Child in toilet

For many children, a scoop of ice cream sundae or glass of milk with a piece of cookie sound like a terrific treat, but for some children, they can be the stuff of discomfort. These food items, along with other dairy products contain lactose, the primary sugar in milk and other milk-based products. Children who are lactose sensitive find it difficult to digest lactose and feel a level of discomfort in the process1.

Below is a rundown of everything you need to know about lactose sensitivity in children and what you can do to support their digestion.


What is lactose sensitivity?

Lactose sensitivity, or commonly referred to as “lactose intolerance,” occurs when the body produces lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in very little amounts. Since there isn’t enough lactase produced, the lactose consumed is not broken down properly. As a result, it passes into the large intestine and is converted into gases and acids by bacteria1.

This entire process can cause abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea for a certain period of time commencing from the moment of ingestion of any food or drinks that contain lactose. For young children, this is surely a huge source of discomfort and quite understandably, many tears.


What causes lactose sensitivity in children?

When a child is lactose sensitive, it means they are not producing enough of the enzyme lactase in their stomach, which makes them sensitive to milk and milk products. Among the most common causes of lactose sensitivity are the following2:

  • Injury sustained in the small intestine

  • Diseases or infections in the digestive system

  • Lactose intolerance in the family’s medical history

  • Congenital lactase deficiency, which is a very rare condition of not being able to produce lactase from birth.


What are the symptoms of lactose sensitivity in children?

As lactose is not broken down and digested properly in the small intestine of children who are lactose sensitive, it reaches the colon whole. Once in the colon, it gets broken down by colon bacteria, at which point it produces carbon dioxide and hydrogen gases3

Children with lactose sensitivity will most likely experience one of the following symptoms4:

  • flatulence/farting

  • diarrhoea

  • bloating

  • abdominal cramps and pains

  • stomach rumbling

  • feeling sick

The intensity and severity of these symptoms largely depend on how much lactose your child can tolerate5. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms especially after consuming dairy products, make sure to check with your doctor to be precise about what might be causing your child’s discomfort.

Note that lactose sensitivity is not the same as a food allergy to milk, nor is it the same with cow’s milk protein intolerance; however, your child may also experience diarrhea as a symptom of these two2.


How to support your child’s digestion

A lactose intolerant child needs all the help they can get especially in their diet. You can support your child’s digestion by modifying the food they eat. You may find it helpful to speak to a dietitian or nutritionist to check what food items you can use to complement your child’s diet and support his/her lactose sensitivity. 

Below are some tips for you to support your child’s digestion: 

  • Make sure that your child is getting all the nutrients from a well-balanced diet. Speak to your doctor on the possible replacements for the food items that your child might be sensitive to.

  • Be a source of calmness to your child. Lactose sensitivity symptoms can be unpleasant and come in the most unfavorable situations. Make sure that you appease and assure your child that everything will be alright and that you are with him/her as you figure out the situation together.

  • Seek help and support. Find a community of other parents and experienced professionals so you can find helpful tips on how to deal with some of these situations. Stay constantly updated with trends and helpful information as well as keep your communication lines open with your trusted healthcare professional so that they may guide you and answer any questions you may have.

The symptoms of lactose sensitivity in children can be a tough and painful ordeal. Equipped with the right information on its causes and recalibrating a new diet which is free of triggering foods, you can rest assured that your child’s digestive system is well-taken care of.



  1. Lactose Intolerance (Date Reviewed January 2015). Retrieved on November 12, 2020, from
  2. Lactose Intolerance In Children (Updated December 2012). Retrieved on November 12, 2020, from
  3. 5 Can’t-Miss Signs That Your Child Is Lactose Intolerant (2020). Retrieved on November 12, 2020, from
  4. Lactose Intolerance (2019). Retrieved on November 12, 2020, from