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Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive condition that affects people of all ages, including children. While lactose intolerance in children can present challenges, understanding its causes, symptoms, and management strategies can help parents and caregivers support their child’s health and well-being. 


What is Lactose Intolerance? 

Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder characterized by the body’s inability to fully digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. This inability to digest lactose occurs due to a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in the small intestine. Without enough lactase, lactose remains undigested and can cause a range of gastrointestinal symptoms when it reaches the large intestine. 


Causes of Lactose Intolerance in Children: 

Lactose intolerance in children can be primary or secondary: 

  • Primary lactose intolerance: This is the most common type of lactose intolerance and occurs when the body produces less lactase enzyme with age. Primary lactose intolerance is typically genetic and is more common in certain ethnic groups. 
  • Secondary lactose intolerance: Secondary lactose intolerance can occur from injury or illness affecting the small intestine, such as gastroenteritis, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease. In these cases, the temporary loss of lactase activity leads to lactose intolerance until the underlying condition is treated. 


Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance in Children: 

The symptoms of lactose intolerance in children can vary in severity and may include: 

  • Abdominal pain or cramps 
  • Bloating and gas 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Fussiness or irritability, especially after consuming dairy products 
  • Stomach rumbling or gurgling sounds 

It is important for parents and caregivers to pay attention to their child’s symptoms and seek medical advice if they suspect lactose intolerance. 


Management of Lactose Intolerance in Children: 

While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, there are several strategies that can help children manage their symptoms and enjoy a healthy diet: 

  • Dietary modifications: Children with lactose intolerance can still consume dairy products in moderation or choose lactose-free alternatives, such as lactose-free milk, yogurt, and cheese. Additionally, lactase enzyme supplements are available over the counter and can be taken with dairy-containing meals to help digest lactose. 
  • Calcium-rich foods: Since dairy products are a primary source of calcium, children with lactose intolerance should ensure they are getting enough calcium from other sources, such as fortified non-dairy beverages, leafy greens, tofu, and canned fish with bones. 
  • Trial and error: Some children may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose-containing foods without experiencing symptoms, while others may need to avoid dairy products altogether. Parents and caregivers can experiment with different dairy products and portion sizes to determine what works best for their child. 
  • Nutritional counseling: Working with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider can help parents and caregivers develop a well-balanced diet plan that meets their child’s nutritional needs while managing lactose intolerance symptoms. 


Lactose intolerance is a common digestive condition that can affect children of all ages. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and management strategies for lactose intolerance, parents and caregivers can help their child navigate dietary choices and maintain their overall health and well-being.  


If you have additional questions about your child’s health, please contact our board-certified clinicians by calling 855-576-8745 or booking a telehealth appointment.