Dairy Sensitivity vs. Lactose Intolerance

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We love milk in our house. We didn't know WHAT the heck to do with poor baby Sidekick when he came along with his dairy sensitivity. His older brother, Some Boy, is constantly trying to offer “sippy” and pour milk into the little guy's bottle. I'll admit, we've gotten Some Boy a little too hooked on milk. The kid is so attached to his sippy cup, he won't go to sleep without it on teething days.


Making matters worse, he's very particular about the mode of delivery for his milk. It must come in one of two cups that we own: his blue sippy or his pink sippy. Both have been through over a year of abuse and are looking pretty haggard. I've tried buying replacements, but he sleuths them out, calls my bluff, and literally goes on a hunger strike until I bring back his familiar old well-worn milk cups.


This little guy, on the other hand, will eat or drink anything BUT dairy. He has a dairy sensitivity, which totally threw our lives out of whack when we first learned about it. Shortly after birth, he started arching in pain with a bloated belly and crying very hard sporadically throughout the day. It wasn't colic (we've been down that road with Some Boy). This was far more intermittent and unpredictable. A couple visits to the doctor and an elimination diet for me – since I'm breastfeeding – helped us discover that Sidekick had a very common infant dairy sensitivity.

Dairy Sensitivity vs. Lactose Intolerance

Many friends and family members started sharing stories of lactose intolerance when we explained that Sidekick had a dairy sensitivity, and it took us awhile to clarify that they aren't quite the same. Babies with dairy sensitivity have an immature stomach that hasn't developed enough yet to tolerate milk proteins, whereas lactose intolerant people don't produce enough lactase enzyme to break down the lactose in milk. People CAN develop a lactose intolerance when they stop producing enough lactase over time to break down the lactose in milk. That's why many people who were fine with dairy as children struggle with it as adults. Infants with dairy sensitivity, on the other hand, almost always outgrow their sensitivity by six months or a year old when their stomachs fully mature – unless they end up having a lactose intolerance as well. Dairy sensitivity is the stomach's inability to handle milk protein, and lactose intolerance is when the stomach doesn't produce enough lactase to break down lactose.

Is it dairy sensitivity or lactose intolerance?

Much like Some Boy, I had become really attached to my daily glasses of milk before discovering Sidekick's dairy sensitivity. Cutting that out in order to breastfeed Sidekick was really, really difficult. I used to rely on chocolate milk as a quick dessert when I wanted something sweet. Milk with protein powder was an easy meal replacement on-the-go when I needed a nutritious snack and didn't have time to actually sit and eat. I missed milk. I craved milk. Almond milk gets the job done in most baked recipes, but a big cup of it just doesn't taste quite…right. As soon as Sidekick showed signs of outgrowing his dairy sensitivity at around six months, I gleefully ate a bowl full of ice cream, downed some cheese and crackers and chugged some milk. And you know what? I felt disgusting. I felt bloated and gross and sick.


Sidekick's dairy sensitivity helped me discover that I'm a bit lactose intolerant myself.

I'd known for years that many foods didn't make me feel great. I always excused it as “a touchy stomach.” I figured I was just one of those people who things don't always agree with. But then I started the Paleo diet when I had to do dairy elimination with Sidekick, and I felt great! I attributed the change to going gluten-free. Turns out dairy was a huge part of that, too.

Any sort of lactose or dairy intolerance is a challenge, but the big key is learning what the issue is and educating yourself about how to avoid the triggers.

Do you have any dairy sensitivities or lactose intolerance in your family?


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