Nutrition Meets Food Science

Importance of Protein Intake in Maternal Health:

Maternal nutrition is extremely important for the mother’s health but is very critical from point of infant’s health and development not just in the initial stage of growth but also during later life as well. With such long lasting effects, care must be taken to ensure that pregnant and lactating mother gets adequate and high-quality diet containing both macro and micro-nutrients.

Dietary protein intake during pregnancy is very important for fetal survival, growth and proper development. Deficiency of protein in diet can not only cause such problems due to deficiency of essential amino acids involved in cell metabolism and function. Thus, high protein quality with all the essential amino acids needs to be ensured in the maternal diet. (1)

Many factors during the pregnancy can affect the birth weight and the health of the newborn baby but one of the most important ones is the maternal nutrition. Low protein diet during gestation has been an important aspect of malnutrition and studies have shown that protein deficiencies of mother can impair proper organ growth and development that can further lead to long-term metabolic dysfunction. So, mothers must have proper diet with adequate input of high-quality protein. Proper therapeutic solutions are necessary to remove any such deficiencies in order to prevent health problems for children in later years. (2)

Women who are pregnant must have adequate nutrition as undernourishment increases the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes especially low-birth-weight infants. It has been shown that balanced diet with protein supplementation improves growth of the fetus. It also reduces problems of stillbirth, low-birth babies etc. when women are undernourished during pregnancy. Protein supplements to these women promotes better results. (3)

National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4, 2016) reported about 18% low birthweight babies and stunting among children less than 5 years. Poor maternal nutrition and environment such as poor drinking water, sanitation & hygiene affect the health of mothers and young children. The effects could be long-lasting. In a review essential amino acids requirement for pregnant Indian women in different trimesters has been analysed. Using this data during pregnancy, requirements for young children along with quality of protein in diets consumed by pregnant women and children in India has been analysed. (4)

Another important aspect of poor diet is the microbe-host interaction that affects health and disease susceptibility. The essential nutrients including protein are important in immunity against undesirable microbes. (5)

Thus, there is adequate evidence to show that most of the problems related to pregnancy and child birth could be avoided if pregnant and lactating mothers receive a nutritious diet with various essential nutrients. Although the importance of proteins is recognised various studies above have shown the diets being deficient in protein. Both quantity and quality need to be considered while this deficiency is to be removed.

It is difficult given the vegetarian population to overcome this problem. Even the non-veg population has shown deficiency for protein. Hence, there is need for supplementation with high quality protein in the diets of pregnant mothers.

Milk proteins are acceptable to most population in India so either diets should contain sufficient amounts of milk and dairy products to fill up the gap due to deficiency. Even soya proteins are high quality proteins and many ingredients with soya proteins are available to improve the protein contents of diet.

There are many supplements available which not just provide proteins but also other essential nutrients. For this nutritional advice from health professionals would be useful. Such services are now available online so even rural population can avail of this (6). Considering the long-lasting effects on the infants, it would be worth taking care of diet with special reference to protein during pregnancy and lactation period of mothers.


  1. Herring et al. 2018, Impacts of Maternal Dietary Protein Intake on Fetal Survival, Growth, and Development, Exp Biology & Med, 2018; 243: 525-533. (
  2. Oke & Hardy 2017, Effects of Protein Deficiency on Perinatal & Postnatal Health Outcomes, in Handbook of Famine, Starvation & Nutrient Deprivation Springer Intl Publ 2017
  3. WHO 2023, Balanced Energy & Protein Supplementation During Pregnancy Aug 2023 (
  4. Bandyopadhyay, Shivakuman & Kurpad, 2019 Protein Intakes of Pregnant Women & Children in India – Protein Quality Implications, Matern Child Nutr 2020; 16(S3):e12952 (
  5. Forgie et al. 2020, The Impact of Maternal & Early Life Malnutrition on Health: A Diet-Microbe Perspective, BMC Medicine (2020) 18:135 (
  6. Patel et al. 2019, M-SAKHI – Mobile Health Solutions to Help Community Providers Promote Maternal & Infant Nutrition & Health Using a Community-based Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial in Rural India, Matern Child Nutr. 2019;e12850 (

Dr Jagadish Pai

Editor, PFNDAI

Add comment

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.