Most women worry a bit during pregnancy, but women who are lactose intolerant often feel they have even more reason to be concerned. They know they need calcium to help their babies grow, but what can they do since they can’t tolerate dairy products?
I ease their minds by telling them that – milk or no milk – they usually can have healthy, strong babies if they pay attention to their diets.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance means the body cannot digest the sugar in milk, which is called lactose, because of a lack of the enzyme lactase. Milk or other dairy products may cause stomach cramping, gas, diarrhea or nausea.
Some women who are lactose intolerant find the condition improves when they’re pregnant, so I recommend trying a small amount of a dairy product to see if your symptoms have lessened.
How Much Calcium Do You Need When Pregnant?
Calcium is the building block of healthy bones and teeth, and the baby growing inside you needs lots of it. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance is 1,200 milligrams daily for women over 24 who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Women under 24 should get 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams daily.
Your baby needs calcium, but so do you. If you don’t take in enough calcium to supply the baby, your body will rob it from your bones. This puts you at high risk later for osteoporosis, a dangerous weakening of the bones.
How Can You Get Calcium if You’re Lactose Intolerant?
Four servings daily of dairy, such as milk, cheese or yogurt, or foods rich in calcium usually are sufficient. I advise my patients who are lactose intolerant to:
- Try a small amount, perhaps a half-cup, of milk with each meal. Sometimes dairy products are easier to digest with food.
- Eat calcium-rich foods like green vegetables, especially leafy greens; salmon; dried beans; and tofu.
- Look for calcium-fortified foods or beverages, such as orange juice.
- Buy lactose-reduced milk and other dairy products.
- Experiment with dairy products with less sugar, such as yogurt, cottage cheese and hard cheeses. Be sure to avoid soft cheese, such as Brie or blue cheese.
- Ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement.
Make a Plan – Then Relax
Ensuring you get enough calcium during pregnancy is a little extra work. But you’ll be able to cross that worry off your list and rest assured you’re starting your baby off on the right foot.
Are you lactose intolerant? How do you ensure you get enough calcium in your diet?
Dr. Jagjit Khairah is a board-certified Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist who provides complete maternity care and delivery, including prenatal counseling. He cares for his patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center, where he performs minimally invasive laparoscopic/hysteroscopic procedures. He’s also trained in robotic surgery utilizing the da Vinci® System.