Pregnant and Lactose Intolerant - Now What?
Pregnant and Lactose Intolerant – Now What?
Lactose intolerant people lack an enzyme called lactase that digests lactose, which is a type of sugar found mostly in dairy products. This intolerance is sometimes mistaken for a milk allergy, but the two conditions are actually not related. When one is allergic, it is the protein in milk that triggers the problem. A milk allergy is actually an immune system over-reaction.
A true milk allergy will involve dangerous, often life-threatening events such as respiratory difficulties and swelling of the mouth and throat. Any symptoms involving breathing should be treated as a life-threatening symptom and medical treatment should be sought immediately.
Lactose intolerance creates digestive symptoms like gas, indigestion, nausea or diarrhea. These symptoms appear within a short time after drinking milk, for the most part, although some who are lactose intolerant will have difficulties with any dairy product. Light cases of intolerance will just lead to gas and maybe an upset stomach. More severe cases can include painful stomach or intestinal cramps and vomiting.
How much milk it takes to cause any symptoms also varies. There are people who are just fine with having a glass of milk. Other people get sick if they even have a swallow.
It's more common for adults to have lactose intolerance than children. This is thought to be because there is a need for milk as your bones grow, so the biological imperative outweighs any lack. Although it's not known why, people who are Native American, South American, African or Asian are more likely to be lactose intolerant than other ethnicities. This indicates a genetic component, even though it has yet to be identified. You can also become lactose intolerant if the small intestine suffers an injury, as that is where lactase is produced in the body.
Identifying Lactose Intolerance
If you have lactose intolerance, you will see symptoms appearing typically within two hours of drinking milk or consuming other dairy products. How soon the symptoms begin depends on how fast your body digests food and how sensitive you are to the lactose. You may experience one or more of these symptoms:
Generally, the first step in determining lactose intolerance is simply cutting dairy out of your diet for a few days. If symptoms disappear, then it's very likely you are lactose intolerant. However, during pregnancy, you might not want to avoid dairy because of the growing baby. There are two tests that the doctor can do to either confirm or disprove the diagnosis: a blood sugar test or a hydrogen breath test.
Often, pregnancy can turn a mild lactose intolerance into a severe case. This is triggered by the fact that pregnant women usually begin drinking more milk and eating more dairy in order to get enough calcium for her baby. Occasionally, though, an intolerance only occurs during pregnancy for some unknown reason. There are even cases of normally lactose intolerant women having no problems while pregnant, despite having symptoms prior to pregnancy.
Treating Lactose Intolerance
Once you've been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, there is only one real way to avoid symptoms and that is to avoid milk and dairy products. Those with particularly bothersome symptoms will have to be vigilant because dairy can be found in many foods as an ingredient. You may not recognize the ingredient as a dairy product so become familiar with the terms that could be used, including: whey, dry milk solids, or butter fat.
There are some options for getting milk into your diet, even if lactose intolerance. There are a few brands of lactose-free and lactase-fortified products. These products include milk, cheeses and ice creams. If you find yourself missing out on the taste of dairy products, you can look for these alternatives in the grocery store, but be aware that they are normally more expensive than the original foods they're made to replace.
Taking lactase tablets whenever you wish to consume dairy may be an option. Again, this is more costly, but it might be the easiest way for you to enjoy dairy, at least occasionally. Although there are no warnings against using these tablets while pregnant, it's a good idea to discuss it with your doctor first.
Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D When Pregnant
The big concern with being pregnant and lactose intolerant is that your growing baby needs calcium and milk is one of the richest known sources of this mineral. The concern isn't that your baby won't get enough, because your body will make sure the growing child gets the calcium it needs. Unfortunately, if you're not consuming calcium, what the body does is take it from your bones and teeth, sending it to the baby. This is the cause of the old saying about losing a tooth for every baby you have – before we knew about the importance of calcium, this was common.
If you are only mildly intolerant, you can try to still keep drinking milk and eating dairy products. Instead of having a lot at once, though, you can try having a smaller amount, several times per day. Another way to minimize symptoms and still consume dairy is by mixing it with other foods, especially those high in fiber. Milk on a good whole-grain cereal would be one way of doing this.
Try consuming more yogurt in place of milk or cheese. Yogurt, while still a dairy product, contains an active culture called acidophilus. This culture can break down the lactose, even without the lactase enzyme. The majority of people who are lactose intolerant will find that yogurt causes little to no symptoms, so it's a good way to add dairy back into your diet and it has lots of calcium, just like milk.
You should also eat more non-dairy calcium sources. Although not as rich in calcium as milk products, there are foods that contain a good amount of this vital mineral. Some of the best non-dairy sources of calcium include spinach and other leafy greens, broccoli, whole grains, tofu and nuts.
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