Dairy is one of the most common types of food allergy and intolerance in children. An allergy is usually easy to spot, but an intolerance is less obvious symptom-wise. If you suspect your child has dairy intolerance or sensitivity, there are some important things to consider.
Watch the video or keep reading below to learn more about whether your child should be having dairy.
Should my child be having dairy?
I don’t believe that dairy is bad for everyone. For someone who tolerates dairy, it’s a good source of protein, calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium, as well as fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin E.
That being said, I recommend to many of my clients that they trial a dairy-free diet around this time of year. Many conditions that are common in winter can be linked to dairy.
So the truth is – it really depends on your child. If your child is thriving when including dairy, then there is nothing wrong with them including it. But if there are symptoms that suggest an issue with dairy, it might be time to explore the possibility of an intolerance or sensitivity.
Dairy intolerance is not only about lactose!
Many parents I see say that going dairy-free hasn’t worked for their child. They have tried all of the lactose-free milks and other products with no success. But lactose-free doesn’t mean dairy-free.
There are two potential problems when it comes to dairy. The one that most of us know about is lactose – the sugar. But the other is casein, which is the protein in dairy.
Lactose issues are usually easy to spot. There is a lack of an enzyme in the digestive tract that breaks down lactose. This leads to almost immediate symptoms such as bloating, pain, loose bowel movements and excess wind. In this case, cutting out lactose can prevent symptoms.
But many people can also have issues with casein. Casein can cause a variety of symptoms related to digestion, mood and immunity. There are two main types of casein – A1 and A2. Some types of cows will produce A1 casein in their milk. Most commercial milk and dairy products contain A1.
Other less common breeds, such as Jersey and Guernsey cows, produce A2 casein. Goat and sheep-based dairy products also contain A2 casein.
A1 vs A2 milk products
A1 is the most problematic type of casein, as it can be inflammatory. Some people have an enzyme in their gut that converts A1 protein into an inflammatory compound, which can cause issues. If you don’t have this enzyme, dairy is probably fine for you. But for those who are born with the gene that gives them this enzyme, normal dairy is likely to be an issue.
A1 is also the type that increases mucus production. This is why naturopaths will usually suggest avoiding dairy if you have a cold, chesty cough, or a condition linked to excess mucus.
Some kids may tolerate A2 milk, Jersey or Guernsey milk, and goat and sheep products. Others may be unable to tolerate any form of casein. Because it’s a confusing area, it’s usually best to seek professional help if you suspect your child has issues with dairy.
Conditions commonly linked to dairy intolerance or sensitivity
There are many conditions that can be linked to dairy. The most common issues I see with my clients are:
- Eczema – whenever a client presents with eczema, I always look for potential issues with dairy.
- Asthma – dairy can be a big trigger for asthma symptoms.
- Croup – a once-off croup infection isn’t much to worry about. But if it keeps coming back, dairy is a potential factor.
- Reflux – reflux in babies can often improve with either mum removing dairy if breastfeeding, or the baby if they are eating mostly solids.
- Recurrent ear infections, sinus infections, tonsillitis and enlarged adenoids – the inflammation caused by dairy intolerance contributes to these ongoing concerns.
- Digestive symptoms – you can see all sorts of tummy issues with dairy. Some include constipation, diarrhoea, reflux and IBS-like symptoms such as bloating, wind and tummy aches. Even if dairy is not the only cause, removing it can take the load off the gut and immune system.
- Neuro-developmental conditions – conditions such as autism, ADHD, behavioural issues and mental health concerns often coincide with dairy issues. Kids with neuro-developmental conditions often do well on a gluten-free, casein-free diet. They struggle to digest these proteins, which can cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to opioid receptors. This is why children with these conditions seem to be addicted to gluten and dairy.
It’s important to remember that dairy is usually only one of many factors with these conditions. But if it is contributing, you’ll see significant improvements in symptoms when reducing or eliminating dairy.
Can you test for dairy intolerance or allergy?
Testing for a dairy allergy is straightforward – speak to your GP to arrange testing. I’m not sold on the accuracy of most intolerance and sensitivity tests. Instead, I prefer to eliminate a suspected food intolerance for a period of time, and see how the child responds.
It’s important to note that doing your own elimination can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to work 1:1 with a practitioner who can support and guide you through an elimination diet.
What about calcium? Can my child get enough on a dairy-free diet?
A common concern about going dairy-free is getting enough calcium. There are plenty of ways to get calcium without dairy. Green leafy vegetables, tinned fish with bones, almonds and tahini are a few good sources of calcium. You can learn more about dairy-free calcium options here.
What if your child needs to follow a dairy-free diet long term, and won’t eat calcium-rich wholefoods? In this case, it’s worth considering a supplement to meet their needs.
What can be done if your child is potentially sensitive to dairy
If you suspect your child has an issue with dairy, there are a few steps to take.
Seek professional help
You can try to address dairy intolerance yourself, but a lot of ‘what if’s will come up. The best way to get the issue sorted is working with a professional who understands childhood conditions and food intolerances.
Eliminate for 6 weeks
To get a clear picture, I prefer to eliminate all dairy for 6 weeks.
That being said, if it feels too hard, start off by eliminating A1 dairy. Switch to an A2 milk, use goat and sheep cheese and yoghurt. Even though adults notice the taste difference for sheep and goat products, most kids don’t!
Reintroduce the right way
After eliminating for 6 weeks and observing what happens, it’s time to reintroduce dairy. You want to do this one product at a time, so you can monitor symptoms. Start with A2 milk, and see how they respond. This is where it’s important to get help, because you don’t want to waste that 6 weeks of dairy-free!
Rebuild gut health
Are you wondering if your child has a dairy intolerance or sensitivity? Looking for support with eliminating dairy? We’re here to help – book an appointment here.