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Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance happens when a person eats or drinks more lactose than their body can digest. It is not caused by an allergy to milk. The symptoms of lactose intolerance most commonly include stomach pain and diarrhoea.
Lactose intolerance occurs when the body doesn’t have enough of the enzyme (chemical) called lactase, which helps digest lactose. A temporary lactose intolerance can happen after some illnesses, such as gastroenteritis, when the body's stores of lactase are temporarily reduced. Inflammation of the
bowel as a result of intolerance to other foods, infection or bowel surgery can also result in lactose intolerance.
For children aged seven to 10 years, lactose intolerance is usually treated by avoiding products containing milk or lactose. Some children develop a permanent intolerance to lactose and have to avoid milk products for the rest of their lives.
If your child has lactose intolerance, after consuming milk or milk products they are likely to have:
Lactose intolerance is very rare in babies. However, if your baby displays unsettled behaviour, poor growth, loose bowel actions and significant nappy rash, this may indicate a lactose intolerance.
If your child has symptoms of lactose intolerance, take them to see a GP. The doctor will be able to determine if your child is lactose intolerant and rule out other conditions. They may do some investigations and recommend that you see a dietician. It is important not to self-diagnose your
child and make changes to their diet without consulting a doctor or dietitian.
If your child is found to be lactose intolerant, a low lactose diet will be recommended for a few weeks. This means reducing their intake of products that have milk or lactose in them. These include products containing:
Read ingredient labels on commercial products carefully. Check with your doctor or pharmacist whether any medication your child is prescribed contains lactose.
If your child does consume some lactose there is no need for concern – children with lactose intolerance will usually be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose; however, large amounts of lactose often produce symptoms.
Select appropriate foods from each of the following groups each day for a nutritious, low lactose diet.
Milk and milk products
For young children, aim for two to three serves of low lactose dairy products or lactose-free milk each day. For older children, aim for three serves of low lactose dairy products or lactose-free milk each day. Teenagers should aim for four serves of low lactose dairy products or
lactose-free milk each day.
Breads, cereals, rice and pasta
Fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned or dried)
Meat and protein foods (including fish, chicken, pulses and legumes)
Fats and oils
Lacteeze drops and tablets contain lactase, which breaks down lactose. The drops can be added to foods containing lactose, making the food lactose-free, while the tablets can be taken before eating foods with lactose in them as the lactase will help with the digestion of lactose. You can buy
Lacteeze online or from pharmacies.
If your baby is diagnosed with lactose intolerance, an infant formula product that is low in lactose may be recommended. Soy formula is not recommended for infants younger than six months old.
If you are breastfeeding your baby, even if you reduce lactose in your own diet, lactose will still be present in your breastmilk. You can speak to a lactation consultant about adjusting breastfeeding to reduce the amount of lactose passed through to your baby. Your doctor may recommend giving
your baby Lacteeze during feeding – discuss how this can be done with your doctor.
After the low lactose diet, a normal diet containing lactose can usually be reintroduced in consultation with your child's doctor or dietitian. This needs to be done slowly and under supervision, over the course of a week or longer.
What’s the difference between lactose intolerance and milk
Lactose intolerance and allergy to milk are different
conditions, though they may share similar symptoms which occur after your child
has had milk or dairy products. Lactose intolerance is a problem with the
digestive system, while a milk allergy is a problem with the immune system.
Lactose intolerance may cause pain and discomfort but is not dangerous, whereas
an allergy can cause the life-threatening reaction anaphylaxis.
If my baby is lactose intolerant and I am breastfeeding, do
I need to cut dairy out of my diet?
Reducing the amount of dairy a mother ingests will reduce
the amount of cow-milk protein that gets passed through to a breast-fed child.
This can be helpful for a different condition, called cow-milk protein
intolerance. Even when a breast-feeding mother excludes dairy completely from
her own diet, lactose is still found in breastmilk. Remember, true lactose
intolerance is very rare in babies.
How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?
can be investigated by assessing a sample of your child's stool (poo) or via a
breath-test. Discuss these different tests with your child's doctor.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Gastroenterology and Nutrition and Food Services departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed May 2018.
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