Dealing with Lactose Intolerance
Dealing with lactose intolerance during pregnancy can present a challenge. If you are lactose intolerant, you are not alone. It is estimated that between 30 and 50 million Americans suffer from lactose intolerance. Being lactose intolerant means that you have an intolerance to lactose, which is the sugar naturally found in milk and milk products.
During digestion, an enzyme called lactase helps to break lactose down into smaller, more easily digested sugars. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce enough lactase to do the job properly. When lactose is left undigested, it can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance can affect people in varying degrees. Some people may have more or more severe symptoms than others. Other people may be able to consume small amounts of milk and milk products with no symptoms.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Symptoms of lactose intolerance can be noticeable as soon as 15 minutes after ingestion of lactose-containing foods, or they make take several hours to kick in. Lactose intolerance is not an all-or-nothing type of problem. It is a matter of degree and a matter of how much your body can tolerate. Women who are lactose intolerant before becoming pregnant can see an increase in symptoms or possibly a decrease during pregnancy.
Being lactose intolerance does not mean you are allergic to milk and milk products. Allergies and intolerances are two completely different problems. A food allergy involves the body's immune system, but a food intolerance does not. A true milk allergy means you are allergic to a protein found in milk, such as casein. People who suffer from milk allergies can have severe allergic symptoms such as hives and breathing problems and must avoid all milk and milk products. Less than 2 percent of the adult population actually has true milk allergies.
If you experience symptoms during pregnancy and have never been lactose intolerant in the past, it could be that the symptoms are due to changes in your body during pregnancy. They could also be caused by another condition. If you were not lactose intolerant before your pregnancy, but you notice symptoms during pregnancy, do not diagnose yourself.
Instead, speak with your doctor immediately concerning your symptoms. If you are severely lactose intolerant during pregnancy and cannot tolerate any milk or milk products, your doctor may need to prescribe additional nutrients, such as calcium.
Maintaining Calcium Levels
If you are pregnant and suffering from lactose intolerance, you must avoid or decrease your intake of milk and milk products. The concern here has to do with the essential nutrients that you may be missing. The main nutrients in milk and milk products that may be of concern include calcium and vitamin D.
Even though you may be lactose intolerant, there are steps you can take to help maintain your level of nutrients such as calcium. To help manage your lactose intolerance, it is important to experiment with varying amounts of milk and dairy products to see what you can tolerate. Start with small amounts, and gradually increase the portion size to determine your personal tolerance level.
Some dairy products seem to be better tolerated than others. Yogurt, for example, has lactose that is already partially digested by the cultured bacteria it contains, so it may be easier for you to tolerate. Look for the National Yogurt Association's seal, “Live and Active Cultures,” on yogurt cartons. Some buttermilk is also made with active cultures.
Always read food labels and ingredient lists for words that may indicate a product includes lactose, such as milk, dry milk solids, nonfat milk solids, buttermilk, lactose, malted milk, sour or sweet cream, margarine, milk chocolate, whey, whey protein concentrate, and cheese. If you still enjoy your cereal and milk at breakfast, try lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk and dairy products. If you choose lactose-free milk, ensure it contains calcium. You can also try calcium-fortified soy milk as an alternative, which is lactose free. Be aware that some baked and processed foods often contain some amount of lactose, so get in the habit of checking labels.
To help your system tolerate lactose-containing foods, eat them as part of a meal rather than alone. The mix of foods can help slow down the release of lactose into the digestive system, helping to make it easier to digest. Choose calcium-rich foods that are naturally lower in lactose, such as aged cheeses (Swiss, Colby, Parmesan, or Cheddar). As a quick tip, look for kosher foods that have the words “parev” or “parve” on the label. This means they are milk-free.
Try consuming dairy products in smaller quantities at one sitting. Instead of drinking a whole glass of milk, split it up to ½ cup with lunch and ½ cup with dinner. You can also try special tablets and drops that you can add to regular milk that will help to break down the lactose before you drink it. Make sure to follow package directions. There are also lactase enzyme tablets that you can take before eating milk or milk products.
Do not diagnose yourself, and do not begin to take additional calcium and vitamin D without speaking to your doctor first. Neither of these nutrients should be taken in excess.
If you are lactose intolerant, it is important to add calcium-rich foods other than dairy products to your daily intake to ensure you get all you need. Include foods such as dark-green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified products such as orange juice and cereal, soybeans, almonds, and canned sardines or salmon with bones. Also important are foods that are good sources of vitamin D, including canned salmon with bones, fortified cereals, eggs, and margarines.