As a complete food – easily given, readily digested and absorbed, milk has long been considered nearly ideal source of nutrients for pregnant woman. In all the Ayurvedic texts, fluids especially milk is indicated during first three months of pregnancy. In ‘Shatpath Brahmana’ milk has been considered as the main food of human beings.
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Nutrition is needed during first trimester, primarily to support the growth of cells, maturation of the functional levels of organs, development of nervous system and accumulation of fetal energy and nutrient stores. The milk is composed of proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, water, which in itself is a complete food and supplements the health of both mother and baby.
Properties of Milk
Milk has ten properties – sweet, cold, soft, thick, unctuous, heavy, slow, viscid, glossy and clear. These properties are also present in Ojas or Vitality. Milk is best among ‘Jeevaniya dravyas’ (Life promoting substances) and is also called ‘Rasayana’ (Rejuvenator).
In this article an attempt has been made to understand why intake of milk is given importance during pregnancy.
Ayurveda explains that nutrition from mother’s diet provides strength , complexion and normal growth of the fetus . Fetus is considered to be dominated by Kapha, so it needs more unctuous substances to replenish Kapha. Kapha is identical to Ojas (Vitality ) and milk in properties. Thus milk supplements the Kapha and the growth of fetus.
As there is increase in body fluids during pregnancy, its intake compensates for it and maintains elasticity of skin. Due to the effect of progesterone, there is decreased muscular contractions of intestine leading to constipation. Water content helps in softening of stools.
Casein, the main component of protein, contains all the essential amino acids which builds , repairs and replaces tissues; aids in blood clotting; maintains fluid balance and immune system. Half a liter of milk daily provides 12 – 20 gm of protein.
During early pregnancy, woman suffers from nausea, vomiting for which frequent fluid intake especially milk is recommended . The probable reason may be that owing to the high protein and phosphate & citrate content , it exerts a strong buffering action thus lowering the acidity of gastric juice and preventing dehydration.
Milk fat is mainly composed of triglycerides and acts as a store for body energy. Milk fat contains carotene which is changed to Vitamin A to help fetus to form healthy, supple skin and aids in vision development. As 60% of human brain is made up of fats, essential fatty acids are important for brain development, nervous system and hormone production.
It provides daily energy production. The lactose is the principle carbohydrate sugar present in milk. This enhances the absorption of calcium and prevents constipation and nausea.
Milk in adequate quantity can supply all the necessary vitamins. It is essential for healthy skin ,eyes and hair ; increases immunity.
It is essential for energy production and growth.
VitaminB6 ( Pyridoxine)
It is essential for protein metabolism, healthy skin , nails and hair.
Vitamin B12 ( Cyanocobalamine)
Essential for growth and maintenance of blood forming tissues of the bone marrow and of myelin in the nervous system. It is necessary for the synthesis of Thymidylate, the nucleotide of Thymine, which is characteristic base of DNA.
With calcium and phosphorus helps in formation of healthy bones and teeth. It is essential to help absorb calcium from gut.
Folate (Folic Acid )
Acts with Vitamin B12 to assist in body cell formation. Folic acid is important before and during early pregnancy because at 3rd week of development of fetus, the neural groove is visible . After that the groove start to form neural tube , which forms the basis of the entire nervous system. The closure of neural tube is dependent upon protein bridge bound together by calcium, both of which are present in milk.
Teeth of fetus begin to form at about 8 weeks of pregnancy . Calcium maintains strong teeth and bones, regulates nerve , heart and muscle function. Calcium in milk is generally readily absorbed than that in other foods, because of its combination with amino acids. Half a liter of milk provides about 600 mg calcium.
Works with calcium and magnesium to maintain bone structure.
Helps in maintaining bone structure , required for muscle and nerve function.
Important for immunity, healing, DNA synthesis and supports fetal growth.
So, a healthy first trimester is crucial for the normal development of fetus and maintenance of health of pregnant woman. Our Seers had the foresight about the importance of Antenatal Regimen i.e Garbhini Paricharya, which is very scientific.
- Charak Samhita
- Sushrut Samhita
- Human Nutrition and Dietetics by Sir Stanley Davidson, R. Passmore, J F Brock, A S Truswell; ELBS Sixth Edition.