Lactose Intolerance in Children: Care Instructions

Skip to the navigation

Your Care Instructions

Lactose is sugar that is found in milk and milk products. Some children do not make enough of an enzyme called lactase, which digests lactose. When this happens it can cause gas, belly pain, diarrhea, and bloating. This is called lactose intolerance. This is not the same as a food allergy to milk.

Lactose intolerance affects different children in different ways. Some children cannot digest any milk products. Other children can eat or drink small amounts of milk products or certain types of milk products without problems. You can help your child learn how to avoid discomfort and still get enough calcium to build and maintain healthy bones.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Limit the amount of milk and milk products in your child's diet. Have your child try to drink 1 glass of milk each day. Have your child drink small amounts several times a day. This can be a glass of whole, low-fat, or skim milk because all milk contains the same amount of lactose. If you are not sure whether a milk product causes symptoms, have your child try a small amount and wait to see how your child feels before he or she eats or drinks more.
  • Have your child eat or drink milk and milk products along with other foods. For some children, combining a solid food (like cereal) with a dairy product (like milk) can reduce symptoms.
  • Have your child eat small amounts of milk products throughout the day instead of larger amounts all at once.
  • Have your child eat or drink milk and milk products that have reduced lactose.
  • Have your child eat or drink other foods instead of milk and milk products. Have your child try soy beverage and soy cheese.
  • Use lactase products. These are dietary supplements that help your child digest lactose. Some are pills that your child chews (such as Lactaid) before he or she eats or drinks milk products. Others are liquids that you can add to milk 24 hours before your child drinks it. Try a few to see which ones work best for your child.
  • Some children who are lactose-intolerant can eat some kinds of yogurt without problems, especially yogurt with live cultures. It's best to try a small amount of different brands of yogurt to see which ones work best for your child.
  • Watch out for lactose in foods you buy. Some prepared foods contain lactose, including breads and baked goods, breakfast cereals, instant potatoes and soups, margarine, salad dressings, and many snacks. Be sure to read labels for lactose and for lactose's "hidden" names. These include dry milk solids, whey, curds, milk by-products, and nonfat dry milk powder.
  • Find other sources of calcium. These include calcium-fortified orange juice, almonds, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli.
  • If you are worried about your child getting enough nutrients, ask your doctor about giving your child supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse belly pain.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter T411 in the search box to learn more about "Lactose Intolerance in Children: Care Instructions".