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Protein in Pregnancy: An Easy Guide

When I think of protein in pregnancy, I see stabilizing building blocks both for mum and baby. 

Protein for the Baby

Imagine for a minute growing another human: organs, bones, arms & legs, all that connective tissue and blood, and everything happening without you needing to pay any attention!

Pregnancy is a clever orchestra of nature supported by the foods you eat.

During the first trimester, protein amino acids help deliver nutrient’s and oxygen to and from each of the cells. This greatly impacts your babies’ growing bones and muscles. These amino acids also control blood clotting in and around the placenta, keeping her safe.

Protein molecules are literally building your baby!

Her brain development is highest in the third trimester and your protein intake supports this process.

For The Pregnant Mother

Protein in pregnancy gives your body the power to keep up with the demands of growing a baby.

Protein fills you and keeps you satisfied from hunger for longer and helps reduce cravings for chocolates and sweets because it stabilizes blood sugars.

Protein also supports your blood volume expansion! Did you know by the time you reach 28 weeks, your blood volume has doubled?

I have seen on numerous occasions a protein deficient diet can make mothers to feel weak and light headed, lower her immune system, and make her retain more fluid.

Protein deficiency can also cause blood pressure to increase, as protein is a BP stabilizer.


So How Much do We Need?

As midwives, we used to counsel nutritionally based on a per gram approach, 90grams being the daily target for protein.

However the ‘one shoe fits’ all approach doesn’t resonate well with me, as there are too many lifestyle factors to consider. Type and frequency of exercise, weight, body mass index and level of stress all play a roll in protein intake requirements.

I’d recommend asking yourself ‘where is my protein?’ when you look down at each plate and snack you have through out the day. Making a conscious effort to include protein with every meal and snack will help ensure you are getting enough.

Vegetarian sources of Protein?

I love talking about plant-based proteins because most people think about meat when they think about protein. Years of living in India and counseling vegetarian & vegan prenatal mums has taught me a lot about vegetarian protein sources. It takes more work to get your daily requirement but with some mindfulness and planning makes it is very doable!
Good vegan protein sources:

  • Beans: kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, chickpeas sprouted grains.
  • Lentils: black, brown, red, yellow,
  • Grains: Amaranth, Bulgur, Quinoa, Oats, sprouted grains
  • Nuts: cashews, almonds, pistachio, walnuts, hazelnuts
  • Seeds: Pumpkin, hemp, chia, sunflower, sesame, flax
  • Greens: Kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus

It is important to include all these different sources because they all have different healthy amino acids that both you and your baby need. They each will support you in different ways.

Here’s a good visual to help you get an idea about protein dosages from Kris Carr

Plant-based Protein sources and dosagesRelated: Benefits of Eating Dates During Pregnancy

What about Soy Products for Protein in Pregnancy?

Personally I do not recommend soy products because of the estrogen content and also because many of them are GMO. Soy can confuse your thyroid and your body’s own production of estrogen.

Please don’t drink soya milk especially during pregnancy. If you love soy products I would just ensure they are organic and limit to a serving or 2 a week.

More on soy here from Mercola.

Other protein sources to avoid during pregnancy:

  • Unpasteurized milk & cheese
  • Raw fish
  • Fish with high levels of mercury (swordfish)
  • Processed meats (deli meats)
  • Soy Products

Quick ways to add Protein in Pregnancy Diet

  • Make sure to start the day with protein whether from eggs or a green smoothie.
  • Prepare a seeds mix, store in a glass jar and then sprinkle on your salads and soups
  • Choose peanut butter over jam for your toast
  • Make a batch of hummus at the start of the week to have in the fridge for snacking

There are lots of easy ways to incorporate more protein into your day!

Happy healthy snacking and meal planning!

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