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Protein requirements for pregnant and breastfeeding women by Dr Shehnaz Hussain

Protein requirements for pregnant and breastfeeding women by Dr Shehnaz Hussain

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, a wāhine’s nutritional requirements change quite a lot, since she not only has to maintain her own body’s nutritional demands, but also those of her pēpē (baby). It is important to note that each wāhine requires her own, individualized nutritional plan which considers her socioeconomic status, cultural food choices and values, body mass index, as well as pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia. This article is written based on scientific evidence for the uncomplicated pregnancy. Therefore if you do have a complication such as gestational diabetes, then you must consult a registered dietitian for an appropriate nutritional plan.

As we have discussed before, pūmua is an important building block for the repair and creation of muscle, organs and connective tissue. When a wāhine is hapū (pregnant) she not only grows her pēpē, but also the very important placenta, which is an organ which provides oxygen and nutrients to your pēpē as well as removing waste products. In non-pregnant wāhine, the recommended pūmua intake is 0.8g of protein/kg/day, however in pregnant states that amount increases to 1.1g of protein/kg/day1. If wāhine do not consume adequate amounts of pūmua, then their bodies will breakdown existing muscle tissue to create proteins to sustain the pregnancy1. For a 70kg wāhine for example, she will have to go from consuming 56g/day to 77g/day, which may look like an extra cup of high-protein yogurt per day.

Breastfeeding is also another phase in a wāhine’s life that has increased nutritional demands on the body. Not only is adequate nutrition needed to allow the infant to grow and provide immune defences for your pēpē, but it is also needed to help the māmā in her post-partum recovery in healing her tissues. Scientific literature has also suggested a link between inadequate nutrition as a biochemical factor that may also play a role in the development of post-partum depression2.

The content of human milk has large variability between people. Protein content in breastmilk is not affected by the māmā’s nutrition3, which is good on one hand as it means your baby will be getting an optimal amount of nutrition no matter what, however not so good on the other hand as this means that if your pūmua intake as the breast feeder is not adequate, then the body will break down your muscles to create protein as opposed to pulling it from your kai. Fats on the other hand, in breastmilk, is influenced by the māmā’s nutritional intake3.

It is recommended that breastfeeding māmā’s have an extra 20g of pūmua per day, which may look like 3 whole cooked eggs, a cup of high protein yogurt, 1 small chicken breast or a protein shake. Make sure to use protein shakes that have minimal artificial flavours, artificial sweeteners, stimulants or other ‘performance-enhancing’ ingredients. Nothing Naughty protein powders are considered safe to consume during pregnancy by registered dietitians and therefore would be a great way to ensure you are meeting your body’s protein needs!


Written by Dr Shehnaz Hussain

@shehnazzy @shehnazzy_cooks


  1. Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1199-1215. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2016.06.004
  2. Leung BMY, Kaplan BJ. Perinatal Depression: Prevalence, Risks, and the Nutrition Link—A Review of the Literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109(9):1566-1575. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.06.368
  3. Monaco MH, Kim J, Donovan SM. Human Milk: Composition and Nutritional Value. In: Encyclopedia of Food and Health. Elsevier Inc.; 2015:357-362. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-384947-2.00413-X


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