Think about good nutrition, and protein is generally front and center. It’s the macronutrient behind so many essential processes and functions in the body, from building and repairing muscle and bone to whipping up hormones and enzymes. And the importance of protein only increases during and after pregnancy. Here's why.
- During pregnancy, protein is especially important for mom and baby alike. Sufficient maternal protein amounts help ensure a healthy birth weight, which is associated with a lowered risk of diabetes or obesity for infants later in life.
- For mamas-to-be, optimal protein intake can also decrease pregnancy symptoms like swelling and fluid retention.
- After pregnancy, moms use protein for healing and recovery while babies need it for ongoing brain development.
Protein During Pregnancy
Things happen quickly from the moment of conception. While you’re blissfully going about your business, major happenings are going down. So much growth and development happens to the embryo in these earliest days, and all of it is fueled by a mother’s existing nutrient stores. This is exactly why experts recommend starting prenatal vitamins before pregnancy. Not only does it boost these nutrient stores, it ensures a steady stream of really necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Choline, folate, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D all play essential roles throughout pregnancy–and so does protein.
Every cell of the body, from skin and muscles to hair and fingernails to all other tissues, use proteins for structure, optimal function, and internal repairs. During pregnancy, women use protein to help build breast and uterine tissue that are necessary to support that rapidly growing baby, who has his or her own protein needs. Sufficient amounts of protein from conception onward means your baby’s cells have the necessary building blocks for optimal function from the very beginning–think of it as the foundation on which everything else will be based. Growing babies need protein for:
- Growing and repairing new and damaged tissues
- Making hormones and enzymes
- Moving oxygen through the blood
- Creating antibodies for a healthy immune system
- Proper muscle function
- Producing collagen
Women who get recommended amounts of protein during pregnancy also help ensure a healthy birth weight, which is associated with a lowered risk of diabetes or obesity for infants later in life. According to research, babies who received inadequate amounts of protein during these ten months may never be able to compensate for the effects of that maternal protein deprivation, and it could even affect future generations.
As if that wasn’t reason enough to prioritize protein, it could also make your pregnancy itself a little more comfortable. Optimal protein intake can decrease some of the less-enjoyable parts of pregnancy, like the swelling and the fluid retention that makes it darn near impossible to wear your favorite sandals or rings. Collagen protein in particular can also support skin elasticity–something you definitely want as that bump grows! Collagen protein may also help reduce the appearance of stretch marks during pregnancy and it strengthens the uterine wall, which can help reduce complications.
Protein After Pregnancy
Women are advised to keep on keeping on with their prenatal vitamin after baby’s birth, and you'll need to prioritize protein during this busy time too. If you’re breast-feeding, your baby will benefit from your protein intake for brain development. Meanwhile, you need protein to repair and health after birth–it plays a huge role in recovery from both c-section and vaginal births.
How Much Protein Do I Need Before, During & After Pregnancy?
During the preconception window, your nutrition goals should be focused on maintaining a healthy body weight. Protein intake should be somewhere between 12-20% of your daily calories. Shoot for 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (convert that to pounds by dividing your body weight in pounds by 2.2), with a 40-gram minimum per day. If you weigh 140 pounds, for example, you should be getting about 51 grams of protein every day.
That number goes up when you become pregnant. While the standard recommendation is that pregnant women need at least 60 grams of protein daily, or between 20-25% of their calorie intake, some research suggests that’s far too low for a woman in her third trimester. Researchers concluded that at least 100 grams of protein is key during the latter stage of pregnancy.
After pregnancy, new moms will need to continue prioritizing protein. You created and carried around a whole tiny person for the last ten months, and it takes time to heal! Make sure to eat nourishing, nutrient-dense foods during the postpartum stage, and don’t overlook the protein. Aim for at least 54 grams per day to support that growing baby and your own recovery process.
Wondering where to source all that protein? It’s easier than you think! Basically, you want to incorporate a good protein source into every meal or snack. A quick list to get you started:
- 1 glass milk has 8 grams of protein
- 1 cup yogurt has 7-8 grams of protein (opt for full-fat, unsweetened versions to minimize sugar)
- 1 egg has 7 grams of protein
- 2 tbsp of peanut butter has 7 grams of protein
- 1 ounce of chicken has 8 grams of protein
Beli’s prenatal collagen protein is another option–our soon-to-be-released collagen powder has full-body benefits for mom and baby alike. It mixes seamlessly into hot and cold beverages. Like Beli’s prenatal vitamins for women and men, it’s an ultra-clean, filler-free, science-aligned formulation that makes it easy to bump up protein intake while also benefiting from high-quality collagen (healthy digestion, boosted immunity, healthy hair and nails, and the list goes on!)
The Bottom Line
Clearly, protein is an important part of pregnancy, but don’t panic about tracking your protein intake to the gram. If you aren’t getting protein, you may notice that you always feel extraordinarily tired but you have trouble sleeping, you aren’t gaining enough weight, or you always seem to be sick. In that case, make a point of speaking to your doctor.