Pregnancy is the start of a new life and new changes… some might be good, while some not so great. One such change that surprises many women, especially those who love their cheese pizza or that warm glass of milk at night, is their sudden lactose intolerance. Are you also wondering if your body reacts differently toward certain foods? Continue reading to find out about lactose intolerance during or after pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your hormones go for a toss and your immunity is also compromised because your body is trying to accommodate the baby. This can cause lactose intolerance. Feeling bloated, gassy, uncomfortable, or having watery poop with cramps are generally symptoms of lactose intolerance after pregnancy. An expectant mom can also develop lactose intolerance due to underlying medical conditions or genetic factors. If post-birth the baby is also detected to have lactose intolerance, then it could be a medical emergency and the baby would need an alternate diet immediately.
Lactose intolerance could happen because of different reasons; today we are discussing what lactose intolerant means, why it happens, and everything you need to know about it during pregnancy.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is a type of sugar that is present in milk and other dairy products. When the body is unable to digest lactose found in these dairy products or milk, this is known as lactose intolerance.
Our gut produces an enzyme called lactase that digests lactose. But when your body is unable to produce enough lactase, it cannot break down and process lactose, resulting in your body feeling uncomfortable, gassy, or experiencing abdominal pain. Simply put, lactose intolerance is your body’s inability to digest this lactose found in milk and dairy products.
Lactose Intolerance After Pregnancy, Why Does It Happen?
The major reason why a woman becomes lactose intolerant after birth is their suppressed immunity.
As a natural response to a growing fetus inside the body, a pregnant woman’s immunity is reduced. It basically does not want to fight the invader and instead wants to help nourish and grow it, and that’s why the body automatically suppresses its immunity. Additionally, as the pregnancy develops and the fetus grows, the digestive system gets squished and sometimes even pushed around. A whole lot of our immunity is in our gut, and this once again suppresses it.
This suppressed immunity changes the way the body reacts to allergens, whether from food or the environment. That’s the reason pregnant women tend to fall sick frequently or catch a cold easily as compared to before being pregnant. Even if you have a healthy pregnancy, your immune system is compromised.
But once they give birth, the immune system comes back into action, it can develop an allergic reaction to either food or anything in the environment. This is the reason some women develop lactose intolerance after pregnancy.
However, it can also happen the other way around. Some women who were lactose intolerant before pregnancy find out they are no longer sensitive to milk or dairy products after. It really depends on your body and there is no way to find out how things will change until after childbirth.
How Do I Tell If I am Lactose Intolerant?
Did you crave that grilled cheese sandwich post birth and then after eating it you felt uneasy? Weren’t sure if it was just the pregnancy hormones, your compromised gut, or you have suddenly become lactose intolerant? Wondering how lactose intolerance is diagnosed?
If you are lactose intolerant, you will be able to see the symptoms show up within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming milk or other dairy products.
The symptoms vary from person to person depending on the amount of lactose you have consumed and the lactase your body can produce. But some of the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
- Feeling gassy
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach cramps
How Do I Treat It?
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, whether you get it during or after pregnancy. But you can make lifestyle changes that involve your diet.
Depending on how much lactase your body can produce, you might be able to consume dairy products in small amounts. Some people with lactose intolerance can consume cow milk or other dairy products without experiencing symptoms. In fact, some don’t have any symptoms at all when they consume milk during regular meals.
Usually, dairy products like yogurt and hard cheese, such as cheddar and parmesan, contain low amounts of lactose and can be consumed by people who are diagnosed with lactose intolerance. You can even choose to eat lactose-free ice cream and milk. If you are someone who loves your glass of milk every day, then you can choose to take an OTC lactase enzyme capsule or pill before consuming dairy products to manage the symptoms.
If lactose intolerance after pregnancy is really bad, then you can make a complete lifestyle change and switch to lactose-free alternatives for milk like:
- Oat milk
- Almond milk
- Soy milk
- Coconut milk
Other great substitutes for milk are:
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Whole grains
- Leafy vegetables
Before making any major lifestyle change, it’s best to consult your doctor and confirm your diagnosis. A professional will be able to offer the correct guidance to make the appropriate changes.
What Happens If I Ignore Lactose Intolerance?
Ignoring any medical condition should never be an option. If you continue to overlook your symptoms of lactose intolerance after pregnancy, it could lead to severe consequences wherein your digestive tract could be compromised.
Consuming milk and dairy products after finding out that you are lactose intolerant can cause severe digestive problems. Post childbirth, if you notice any symptoms of lactose intolerance, it’s best to consult your doctor and get it diagnosed. If left untreated and if you ignore the symptoms and continue to feed your body with food high in lactose, it could lead to other problems.
While it is said that you need to cut out dairy products from your diet if you are lactose intolerant, you can always consult your doctor and figure out a way to include dairy in your diet if needed.
Can It Affect the Baby?
Every woman is told how important calcium, protein, vitamin D, and iodine are to maintain a healthy pregnancy and baby. While there are prenatal vitamins to make sure your body gets all these essential nutrients, the best source is always food. Milk and dairy are great sources of these nutrients, but if you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance during or after pregnancy, they can be worrying.
You might be thinking, can lactose intolerance affect your baby? But the good news is lactose intolerance has very little to zero effect on your baby. If you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance after pregnancy or even during pregnancy, speak to your healthcare practitioner and they will be able to guide you with alternative food sources, like lactose-free milk, to meet your daily nutrient requirements.
As we mentioned above, many food items act as excellent substitutes for milk, and including them in your diet will help you maintain your health and the baby’s during your pregnancy.
How Can I Test Myself for Lactose Intolerance?
If after delivery you start experiencing any of the symptoms of lactose intolerance, you can consult your doctor who might ask you to get a lactose intolerance test done. There are two different tests that measure the level of lactase activity in your body when lactose-rich food is consumed.
Lactose Intolerance Test
In this test, you will be asked to consume a drink that contains a high amount of lactose and then a blood sample will be taken to measure your glucose levels. If the glucose levels remain consistent and don’t rise, then it is concluded that your body is not able to digest lactose and you have become lactose intolerant.
Hydrogen Breath Test
This one also involves consuming a drink with high amounts of lactose. After some time, you will exhale, and the doctor will measure the amount of hydrogen in your breath. Consuming lactose in high amounts spikes hydrogen levels, which means you might have become lactose intolerant.
Lactose Intolerance Can Be a New Beginning
Every pregnancy journey is unique and comes with its own share of ups and downs. Not every woman might feel completely different after giving birth. But for some, the changes might be more evident than others.
If you are diagnosed with lactose intolerance after childbirth, don’t worry. Lactose intolerance can be easily managed in today’s world with a dearth of alternatives available, and some of them are even healthier and tastier than regular milk-based products. Simply speak to your doctor and find out how you can manage your and your baby’s health better.