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Whey protein considerations during pregnancy and childhood

September 18, 2014
Pregnancy and Whey Protein

Whey protein is found naturally in dairy products such as ricotta, milk, yogurt and other cheeses. For those without allergies, whey protein from food is generally safe for all children and adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, whey protein is considered safe (for adults) when taken following manufacturer’s directions. Recently, Formulx has been receiving questions regarding whey protein supplementation for certain groups such as infants, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women. I currently work in a clinic specializing in nutrition consulting for infants, children and pre/post natal. Hopefully I can answer some of your questions today!

This article is intended for general information purposes only. Supplementation should be considered on an individual basis; it is imperative that you check with your doctor before consuming supplements or beginning any new dietary program especially for infants, children (under 18), pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Pregnancy or Lactation

Many expecting mothers wonder whether whey protein is safe during pregnancy. Protein requirements for pregnant women increase throughout pregnancy. Current recommendations are 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kilograms) in early pregnancy to 1.3 grams of protein in late pregnancy (2). Highly active women may have increased needs above baseline recommendations. Some women may want to supplement with whey protein, especially if they are active. Pregnant and lactating women need to be vigilant about checking other ingredients whey protein supplements may contain. Some whey protein supplements also contain added vitamins and minerals; if you are also taking a pre-natal vitamin you’ll want to make sure that you don’t go above tolerable upper limits for certain nutrients. You should also research and discuss with your doctor/ Registered Dietitian any preservatives, added sweeteners (artificial and natural), herbs, enzymes and other components of supplements to ensure their safety during pregnancy.

Infants

Infants should never be given any supplementation other than breast milk or formula in the first year of life. Whey protein is a naturally occurring protein found in breast milk and a component of many formulas. However, some infants will have negative reactions to certain formulas. Therefore if you are formula feeding it is crucial you follow your pediatrician’s recommendations.

Children

School age children only need about 19-34 grams of protein per day (or 0.5grams per lb of body weight) and most likely do not require whey protein supplementation. They can easily consume enough protein through whole foods such as meats, fish, nuts, beans and dairy. However, there are certain severe conditions and injuries (such as burns) in which supplementation may be beneficial. Those situations should be discussed with the child’s doctor to ensure an appropriate supplement is chosen. In these cases, supplements should be specially formulated for children. Over-dosing has the potential to cause dehydration, calcium loss and kidney dysfunction.

Adolescents

Most teenagers are adequately able to meet protein requirements of 10-35% of total calories from whole foods without a problem. Some teenage athletes may want to use a whey protein supplement to enhance recovery and performance. The need for supplementation should be evaluated by the athlete, parent, coach, and Registered Dietitian and/or Doctor. If supplementation is chosen, it is important to choose a supplement that is NSF certified to be free from banned ingredients not included on the label.

Summary

Whey protein naturally found in whole foods (breastmilk or formula included) is safe for generally healthy people without allergies to milk proteins. Supplementation is not recommended for infants or children except with specialized formulas under physician supervision. Adolescents and women who are pregnant or lactating and want to use whey supplements, especially athletes, should discuss their need for supplementation on an individual basis with their doctor and/or Registered Dietitian.

Questions for me? Comment below! Further references? Also found below!

References:

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/whey-protein/safety/hrb-20060532
  2. King, J. C. (1975). Protein metabolism during pregnancy. Clinics in perinatology, 2(2), 243-254.

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