Lactose Intolerant After Pregnancy: Why & Management Tips

While pregnancy itself doesn’t directly cause lactose intolerance, the hormonal and physiological changes that occur during and after pregnancy can indeed set the stage for its development.

In many cases, the issue will be resolved with time.

After giving birth, it can take several months for your hormone levels to return to normal.

According to nutritional therapist Catherine Crow, hormonal imbalances “can actually allow you to lose the ability to produce lactase … the enzyme needed to digest the sugar in milk.”

Lactose Intolerance After Pregnancy

Due to hormonal shifts and physiological changes that occur during pregnancy, a woman who could once enjoy ice cream and other dairy treats might find that they bother her pregnant or postpartum belly.

Why does this happen? How are pregnancy and lactose intolerance connected?

Can You Become Lactose Intolerant After Pregnancy?

It is possible to become more sensitive or intolerant to lactose products during and after pregnancy.

This is due to the tons of hormonal shifts occurring in your body and the changes happening in your digestive tract.

Most of the time, lactose intolerance post-pregnancy is temporary and resolves as the body heals and bounces back to its pre-pregnancy state. 

How It’s Possible

Lactose intolerance, often associated with digestive discomfort after consuming dairy products, is usually attributed to the body’s inability to produce sufficient lactase enzymes.

During pregnancy, the body undergoes a series of significant hormonal shifts.

These hormonal changes can impact the gastrointestinal tract and influence the body’s ability to produce lactase, the enzyme necessary for breaking down lactose.

Additionally, pregnancy often leads to temporary shifts in gut bacteria composition, which can further affect lactose digestion.

These combined factors can create an environment where lactose intolerance becomes a possibility post-pregnancy.

Signs of Lactose Intolerance

Recognizing the signs of lactose intolerance after pregnancy is crucial for timely management.

Common symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, gas, and stomach cramps after consuming dairy products.

These symptoms can be uncomfortable and distressing, particularly for new mothers who are already navigating the challenges of postpartum recovery.

It’s important to note that these symptoms might not manifest immediately after pregnancy but could emerge weeks or even months later.

Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance

If you suspect lactose intolerance after pregnancy, please seek a proper diagnosis. Consulting a healthcare professional is the first step.

Your doctor will likely perform a series of tests, such as the lactose tolerance test or hydrogen breath test, to assess your body’s ability to digest lactose.

These tests can provide valuable insights into your digestive health and guide appropriate dietary adjustments.

Is Lactose Intolerance Permanent?

In many cases, lactose intolerance after pregnancy is not a lifelong sentence.

As the body gradually adjusts to post-pregnancy hormonal changes and gut bacteria balance, lactose intolerance may diminish or even resolve completely over time.

It’s important to approach this situation with patience and a willingness to adapt.

Initially, eliminating or reducing dairy products from your diet and opting for lactose-free alternatives can provide relief from uncomfortable symptoms.

As your body heals and readjusts, reintroducing dairy in moderation under the guidance of a healthcare professional may become possible.

It certainly was for me!

Conditions With Similar Symptoms to Lactose Intolerance

When faced with digestive discomfort, it’s important to consider that symptoms resembling lactose intolerance might actually be indicative of other underlying conditions.

Several gastrointestinal issues share similar symptoms, making it essential to explore alternative possibilities before assuming lactose intolerance.

Here are a few conditions that can present with symptoms resembling lactose intolerance:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This common digestive disorder often causes abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for lactose intolerance.

A proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional is crucial to distinguish between the two.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can lead to abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms that overlap with lactose intolerance.

Consulting a specialist can help differentiate between IBD and lactose intolerance.

Gastroenteritis

Also known as the stomach flu, this condition can cause diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps—symptoms often associated with lactose intolerance.

Gastroenteritis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection and requires medical attention.

Black-and-white shot of woman holding her belly in pain with red lighting over her hands.

How To Deal With Lactose Intolerance

Developing a sudden digestive disorder, such as lactose intolerance, can throw a new mom for a loop as she tries to navigate her health, develop new dietary habits, and change her lifestyle.

If you’ve determined that your symptoms are indeed related to lactose intolerance, there are practical steps you can take to manage the condition effectively and improve your digestive well-being:

Educate Yourself

Familiarize yourself with foods that contain lactose.

Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are obvious sources, but lactose can also hide in processed foods, baked goods, and medications.

Reading food labels and ingredient lists carefully is essential.

Understanding food labels and hidden sources of lactose can empower you to make informed choices.

Learn to identify ingredients like whey, curds, and milk byproducts, which can indicate lactose content.

It is important to understand the nuances of lactose intolerance, read labels, and be aware of cross-contamination risks when dining out. This can empower you to make informed choices.

If you suspect lactose intolerance, seek advice from a doctor or registered dietitian.

They can conduct tests to confirm the diagnosis and provide personalized guidance on managing your condition.

Make Dietary and Lifestyle Adjustments

Start by identifying and eliminating or reducing lactose-containing foods from your diet. Gradually reintroduce small amounts to gauge your tolerance.

Many dairy alternatives are readily available, such as lactose-free milk, almond milk, and soy-based products.

Many dairy alternatives are available, such as lactose-free milk, cheese, and yogurt. These products are specially formulated to be easier on your digestive system.

Explore options made from almond, soy, coconut, or oat milk, depending on your preferences.

Preparing meals at home gives you greater control over ingredients and cooking methods. You can choose lactose-free alternatives and adjust recipes to fit your dietary needs.

Pay attention to portion sizes and how your body reacts to different foods. Keeping a food diary can help you identify specific triggers and patterns.

Supplements and Hydration

Lactose intolerance symptoms like diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and aid digestion.

Over-the-counter lactase enzyme supplements can help break down lactose in your digestive system.

Taking these supplements before consuming dairy products can alleviate discomfort for many people. Consult your doctor before using any supplements.

Certain probiotic strains may help improve lactose digestion by promoting a healthy gut environment.

Incorporating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or taking probiotic supplements could potentially provide relief.

Give Your Body Time

Adjusting to a lactose-free lifestyle may take time, and it’s normal to face challenges along the way. Be patient with yourself, and focus on finding strategies that work best for you.

Some individuals with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of dairy without symptoms.

Experiment by gradually reintroducing dairy products into your diet to determine your tolerance levels. Start with small portions and monitor your body’s response.

Remember that everyone’s tolerance to lactose varies, and what works for one person might not work for another.

With the right approach, you can effectively manage lactose intolerance and continue enjoying a diverse and nutritious diet.

Can Pregnancy Reverse Lactose Intolerance?

Some women who suffered from lactose intolerance pre-pregnancy have noticed that their symptoms disappeared or decreased during pregnancy and after birth.

A study of 114 pregnant women found that, of those who were lactose intolerant, 44% of them were able to tolerate lactose after birth. 

In efforts to provide an explanation, researchers have suggested that a change in intestinal bacteria and slower gut movements as possible reasons why lactose may be tolerated better during pregnancy.

Bacterial changes and slower digestion give the gut more time to fully digest and absorb the food you are eating. 

Is Lactose Intolerance Hereditary?

Yes, lactose intolerance can have a hereditary component. A family history of lactose intolerance can increase the likelihood of an individual developing the condition.

However, it can also arise due to other factors such as age, illness, or digestive conditions.