Week 6: The Power of Milk
It’s no surprise that a mother’s nutrition is important to the health of her baby. It may, however, be surprising that the complications of a poor birth outcome do not stop at birth, but may come back to haunt the child’s adult life. Indeed, the well-known Barker’s hypothesis (also know as the Fetal Origins or Thrifty Phenotype hypothesis) states exactly this—that poor growth of the fetus during pregnancy leaves babies at higher risk of chronic disease later in life. Such diseases include type 2 diabetes, for example.
I imagine being pregnant is hard enough even without having to worry about eating the right combination of nutrients to protect one’s baby more than fifty years after birth. And in some places, getting the right nutrients is harder than in others.
And, even more specifically, the scientific literature on the topic shows the importance of milk during pregnancy. What my team and I wanted to find out this summer was whether protein and B12 specifically from milk have any impact on a baby’s birth weight. In short, the answer is yes. Why is this exciting? Well, if we know the targeted gestational weight gain in India (weight gain of the mother during pregnancy), the recommended guidelines for protein and B12 intakes during pregnancy, and that milk is an important source of these two nutrients, then we are on our way to being able to prescribe an ideal quantity of daily milk intake for pregnant women—and perhaps more specifically, pregnant women in India. Being able to tell a woman how much milk she should be drinking during pregnancy is more quantifiable than recommending to her grams of protein and micrograms of B12 intake.
Thus, the team and I are moving to make pregnancy a little simpler in a country that has many and in which it is already difficult enough. The implications of something as simple as drinking milk every day of pregnancy could be much greater than anyone ever anticipated.
 Kramer M.S., Kakuma R., Energy and protein intake in pregnancy, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Internet] 2003. Available from: http://apps.who.int/rhl/reviews/CD000032.pdf .
 Muthayya S, Kurpad A, Duggan C, Bosch R, Dwarkanath P, Mhaskar A, Mhaskar R, Thomas A, Vaz M, Bhat S, et al. Low maternal vitamin B12 status is associated with intrauterine growth retardation in urban south Indians. Eur J Clin Nutri [serial online] 2006;60(6):791-801. Internet: http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v60/n6/full/1602383a.html.
 Heppe D. Maternal milk consumption, fetal growth, and the risks of neonatal complications: the generation R study. Am J Clin Nutr [serial online] 2011;94(2):501-9. Internet: http://www.ajcn.org/content/94/2/501.long.
About the Blogger
Shaira Bhanji is a Economics major with a secondary in Global Health/Health Policy at Harvard, where she is the Scientista Foundation Harvard Chapter Director. Her science experience includes research internships at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as at City of Hope National Medical Center. In addition to her studies, Shaira enjoys playing soccer, taking walks along the Charles, and making frequent visits to Boston Tea Stop. This summer, she is pursuing a research fellowship in malnutrition at St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore, India.