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food intolerances dairy-free gluten-free

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.

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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.

Nicola Young

Nicola Young is a freelance copywriter, with experience in all aspects of commercial writing, including articles, newsletters, press releases and web content. She also writes young adult and children's fiction and regularly blogs about her own family life.
Feel free to connect with Nicola on: Facebook | Twitter

51 comments

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  • My six year old nephew has a dairy intolerance. He has since he was an infant. Any dairy would make him projectile vomit as well. My sister dragged him to the doctor several times and kept getting told nothing was wrong with him. Then he was diagnosed as lactose intolerant. But lactose free milk made him vomit as well. He could not drink Soy Milk either. The only milk his stomach can tolerate is Almond, Ricem Cashew or Coconut Milk.

    • That sounds so familiar to my situation. I remember the Paediatrician saying that lactose free milk may have traces of lactose still in it and that it may also be a cow’s milk allergy causing the problem, so it’s best to avoid both.

  • Having food intolerance and sensitives seems to becoming more common. I wonder if it is because of how much (crap) they are adding into everything. Hormones, gmo’s, mgs, High frutose corn syrup, artificial everything.

  • It can be so hard to find intolerances. I was lactose intolerant as a child but have since mostly grown out of it. I suffered with it through most of my childhood because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong!

    • Sounds familiar! Although awareness is slightly higher these days. All GP’s are concerned with is that a child is growing normally, otherwise they don’t always accept there’s a problem.

  • My family and I have not gone gluten free. Unless there would be a doctor’s order to do so, we’re sticking with our regular diet. However, I did love reading your post. It is very informative for parents dealing with a child’s lactose/gluten intolerance.

  • Coming from a third world country, I have a lot to learn and understand about eating healthy. I honestly eat so bad, a habit most people came from where I came from have. I eat what I wanted simply because I didn’t get to eat it before because my parents were too strict or we couldn’t afford it.

    As soon as I left home, my eating habits has gone worse and although I learned a lot from university (I have hotel and restaurant management degree) every single importance of food, nutrients, and all you can think of, my old habits are so hard to die just like what they say.

  • We have been thinking about trying gluten free with our youngest. Might go through a whole family purge. I hear a lot of people get great results. Thanks for the great post!

    • If you think that gluten is a problem, then it is worth considering, however beware of high sugar gluten free alternatives and note that rice flour, which is widely used, can increase your arsenic intake.

  • I’m sharing this to my nanny friend living abroad. I’m sure this will help her more. Thank’s a lot for writing this will surely helps a lot.

  • My neighbour’s little girl is gluten and lactose intolerant too. They’ve settled on a great system but they can rarely eat out. We get in snacks especially for her when she comes over.

  • I have to avoid gluten as well, and I can’t even think about dairy. Also, very spicy foods make me projectile vomit like a baby does. It was so embarrassing to me when I was younger to try to explain to my friend’s why I didn’t want to or couldn’t eat what they were eating, but growing up I know it’s what I needed to do to feel better.

    • I can imagine it’s difficult to go through that when you are growing up. It takes some times to realise that you have to eat a certain way for the good of your own health, not in order to conform with others.

  • Way to be an advocate for your son’s health! I’ve had multiple people tell me lately that taking there child off dairy completely changed their ADHD ways! Diet matters!

    • Yes, he may only be 7, but he’s now at an age where an accident is embarrassing for him and I know he hates that he can’t eat the same things as his two sisters do.

  • Wow. I wouldn’t even know what to do if my son was like that. You are so enduring. Hats off. I know how tough it is to feed kids and make them eat but to have specific food groups not allowed … the planning of the food alone would drive me nuts.

    • I think the symptoms vary, but some people try eliminating gluten if they have stomach problems, to see if it helps. It’s not always the culprit though. I think gluten gets a bad name a lot of the time.

  • I can’t believe it took years for him to be properly diagnosed. Those doctors are either lazy or think that they’re just dealing with worry-freak parents. It’s sad. It’s good to know that you took all the necessary steps to learn more about what your son is going through. And I’m glad he’s all better now.

    • It’s unfortunate, but becoming increasingly common that you have to keep going back and forth to the GP to get a diagnosis and yes, you do feel like a neurotic parent half the time, but it’s a case of trusting your instincts.

  • I don’t know much about gluten products only that its good for people who has food tolerance. The only problem in my house is milk lactose. Thanks for sharing this information with me.

    • You can buy lactose free products now and they’re great, but with a cow’s milk intolerance on top of that, you can’t have them. I have yet to find a good non-dairy cheese. It drives me crazy!

  • I am so thankful that my kids do not need gluten free. My daughter I took dairy out of her diet when she was younger because of her asthma but as she is getting older she seems to out grow it.

    • Yes, being in complete control of the diet and doing a full elimination really helps to pin point the offender, but you have to take care when doing this, to make sure the diet is still balanced and containing enough calories.

    • What’s wrong with peas? You are right, a gluten free diet is not cheap and I refuse to pay those prices when I know I am getting an inferior product. I prefer to make my own things instead.

  • I have heard that a GF diet is good for ADD, but I am not convinced yet. I think it’s ultimately up to the parent.

About Author

Nicola Young

Nicola Young is a freelance copywriter, with experience in all aspects of commercial writing, including articles, newsletters, press releases and web content. She also writes young adult and children's fiction and regularly blogs about her own family life.
Feel free to connect with Nicola on: Facebook | Twitter