Lactose Intolerance


The information provided below is for readers based in the United States of America. Readers outside of the United States of America should seek the information from local sources.

What is lactose intolerance in pregnancy?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose (milk sugar), due to a deficiency in the production of lactase, an enzyme that breaks lactose into two smaller pieces. The deficiency can be total, meaning that you do not make any of the enzyme at all, or it can be that you do not make enough to keep up with the amount of dairy products that you consume. Because there is variation in the amount of lactase that people produce, some people with lactose intolerance can consume certain dairy products, such as yogurt, in which bacteria have already modified some of the lactose, but cannot tolerate pure milk, or not a lot of it. If you do not break down the lactose with your own enzyme, then bacteria that inhabit your gastrointestinal tract break it down in a way that produces hydrogen gas, leading to gastrointestinal disturbances that include flatulence and may also include diarrhea, depending on the amount of lactose versus the amount of enzyme that you can produce. Thus, lactose intolerance is one pathway leading to whats called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The condition can be particularly troubling during pregnancy, because growing pressure inside your abdomen from the growing womb, puts pressure on your intestines, which can cause gas to get trapped.

How common is lactose intolerance in pregnancy?

Lactose intolerance is reported to afflict 65 percent of the adult population overall around the world, with rates between 70 to 100 percent in some East Asian countries.

How is lactose intolerance in pregnancy diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may be intolerant to lactose, based on your symptoms and history, you may just receive a presumptive diagnosis. For confirmation, however, you may be given a lactose tolerance test and/or a hydrogen breath test. In the lactose tolerance test, you are given a drink containing a high level of lactose. Two hours later, blood is drawn to measure the concentration of glucose, blood sugar. If your blood glucose has not increased, this suggests that you did not absorb much sugar from the intestines, meaning that you did not break down the lactose. In the hydrogen breath test, after drinking the same kind of lactose drink, your breath is tested for hydrogen gas, coming from the bacteria that have broken down the lactose your own enzymes could not break down.

Does lactose intolerance cause problems during pregnancy?

Lactose intolerance gives you very uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and some diarrhea or loose stools. It is not dangerous, but it can be extremely uncomfortable.

Does lactose intolerance in pregnancy cause problems for the baby?

No. Lactose intolerance in the mother does not pose any risk to the baby.

What to consider about taking medications when you are pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • The risks to yourself, if you do not treat the lactose intolerance
  • The risks and benefits of each medication you use when you are pregnant
  • The risks and benefits of each medication you use when you are breastfeeding

What should I know about using medication to treat lactose intolerance during pregnancy?

Tablets are available containing the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose. In such cases, you take the pill just before you eat dairy products.

Who should NOT stop taking medication for lactose intolerance during pregnancy?

You can stop taking digestive enzyme pills whenever you want since lactose intolerance does not threaten your life.

What should I know about choosing a medication for my lactose intolerance?

It is important to stay in communication with your health care provider as the release of new studies over time can change the outlook on the role of specific medications during pregnancy.

You may find Pregistrys expert reports about the medications to treat this condition here. Additional information can also be found in the sources listed below.

What should I know about taking a medication for my lactose intolerance when I am breastfeeding?

Supplemental lactase enzyme does not enter your blood, so there is no issue related to breastfeeding.

What alternative therapies besides medications can I use to treat my lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance can be treated successfully with dietary restriction in which you simply avoid, or reduce your intake of milk and other dairy products. Additionally, there are lactose-free dairy products – products that have been treated with the enzyme that breaks up lactose.

What can I do for myself when I have lactose intolerance during pregnancy?

Be assured that your condition is not life-threatening. Work in concert with your physicians and/or a dietician to eat foods that are appropriate both for pregnancy and for your condition.

Resources for lactose intolerance in pregnancy:

For more information about lactose intolerance in pregnancy during and after pregnancy, contact (800-994-9662 [TDD: 888-220-5446]) or contact the following organizations:

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General information

It is very common for women to worry about having a miscarriage or giving birth to a child with a birth defect while they are pregnant. Many decisions that women make about their health during pregnancy are made with these concerns in mind.

For many women these concerns are very real. As many as 1 in 5 pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and 1 in 33 babies are born with a birth defect. These rates are considered the background population risk, which means they do not take into consideration anything about the health of the mom, the medications she is taking, or the family history of the mom or the baby’s dad. A number of different things can increase these risks, including taking certain medications during pregnancy.

It is known that most medications, including over-the-counter medications, taken during pregnancy do get passed on to the baby. Fortunately, most medicines are not harmful to the baby and can be safely taken during pregnancy. But there are some that are known to be harmful to a baby’s normal development and growth, especially when they are taken during certain times of the pregnancy. Because of this, it is important to talk with your doctor or midwife about any medications you are taking, ideally before you even try to get pregnant.

If a doctor other than the one caring for your pregnancy recommends that you start a new medicine while you are pregnant, it is important that you let them know you are pregnant.

If you do need to take a new medication while pregnant, it is important to discuss the possible risks the medicine may pose on your pregnancy with your doctor or midwife. They can help you understand the benefits and the risks of taking the medicine.

Ultimately, the decision to start, stop, or change medications during pregnancy is up to you to make, along with input from your doctor or midwife. If you do take medications during pregnancy, be sure to keep track of all the medications you are taking.

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