Breastmilk is an essential food for infants as it provides the desired energy and nutrients. In fact, WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for first six months of the baby. At this stage it is equally important that mothers who are breastfeeding their babies also consume nutritious food, and especially focus on their body’s protein requirement as it is higher during lactation period.
Protein needs of women during lactation
We all know that protein is essential because everything in our body - from hemoglobin to enzymes, hormones, antibodies to our bones is made up of proteins. In fact, every cell where the metabolism occurs, contains proteins. Which is why eating enough protein every day is mandatory for every normal healthy adult.
Hence, it is important that women should look closely at their plate to check if there is enough high-quality protein in there and must ensure proactively that their diet is rich in optimal amount and quality of protein.
These few pointers can help in deciding if women are consuming the right quantity and quality of protein –
Focus on both right quantity (required number of grams) as well as high quality protein that meets your protein needs completely. You can obtain protein from animal products like meats, milk and eggs or vegetarian sources like nuts and seeds, milk and other dairy products, pulses and soya products.
While there is no doubt that the protein we get from animals and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) scores high on the quality of protein index (as they supply all the essential amino acids, whereas vegetarian sources tend to have some missing elements of protein), women who eat a vegetarian diet can still get all their essential amino acids by eating a wide variety of foods and making smart pairs by combining grains with , legumes or seeds or also milk products.
Try to include grains with higher amount of proteins like quinoa, oats, buckwheat and amaranth. All of these deliver much more protein than the regular staples like rice and wheat.
Often, it gets difficult to meet protein needs through food. In such cases, supplementation with a high-quality protein source might become necessary to help bridge the dietary gap specially for pregnant and lactating women as they fall in the high requirement groups. When choosing a supplement, it may be a better option to select hydrolyzed protein, as these deliver the already half digested (predigested) proteins.
These are created by breaking down intact proteins into a mixture of amino acids and smaller proteins, which are far easier for the body to digest and absorb. This leads to better and faster delivery of amino acids from the blood to muscles. Additionally, hydrolyzed proteins are less allergenic (or immune-response-inducing) and they are good for babies who are at risk for food allergies. Therefore, read the labels carefully before selecting the protein supplement.
Being a mother comes with a lot of responsibility and this begins during pregnancy itself and extends through lactation. Hence, protein intake of pregnant and lactating mothers determines the child's health and must not be taken lightly.
Kavita Devgan - The writer is a Nutritionist