Does Your Child Need a Gluten-Free or Dairy-Free Diet?


What do you do when your child has food intolerances and may need to have a gluten-free and/or a dairy-free diet? My seven year old son is gluten and dairy intolerant, though it took until he was four to get a full diagnosis. That was after going back and forth to the GP, despite being fobbed off numerous times and being told there was nothing wrong with him. He was growing normally and that’s all that mattered.

food intolerances dairy-free  gluten-free

He was always a fussy eater, though and I knew something wasn’t right from the very start. The way he projectile vomited every feed, whether breast fed or bottle in itself suggested something wasn’t right. A lot of babies do that right? But when a baby cannot keep any of the milk in his tummy, there’s something going on, surely? It’s not called projectile vomiting for nothing: boy does that milk fly when it comes out!

When I weaned him, he was so much more difficult to feed than my two older daughters were. In fact, the very first post I wrote for voiceBoks celebrated the fact I had managed to get him to eat some peas! There was very little he really liked and the nappies, oh those nappies, I don’t really want to go there with that one.

I became so fed up I took him back to the doctors and told him, ‘those nappies are not normal, you know.’ He informed me that infantile diarrhea was common in an immature digestive system. I offered to show him an example (I had taken one along in my bag (triple bagged)). He declined.

Research to Find Food Intolerances

By this time, I was beginning to do my own research. I took him off lactose, then off cow’s milk altogether and saw some improvement, but I fought for a paediatrician appointment regardless. Reporting my findings and talking through my son’s history, we both agreed complete removal of dairy from his diet along with gluten was the best course of action, to see if there was any improvement.

Why a Dairy-Free Diet is Necessary

We found out my son doesn’t produce lactose, so he will never be able to eat dairy. The gluten intolerance, I’m hoping he may grow out of. It’s likely that he couldn’t tolerate gluten because of the damage done to his digestive system by the lactose. We have yet to see whether this damage will reverse.

How a Gluten-Free Diet Has Improved My Son’s Health

Three years on from this diagnosis, his symptoms have improved drastically, but that has involved a complete change of diet and lifestyle. As a mum and a nutritionist, I’m conscious of what he eats, particularly of how full of sugar the shop-bought free-from food can be. I’m also conscious he doesn’t eat too much rice flour, a standard ingredient of most gluten free products.

So I make my own bread and baked goods, plus I regularly tinker with recipes to make them gluten and dairy free. In fact last year, I even set up a blog dedicated to all things ‘free-from’ in order to help others in a similar situation.

The Challenges of Having Food Intolerances

Recently in the news, there was an extremely sad story about a family who couldn’t take a flight because their son had an allergic reaction. Though an adverse reaction to food is not life-threatening for my son, it is nevertheless unpleasant for him and we had our own bad experience when we flew to America last December.

The lactose-free meal I ordered resulted in him vomiting for the rest of the flight. The response I got from the stewards was a shrug and a remark that it was probably travel sickness, then I was ordered to clean up his mess.

Whilst I’m thankful that many restaurants now understand about gluten free diets, unfortunately dairy intolerance does not get the same consideration. Whenever we go out for a meal, I feel anxious until I have ordered my son something he can eat. Thank goodness he’s still young and cute, because the number of times we have had to rearrange a menu to get something suitable, I’m sure he wouldn’t have gotten away with it if he was an adult.

The most difficult times are when we go abroad. A recent trip to Bulgaria resulted in him being ill after a meal. The language is a barrier and we thought we had communicated that the meal needed to be without butter, but some part of it wasn’t, even though we were assured otherwise. It resulted in an accident that was embarrassing even for a seven year old and this made him miserable. I felt so sorry for him.

As a parent, all you want to do is protect your children. As a parent of a child with food intolerances, there are times when you feel you’ve failed at this. You can’t control every situation and sometimes you have to rely on the knowledge or good faith of others. That’s hard.

At home, I make everything and I know what he’s eating. I realise that I won’t always be able to do that though. I’m sure, also, that he will test the boundaries as he gets older too. Why would he want to be different from his friends, especially when he hits the teenage years?

I’m sure he will work it out for himself in the end and accept that he can and can’t tolerate certain foods. If he chooses to eat something that makes him ill, he will have to accept that it’s a consequence he has to live with.
As for the food service industry, gluten-free living is now widely accepted and embraced.

Unless you are coeliac, being gluten-free is, for many, a lifestyle choice. A dairy-free diet can cause as much, if not more discomfort and pain than gluten can and I hope that this will be recognised as time goes on. Often the two go hand in hand, so if you are going to make something gluten-free, why not make it dairy free too? It’s what I do and it’s not that hard, honest.

And for the record, my son still doesn’t eat peas.