TODAY -

Importance of immune boosting food for lactating women during Covid pandemic

Dr Ranjita Devi *



World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is celebrated every 1-7 August in commemoration of the 1990 Innocenti Declaration. WBW started in 1992, with annual themes including healthcare systems, women and work, the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, community support, ecology, economy, science, education and human rights. Since 2016, WBW is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2018, a World Health Assembly resolution endorsed WBW as an important breastfeeding promotion strategy.

This year, for WBW 2021, World Alliance for Breast feeding Action (WABA) has selected the theme: “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility”. The theme is aligned with thematic area 2 of the WBW-SDG 2030 campaign which highlights the links between breastfeeding and survival, health and wellbeing of women, children and Nations.

Pregnancy and lactation are an especially vulnerable time for working women and their families. Expectant and nursing mothers require special protection to prevent harm to their or their infants' health, and they need adequate time to give birth, to recover, and to nurse their children. At the same time, they also require protection to ensure that their jobs are not jeopardized because of pregnancy or maternity leave. Hence, maternity protection is key to enable breastfeeding and empower parents for a successful implementation of recommended breastfeeding practices.

Lactation is a normal physiological process that makes considerable nutritional demands on the mother. The physiological development for lactation begins during later part of pregnancy. Apart from the growth and development of mammary glands, energy reserves are laid down in the form of fat in the body of the mother and this may become available in part to provide extra energy required during lactation.

Breastfeeding also called nursing, is the process of feeding human breast milk to a child, either directly from the breast or by expressing (pumping out) the milk from the breast and bottle feeding it to infant. Breastfeeding by mother to the infant is an old tradition. After giving birth to a child, a clear yellow coloured liquid called colostrum is secreted for 3-4 days from mother’s breasts. Mostly mothers don’t feed this milk to the infants. But this milk is very useful for infants because of the following reasons:

Ø Colostrum contains sufficient nutrients and has vital protective qualities.
Ø It contains large amount of antibodies and white blood cells to protect the child against infections.
Ø It also has some growth inducing nutrients.

Hence, breastfeeding for the infant becomes very important from the very first day of his birth. Therefore, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends the breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby’s life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants. During the first weeks of life babies may nurse roughly every 2-3 hrs and the duration of a feeding is usually 10-15 minutes on each breast.

However older children feed less often. Thus, the nutritional link between the mother and child continues even after birth. New born baby depends for some period safely on breast milk for its nourishment. Breast milk should be the only food for the baby for a period of 6 months. Hence, WHO recommended that exclusive breast feeding (i.e. even water should not be given) for 6 months.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for baby

1) It is enriched with all the nutrients in required proportion and form (e.g,. the fat present is emulsified).
2) Its low amount of protein reduces pressure on the kidneys and Vitamin C is also not destroyed.
3) It is a simple, hygienic and convenient method of feeding both for the mother and the child.
Garlic’s immune boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin.
6. Ginger : Ginger is another ingredient where its shots which are made from concentrated amounts of ginger roots are claimed to boost immune system.

7. Turmeric: The golden spice turmeric is known for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin the compound present in turmeric has promise as an immune booster (based on findings from animal studies) and an antiviral. So suggested to have turmeric milk. One can also take it with coconut oil and black pepper.

8. Almonds: Almonds is a powerful antioxidant key to a healthy immune system.
9. Sunflower seeds : Content of vitamin E is important regulating and maintaining immune system function. They are also incredibly high in selenium.

10. Green tea : Green tea is packed with flavonoids (type of antioxidant) and it really excels in levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). In studies EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function because the fermentation process of black tea goes through destroys a lot of EGCG. Whereas green tea is steamed and not fermented EGCG is preserved. It is also a good source of amino acid L-theanine, which may aid in the production of germ fighting compounds in T-cells.

11. Tulsi leaves: Tulsi is a natural antivirus item which gives protection from seasonal flu as well. Tulsi drink (which can simply be made by boiling 3-4 leaves in water) boost immunity and flushing out toxins.

12. Yogurt: Is a natural probiotic and aids in the formation of good bacteria in our body and may stimulate immune system to help fight diseases. However if a person has sore throat regardless of the cause, yogurt might worsen it. But for better immunity one need probiotics so one can resort to supplements.

13. Poultry: Adequate protein intake is important to support immune response such as poultry. Poultry stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones contains gelatin, chondroitin and nutrients helpful for immunity.

14. Shellfish: Some type of shellfish are packed with zinc which body require so that our immune cells can function as intended. Eg. Oysters, crab, lobster, mussels.

Foods that can harm Immune System

Some foods can also impair our immune system from functioning at its best. They are:

1. Caffeinated Beverages: A lack of adequate, good quality sleep impairs our body’s immune response, increasing one’s susceptibility to illness and decreasing immune defenses. And even if caffeine doesn’t keep you from going to sleep, consuming more than three caffeinated drinks a day can prevent the body from spending adequate time in that deep, restortative sleep phase. To minimize these effects, limit caffeinated drinks to no more than 2-3 per day and consume them during the first half of the day.

2. Processed Foods with added Sugars : Many ready-to-cook packaged foods contain chemicals and compound like artificial colors, flavourings, preservatives, and/or added sugars to make them shelf-stable or to improve taste and appearance. Any of these can irritate the body to exacerbate existing inflammation. This in turn monopolizes immune response and decrease the body’s capacity to defend against illness. The best is to stick with whole and minimally-processed foods (five or fewer ingredients listed is often a good sign), and avoid unnecessary added sugars when possible.

3. Alcohol: Research suggests going beyond moderate consumption (more than one drink per day for women) significantly impacts the body’s immune response. Hence moderate guidelines or avoid all together.

Steps to help support a healthy immune system

1) Eat a balanced diet with whole fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and plenty of water.
2) If a balanced diet is not readily accessible, take a multivitamin containing the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for several nutrients. 3) Don’t smoke
4) Don’t drink alcohol or drink in moderation
5) Perform moderate regular exercise
6) Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. Try to keep a sleep schedule, waking up and going to bed around the same time each day. Our body clock, or circadian rhythm regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness so having a consistent sleep schedule maintains a balanced circadian rhythm so that we can enter deeper, more restful sleep.

7) Aim to manage stress. This is easier said that done. But try to find some healthy strategies that work well for you and your lifestyle. Whether that be exercise, meditation, a particular hobby or talking to a trusted friend. Another type is to practice regular conscious breathing throughout the day and when feelings of stress arise.

8) Wash hands throughout the day when coming in from outdoors, before and after preparing and eating food, after using toilet, after coughing or blowing nose.


* Dr Ranjita Devi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 07 2021.



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