You hear all of the time about how important it is for your child to get enough calcium from milk and other dairy products, as it's essential for healthy and strong bones. But if your child has a lactose intolerance—the inability to digest lactose or milk sugars—getting enough calcium can pose quite a challenge.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance occurs when your child's body simply can't produce enough of the enzyme needed to break down the lactose that is contained in certain foods. As a result, the lactose sits in the stomach and causes a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including gas, bloating, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Not a True Food Allergy

While you can't cure your child's lactose intolerance, you can reduce the frequency of the symptoms and their severity so your child can get the right nutrients without ill effects.

Here are some tried and true tips that the experts recommend:

  • Recognize that not all dairy products are created equal. Some children have a reaction to milk but can tolerate hard cheeses and yogurt just fine since these have lower amounts of lactose in them.
  • Look for milk products that are labeled reduced lactose or even lactose free. These have the lactose-digesting enzyme in them already.
  • Experiment with your child's diet. Younger children who are extremely sensitive to dairy can't handle any lactose but some older children can tolerate a small amount, especially if they combine it with other foods, rather than alone, since this can help minimize the reaction.
  • Give your child a medication that provides the body with the enzyme needed to digest lactose properly. You can either opt for a one-a-day pill that should cover your child for all meals and snacks, or select a pill that is taken "as needed" with dairy foods.

Educate Yourself

It is also important to read labels so you know what foods contain lactose. In addition to expected items such as milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream, many processed foods you probably wouldn't suspect also contain this very common ingredient. These include things like breads, baked goods, waffles, cookies, doughnuts, cereals, soups, potato chips, lunch meats, hot dogs and salad dressing. Further, some medications, including those to treat stomach acid and gas, may also contain lactose and can cause the very symptoms you want to avoid.

Finally, you can also look for foods that don't contain lactose but still are rich in calcium. This includes salmon, sardines, spinach, soy milk, broccoli, oranges and fortified orange juice.





American Academy of Pediatrics

Children's Hospital Boston

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse