Q: I'm lactose intolerant. How can I get enough calcium now that I'm pregnant?
A: Being lactose intolerant means your body has low levels of the enzyme lactase, which helps you digest lactose, the main sugar in milk and other dairy products. Many women may find that they become more tolerant of lactose during pregnancy, and may be able to eat a serving or two of dairy a day now (where prior to pregnancy, this would have caused symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, or major bloating). If you feel your symptoms are improving, talk to your doctor about whether dairy is safe for you to eat. If it's not, know that there are plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium, and you should be able to get enough (at least 1,000 milligrams a day while you're pregnant and nursing) without making yourself sick. Here are some to try:
- Drink calcium-fortified OJ. A typical serving packs about 35 percent of your recommended daily intake. - Take a calcium supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin. (Because calcium is such a large mineral, most prenatals have only a small fraction of how much you need each day.) - Include plenty of non-dairy calcium-rich foods in your diet, including broccoli, spinach, oranges, almonds, and salmon with bones. - Eat yogurt or hard cheeses, since these don't have nearly as much lactose as other dairy foods. - Try drinking half a cup of milk twice a day. Sometimes even very lactose-intolerant people can handle this small amount of dairy. If not, drink low-lactose milk, which is a good source of calcium as well as vitamin D, B vitamins, and protein. - Talk to your doctor about taking lactase enzyme tablets which can help with digestion of dairy foods (just remember that they don't work for everyone).
It's important not to become calcium deficient during pregnancy because your baby needs this nutrient to build strong bones and teeth. And if your baby doesn't get the calcium he needs from the foods you eat, he'll begin to absorb it from your bones, leaving you vulnerable to osteoporosis.