Milk intolerance in children is usually the result of either a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, which are two unrelated conditions with varying degrees of severity. If your child is experiencing sensitivity to cow's milk, only a doctor can diagnose the exact cause and recommend necessary dietary changes to ensure your child's health.
A milk allergy is an extremely common allergy in children, according to Dr. Antony Ham-Pong, a pediatrician at the University of Ottawa. Children with milk allergies have allergic reactions to any of the various proteins present in milk. These reactions can be irritating but non-life-threatening, such as rashes and hives. They can also be severe and demand immediate medical attention, such as anaphylactic shock. To get the nutrition your milk-free child might otherwise miss, try soy, rice or almond milk products instead. These dairy-free drinks are usually fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients your child needs. You can find them in most supermarkets now, both in the refrigerator case and in shelf-stable packaging in the health foods aisle of the store. They come in various flavors, including plain, vanilla and chocolate.
Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a milk allergy. People who suffer from lactose intolerance cannot digest lactose, which is milk sugar. To digest lactose, your body must produce sufficient lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose. People whose bodies don't produce enough lactase gradually slow their lactase production from age 2 onward. Little kids are less likely to have lactose intolerance than a milk allergy. If your doctor informs you that your child is lactose intolerant, you can switch him to dairy-alternative milks. There are also lactase pills and drops available that help your child digest the lactose in normal dairy milk. You can stir the drops into a container of milk in the fridge, or you can administer them individually every time your child has a serving of dairy milk. Some lactose-free dairy milks are also sold in the dairy section of many supermarkets. The key to getting necessary nutrition into your child is finding a lactose-free or dairy-free milk product that your child likes.
For children with milk allergies and lactose intolerance, getting enough calcium can be a concern. Once your doctor has diagnosed the problem, talk to him about calcium supplements and calcium-fortified foods that can replace milk products in your child's healthy diet. Some children with lactose intolerance and milk allergies can eat or drink small quantities of milk or dairy products with no ill effects, and may have no trouble with yogurts with live and active cultures. In some cases, lactose intolerant children have no problem with dairy products used in baked goods, but only experience problems with a big glass of milk. However, severely milk allergic children need for you to carefully scan ingredient labels for hidden sources of milk. Many prepared food products use egg, cheese and milk products as fillers. Bread and breaded foods, chips and sausages are just some of the foods that may contain these products. Worse still, they're not always labeled in an obvious way.
When reading food labels look for terms like "butter fat," "whey," "ghee," "lactose free milk formula" and "hydrolysed milk protein" as these terms all indicate the presence of cow's milk proteins. Ask you doctor for a complete list of ingredients you should avoid. Lactose intolerance, while annoying and inconvenient, is usually not life-threatening; however, milk allergies can be -- especially if your child's allergy is severe. With severe allergies, your child may not even need to ingest a milk product to have an adverse reaction. Milk contact with your child's skin or even the smell of milk products can be enough to cause some symptoms, but ingesting offending foods and drinks is the quickest way for severe reactions to occur.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images