If you are parent struggling with dairy digestion, whether in your children or yourself, it's important to know that lactose intolerance and milk allergies are not the same thing. Say what?! That’s right. They're different.
KidsHealth.org says, “A milk allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly sees the milk protein as something the body should fight off.” For infants, the allergic reaction usually starts as fussiness, irritability, and an upset stomach. When your child has these symptoms, chances are he or she will have the same reaction to goats, sheep, and soy milk.
Lactose intolerance is different. This is when children, and some adults, have stomach and digestion issues after eating dairy products because their body cannot digest the main sugar in dairy products called “lactose.”
Here's a short and sweet science lesson to make this easier to understand: Our bodies make enzymes, called lactase. Lactase’s job is to break down lactose in dairy into two smaller sugars. This breaking down happens in the small intestine. When the body doesn't have enough lactase to break down the lactose, it skips the small intestine and goes straight to the large intestine, where bacteria ferment it into gas and acids.
Remember the movie “French Kiss”? When Meg Ryan consumes all that cheese, after not eating dairy in YEARS, she has a gas-poop attack and yells, “LACTOSE INTOLERANCE!” Poor Meg Ryan's character was, indeed, lactose intolerant.
How can we know if our babies, toddlers, or children have lactose intolerance?
You will see symptoms of gas, discomfort in the abdomen, bloating, or diarrhea. If you’re breast feeding, change your diet to a dairy-free one and see if that helps your baby's digestion. If that doesn’t help, you’ll need to contact your pediatrician and let him or her know that dairy upsets your baby. Your doctor should give you advice on modifying your diet. If you're bottle-formula feeding your baby, your doctor can give you formulas without lactose.
There are some children who will grow out of the intolerance. However, most children will have lactose intolerance their whole lives. Parents, do not freak out if your child is lactose intolerant, because it is so common! Thankfully, though, many recipes are being discovered and invented specifically for these people (and sometimes they taste the same or better than the real dairy product!).
To prevent the symptoms from occurring, try these dairy substitutes, which are all lactose free, and remember to read labels. They must say 100 percent lactose free!
- Lactaid Milk, Soy Milk
- Precious Cheese
- Breyers “Lactose Free” Ice Cream
- Tofutti Cream Cheese
- Green Valley has many lactose-free food options.