By: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RDAna Reisdorf, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 13-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. She is the author of three books, including theAnti-Inflammatory Diet One PotCookbook. Through her writing she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives
Most people are familiar with lactose intolerance, likely because it’s said to affect two thirds of the entire adult population. As adults, lactose intolerance is a manageable, albeit annoying, condition, but as a child who can receive many of the nutrients they need to grow and develop from milk, it can be far more difficult, particularly on the parents.
The first step to learning how to treat your child with this condition is to identify the issue. Here we discuss what is lactose intolerance, the signs of lactose intolerance in kids, and healthy alternatives to milk that both you and your kid will love.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance, also considered as a milk intolerance, occurs when lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, isn’t present in the body. Because it cannot be digested properly, when lactose is consumed it causes digestive issues such as cramps, nausea, and gas, to name a few.
Lactose intolerance is often confused with an allergy to milk and/or dairy. However, these are two very different conditions. Milk allergies in babies typically appear in infants in their first year of life but in some cases, children may outgrow a milk allergy later on in childhood. In comparison, a lactose intolerance typically sets in later in childhood or even adulthood. Also unlike a milk allergy, an intolerance to lactose is not life-threatening. The symptoms can cause great discomfort but can also be avoided by avoiding lactose-containing products.
In some rare cases, babies are born without lactase and thus are lactose intolerant from birth. In other cases, lactose intolerance may be a symptom of something else. For instance, if your child experienced an infection or was diagnosed with celiac disease (an inability to digest gluten), his or her digestive tract may be irritated and unable to digest lactose for the time being. As your child’s digestive tract heals from damage or irritation, though, they will likely become tolerant of lactose again.
In any case, you won’t begin to notice the signs of lactose intolerance until you feed your child a dairy or milk product which isn’t advised until the child is between nine and twelve months old, if you so choose.
6 Common Signs of Lactose Intolerance
Once you begin feeding your child cow’s milk and other dairy products, keep an eye out for these six common signs of lactose intolerance.
1. Abdominal Pain and Cramps
Your little one may not be able to tell you they are experiencing stomach cramps or a tummy ache, but they won’t be shy about crying or clinging close to you if their stomach hurts. Pay close attention to their behavior and irritability after eating a dairy product to pick up on potential lactose intolerance.
Once again, your toddler probably can’t tell you they are experiencing this symptom if they haven’t learned the word for “bloated” yet, but if you carefully inspect their little tummy, you should be able to tell if it’s distended after eating dairy.
Nausea is another common side effect of lactose intolerance. If your child has a sensitive stomach, they may even spit up. Keep an eye out for signs of nausea such as clutching the stomach or crying when determining a dairy sensitivity.
4. Diarrhea and Strong-Smelling Stool
As a parent to a toddler, you’re more than familiar with changing smelly diapers, so you’ll probably notice if the consistency and scent of your child’s stool seems off. If your child can’t digest lactose, it will actually ferment in the digestive tract, producing diarrhea and/or fermented smelling stool. If your child has recently consumed dairy, this is a sure sign of lactose intolerance and one of the easiest for you to spot.
If your child is particularly gassy after consuming dairy or cries when passing gas, they could be lactose intolerant. Gas trapped in the stomach can also cause extreme discomfort and stomach cramps that may make your child irritable or upset.
6. Quick Onset of Symptoms
All of these symptoms are common enough to indicate any number of illnesses but a key differentiator between other illnesses and food intolerances is the quick onset of symptoms. Any of these signs will appear within 30 minutes to 2 hours of consuming milk or dairy-based products if your child is lactose intolerant.
Testing for Lactose Intolerance
While these signs of lactose intolerance in kids will help you spot the condition, you can also test for lactose intolerance at the doctor. Depending on your pediatrician, they may recommend a simple breath test, which measures hydrogen levels in the breath after consuming lactose. When hydrogen levels are present or increased, it’s an indication that lactose isn’t being properly digested.
Based simply on symptoms, or on proven test results, your pediatrician will recommend diet changes to support kids allergies such as eliminating or greatly reducing dairy products form your child’s diet.
How to Treat Lactose Intolerance
While there’s no cure for lactose intolerance, simply eliminating lactose-containing foods from your child’s diet will keep uncomfortable symptoms at bay. Depending on how severe your child’s symptoms are, they may be able to consume small amounts of lactose without any adverse side effects. In other cases, the smallest amount of lactose can cause issues. At first, you may need to experiment to determine what affects your child and what won’t.
You may not even be aware of all of the lactose-containing foods, so it’s important to consult your pediatrician to understand what foods in addition to milk and other dairy products may be causing digestive issues for your little one.
While modern options make cutting dairy out of adult diets quite simple, growing children do benefit from many of the nutrients found in milk. So, it’s important to supplement a lactose intolerant child’s diet with a nutritional alternative when eliminating milk and dairy products.
Milk Alternatives for Lactose Intolerant Toddlers
Adopting a high quality milk alternative is important to meet your little one’s nutritional needs. While there are a number of options on the market, most of the dairy substitutes you’ll see on the shelves aren’t formulated for toddlers. Here are a few of the pros and cons of the most common options so you can choose the best for your child.
Soy milk is made from soybeans and has the closest nutrient composition to cow’s milk. However, it’s important to choose a fortified and organic version to ensure your child is getting all the nutrients he or she needs and protect them from genetically modified ingredients.
You’ve probably noticed a plethora of nut milks on the grocery store shelves; there’s almond, cashew, macadamia, coconut, and so on. While these nut milks are great alternatives for full grown adults, they are much lower in fat, calories, protein and carbohydrates and thus, are found lacking when it comes to providing proper nutrition for your toddler. If you do opt for nut milk, reach for unsweetened versions to avoid excess sugar often added to these products.
Seed-based milk alternatives are typically made from hemp, flax, or sesame seeds. While these seed milks are high in fat and fiber, they fall short when it comes to carbohydrates, protein and overall calories.
Grain based milk alternatives are available as well such as oat milk and rice milk. However, these milks provide little nutritional value. They lack calories, protein, and fat compared to cow’s milk. Rice milk is known as being a good source of calcium and contains a variety of other micronutrients, but it also can have traces of the heavy metal, arsenic, which can cause a number of problems later in life.
Complete Plant-Based Nutrition
There is a better quality milk alternative for lactose intolerant kids. When all of these nut, seed, and grain milks don’t measure up, look to something Else.
Where Else is different from most milk alternatives is that it is made with 3 main ingredients— almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca—without any preservatives or stabilizers. This dairy-free nutrition drink contains no casein, whey, or lactose so it’s safe for children who experience toddler seasonal allergies, a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. Plus it is made with whole foods that provide the protein, fat, fiber and vitamins and minerals that meet all the nutritional needs of your growing children.
Previously, parents who were looking for an allergy-friendly, plant-based, vegan, and ethical option that is actually nutritionally sufficient to replace cow’s milk came up empty. With Else, there is now a readily available, dairy-free, soy-free, non-GMO, nutritionally dense, low-in-sugar alternative to cow’s milk, that’s tasty too. Your kids will love the slightly sweet flavor and experience none of the side effects they do from milk.
While there are many dairy-free alternatives for toddlers available, there are not many that offer the calories, fat, calcium, vitamin D, and protein found in milk, plus a host of other nutrients and vitamins not found in cow’s milk. This is why Else Plant-Based Complete Nutrition is the ideal milk alternative for 1 year old toddlers and older. It makes living with lactose intolerance not only easy but also delicious for your child’s diet.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.