One of the most common questions we get asked from women is if it is OK to use protein powder in their diet while breastfeeding. Let’s first have a look at what protein is and its role during lactation and early childhood before we assess safety matter and recommended use.
Protein requirements when breastfeeding
Protein is the nutrient that serves as your tissues building blocks and fosters growth. As a mum, you and baby need protein to ensure your body can build, repair and maintain your muscles, connective tissue, skin and organs.
Consuming an adequate amount of protein after the birth of your child provides you with the optimal nutrition to maintain lean tissue while your body returns to normal and supports your ability to produce nourishing milk. During lactation, your body uses protein to produce breast milk and to sustain your growing baby.
Whether you're sedentary or an active fitness enthusiast, protein requirements surge during lactation as it is a critical macronutrient for healthy development and growth. The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand recommends increasing protein intake to 1.1g/kg body weight during lactation (from 0.8g/kg in normal times).
A large body of clinical evidence shows that increased intake of protein is linked to quicker recovery times after birth and faster return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Is protein powder safe during lactation?
Most protein powders use whey protein as a base. Whey is a natural component from dairy foods like cheese and milk, both routinely consumed during pregnancy and lactation. Whey is also pasteurised when it’s manufactured and transformed into protein powder. Whey protein powder will be processed by your body like any other protein. Dairy-free plant protein will be assimilated by your body the same way.
Much of the confusion regarding the safety of protein powders relates to the added ingredients such as flavours, sweeteners, and preservatives as well as the risk of contamination of banned substances or heavy metals during the manufacturing of these powders.
Go Good protein blends use the highest quality sources available and don't include any artificial ingredients or high-level doses of synthesised amino acids. It should be an acceptable source of protein during lactation for healthy women.
Pregnancy and early motherhood are extremely personalised, every individual is different and may have specific requirements or a need for special caution. We do recommend that prior to taking protein supplements, breastfeeding women should seek independent advice from their GP to be sure what protein powder is right for them.
Why use protein powder when breastfeeding?
If you are able to breastfeed, breast milk is the ideal food for your baby. It’s the perfect alimentation to sustain your child’s health and development. When breastfeeding, though, nutrition becomes a predominant concern because you have to worry about nutrition for two. A healthy diet with an adequate amount of calories from varied sources promotes quality milk production and boosts your energy.
As a mum, you are not only trying to stay healthy for yourself, but you ultimately want to do what’s best for your baby. How well you eat during and after pregnancy will directly impact your health and that of your baby.
Adequate intake of protein can usually be attained by consuming whole food protein sources such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds. While most women can usually get enough protein in their regular diet to support lactation, some may need a little extra help.
Physical barriers, lack of time or possibly being unable to move around as easily just after a Caesarean, mean that achieving this vitally important intake can be pretty difficult for some. This is when protein supplements can help fill in the gaps.
Opting for a high-quality, clean protein powder provides that necessary nutrition in an incredibly convenient and easy to consume form. A smoothie, for example, can be whipped up in a flash and requires little to no preparation. Another excellent way to use protein powder is as a form of food fortification. This can be done to dishes that already feature in a mother’s daily diet. Adding protein to yoghurt or porridge, or making something like a batch of bliss balls or pancakes, will just help to gradually increase your protein intake. These are easy ways to support postpartum healing and milk production. For those struggling with morning sickness, sleep deprivation or lack of time these slightly drier options can also be a great way to avoid turning to more processed snack foods if someone’s appetite has become affected.
While protein is essential to your diet while lactating, also ensure you get a variety of other foods to meet your nutritional needs. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, calcium-rich foods and healthy fats – particularly omega-3 fatty acids – should share the plate with your protein dishes.
Stay away from fat burning blends!
Many women try to lose weight after they have their babies, and it may be tempting to hurry the process along. The biggest concern you can have with protein supplements relates to hidden ingredients or additives they may contain and could potentially be harmful to your baby (or even yourself). Many protein powders that are designed for athletes might contain something that is not meant for pregnant or nursing women such as extra caffeine, guarana, ginseng, green tea extract, etc. Stay away from fat burning mixes! They often contain stimulants that are dangerous for your baby.
Bottom line - yes, protein powders are an extremely convenient way to meet elevated protein body needs during lactation. Just make sure you choose a blend with a high-quality protein base and read all labels in order to avoid dodgy ingredients. We suggest you pass on any protein that contains more than 5. In any doubt, seek advice from your GP.
Still not sure what's the right protein blend for you? Have a look at our blog post about how to choose the best protein powder when breastfeeding.