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Expectant and new mothers need more protein during pandemic

Dr Aalika Banerji Shah

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As we continue to feel the tremors of the Covid-19 pandemic in different waves, a largely affected group is that of expecting and new mothers. The world is aware about the significance of the care and attention that pregnant women and new moms need but the pandemic has only increased concerns. With prolonged periods of isolation, lack of in-person doctor interventions and limited interaction opportunities within the community, pregnant women and new mothers need additional support. This year on Mother’s Day, it is crucial to create awareness for ‘pandemic moms’ and their healthcare, immunity, strength and nutrition, especially for overlooked deficiencies of essential macronutrients such as protein.

WHY DO ‘PANDEMIC MOMS’ NEED ENOUGH PROTEIN?

Protein develops the building blocks of organs, muscles, skin, and hormones. While adults need it for tissue maintenance and repair, children need it for growth. This is exactly what makes protein such an important pillar of health for pregnant women and recovering new moms. Babies need to be supported with micro and macronutrients for better growth and nourishment. Good health for the baby and the mother is supported by a mindful consumption of the right nutrients by the mother. The most important dietary guidelines for all new moms or mothers in general are:

• Ensure you have the right amount of protein in each meal, balanced with healthy unrefined carbohydrates and good fats

• A good dose of vitamin C, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin D are also required which you can get from fruits, nuts and veggies to keep your immune system up and running

• Stay hydrated and away from sugary foods, refined carbs, oily and processed foods

As protein is responsible for the development of hormones, it ensures that women have adequate hormonal levels that are required to be maintained during pregnancy and for post-pregnancy recovery. Furthermore, protein assists in adequate production of milk and development of neurotransmitters that help women avoid postpartum depression. It also plays a crucial role in maintaining muscle mass to carry out their daily activities and maintain good health even after pregnancy.

HOW MUST WOMEN INCREASE THEIR PROTEIN INTAKE?

The general rule of thumb is that 25% of a plate in every meal should include protein. Protein consumption is no rocket science. It is available in plenty in most Indian dietary preferences. However, the variety of options is yet a mystery to many. In 2020, the Right to Protein’s Protein Paradox Study revealed that mothers could identify only basic sources of protein which probably continues to the larger protein deficiency challenge of the country. Therefore it is crucial to know about several easily accessible sources of protein from which pregnant women and new moms can receive their nutrition. These include foods like:

• Meats such as chicken, turkey, duck, mutton, etc.

• Seafood such as salmon, mackerel, pomfret, etc.

• Pulses such as soybeans, kidney beans, mung beans, etc.

• Nuts such as soy nuts, peanuts, almonds, etc.

• Grains such as oats, quinoa, millets, amaranth, etc.

• Seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc

The best way to increase protein intake is to consume complete proteins. Complete protein foods are those that contain all nine amino acids essential for the human body that are not synthesized and need to be consumed through daily diet. These include animal protein sources such as poultry, fish, eggs, etc. Vegetarians can find their complete protein in the newly emerging superfood, soy, which has all essential amino acids and is comparable to any animal protein produce. Soy, in its many forms as soy chaap, chunks, milk, nuts or mock meat, which are alternative protein options for non-vegetarians too, can help meet one’s daily protein requirements easily.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is true that navigating into new motherhood is not an easy feat and doing it during a pandemic has evidently added to the challenges. According to UNICEF, reports indicate that a quarter of women of reproductive age in India are undernourished. It could lead to more babies with lower birth weights and severely impact a child’s growth and development and the next generation of kids may not be able to perform to their full potential. Therefore, it is crucial that this Mother’s Day we call out for nutrition-aided immunity for new and to-be mothers and watch out that the basics of consuming balanced meals with adequate protein is no longer ignored.

The author is a medical nutritionist and aesthetic physician and a supporter of the Right To Protein initiative.

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