas, and sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If your child is experiencing these symptoms every time he drinks milk or eats dairy products, he may be lactose intolerant. This condition is caused by difficulty metabolizing lactose, a disaccharide sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Essentially, lactose intolerant people do not have sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase in their small intestines needed to break down lactose. Lactase splits lactose into the components glucose and galactose so they can be absorbed into the small intestine.
A common cause of lactose intolerance in children is heredity, and it is also more likely to affect those of Asian, African, Hispanic, and Native American descent. Other causes of lactose intolerance include specific genetic abnormalities that run in families or damage to the small intestine occurring during surgery or due to infection.
Regardless of the cause, lactose intolerance in children may cause concern among parents because a commonly recommended treatment for lactose intolerance involves removing milk and dairy products from the diet. Milk and dairy products are rich in vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, and certain proteins, and these nutrients are critical for proper growth and development in children. Nutritionists recommend a daily intake of 1,200 mg (milligrams) to 1,500 mg of calcium for all adults and children.
With these factors in mind, parents can help ensure that children get the right amounts of nutrients on a lactose restricted diet by giving them:
Using these tips, lactose intolerant children can easily be fed a proper diet rich in vital nutrients without consuming milk products. However, you should check with your pediatrician before altering your child's diet to ensure that a proper diagnosis has been given and that your plans for replacing dairy products are healthy.
- Yogurt and hard cheeses, which do contain lactose, but are composed in a way that allows easier digestion among some lactose intolerant people.
- Soy milk and rice milk -- for children age 2 and older.
- Small amounts of regular milk -- up to two, 4-ounce servings daily. Some lactose intolerant children can tolerate small servings.
- Breast milk and cow's milk formulas (for infants), unless instructed otherwise by your pediatrician. The benefits of breast milk and cow's milk for infants outweigh any temporary symptoms of lactose intolerance in young children, unless symptoms are causing significant weight loss or other serious health issues.
- Lactose-free or reduced-lactose milk and formulas.
- A daily calcium supplement.
- A lactase replacement, which allow some lactose intolerant people to consume milk.