During pregnancy, women often notice a variety of digestive sensations and discomforts. Because pregnancy changes the rate at which your digestive tract processes food, you may experience symptoms that lead you to believe you've become lactose-intolerant. Alternately, if you were already lactose-intolerant, you may notice a reduction in your symptoms during pregnancy.
True lactose intolerance stems from the inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk and dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, cramping and bloating after consuming dairy. Many other things -- including milk allergy -- can cause digestive symptoms after consuming milk, however, so it isn't safe to assume that you're lactose-intolerant simply because you occasionally have gut trouble. A 1999 article published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" notes that lactose intolerance is generally overreported and overdiagnosed.
During pregnancy, your digestive tract slows down significantly due to the hormones that your body is producing. The purpose of this digestive slowdown is to help maximize your ability to extract nutrients from your food. Unfortunately, side effects of a slower gut include more gas, cramping, bloating and constipation. This makes it quite easy to assume that you've become lactose-intolerant. Still, most research suggests that pregnancy doesn't negatively impact a woman's ability to digest lactose.
Becoming Lactose Tolerant
While researchers agree that pregnancy alone can't make you lactose intolerant, some research suggests that those who are lactose-intolerant prior to pregnancy may find that they can digest dairy while pregnant. A Medscape article reports that about 44 percent of women who were lactose-intolerant before becoming pregnant had some ability to digest lactose during pregnancy. This is good news for pregnant women who are looking to supplement their calcium intake during pregnancy.
Suggestions for Pregnant Women
If you're pregnant and lactose-intolerant -- or simply find that milk, for whatever reason, upsets your pregnant digestive tract -- you still have several options for getting dairy in your diet. Most individuals who are truly lactose-intolerant can nevertheless handle yogurt without difficulty. Additional, the truly lactose-intolerant benefit from lactase supplement pills, which are available over-the-counter. If you aren't truly lactose-intolerant, but milk upsets your stomach, try soy or almond milk instead. Alternately, skip the dairy, and take a supplemental calcium pill.
Is This an Emergency?
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; A randomized trial of Lactobacillus acidophilus BG2FO4 to treat lactose intolerance; J Saltzman et al; January 1999
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Pregnancy and Lactose Intolerance; D. Page et al; March 1973
- Medscape.com: Lactose Intolerance and Pregnancy