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The Importance of Protein During Pregnancy


by Carly Knowles, MS, RDN, LD

March 30, 2022

by Carly Knowles, MS, RDN, LD

I work mostly with pregnant women and new moms within the first year postpartum. My job as a registered dietitian and doula is to look at what they’re eating and work with them to optimize their nutrition and overall health so that they can meet their nutrient needs, support healthy fetal growth and development, and improve outcomes for themselves and their baby(ies).
 
I love my job. Every day, I get to witness how small but powerful changes in someone’s diet can impact their health and their baby’s health or family’s health, too. After almost a decade in the nutrition and health field, I’m still amazed to see how food really is an effective form of medicine—and it’s just food!
 
One of the first things I do when I meet with my patients is review their diet or food intake and see if there’s anything missing (and there usually is). Sometimes it’s whole grains that are missing. Other times it’s vegetables. But one thing I consistently see, especially with my pregnant patients, is that they’re missing adequate amounts of protein.

Protein Needs Double During Pregnancy

Protein is a very important part of a healthy diet for most people, but especially for expectant mothers and new moms in the postpartum period. In fact, the protein needs during pregnancy almost double, and it’s estimated that during the course of pregnancy a woman accumulates around 2 pounds of protein alone to build necessary tissue and contribute to the growth and development of the baby. But since the body doesn’t store this extra protein for very long, the protein has to come from the mother’s diet.

Baby’s growth and development, while in utero and out, depend on how much protein is in the mother’s diet. New moms also need ample amounts of protein for optimal birth recovery and healing, and also while breastfeeding. Overall, I can’t say enough how important protein is during this influential time.

Eggs provide important nutrients.

I encourage my patients to get more protein into their diet with unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. I love working with my patients and their families to come up with realistic and attainable nutrition goals and meal plans that excite and delight. Delicious food can also be nutritious, and I enjoy helping my patients find that perfect combination.

How to Get More Protein During Pregnancy

Eggs: There are a number of organic food options to increase your protein intake, including consuming  products produced by grass-fed animals. If you’re looking for a quick and easy protein boost, eggs will do the trick! One egg packs about 6 grams of protein and eggs provide all nine essential amino acids that we can only get through food. Eggs also provide important nutrients like choline.

Eggs are one of the best choline-rich foods. This nutrient is extremely important for brain health, memory, and could even impact liver and heart health. Choline is essential for cell function in the body and is important during pregnancy.

Other High-Protein Options: Add whole foods to your diet that are naturally higher in protein and low in sugar, like a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, nuts, plain Greek-style yogurt, or Organic Valley Lowfat Cottage Cheese.
 
Mighty Organic Meat Snacks® such as beef sticks are also high in protein, certified organic, humanely raised, and contain no nitrates, nitrites or other nonsense. Grass-fed organic meat shows higher omega-3 levels, a healthier fat profile, and it’s a high-quality protein. And, the animals are not grazing on pasture grown using pesticides and herbicides.
 
Smoothies: Another recommendation I make, especially for busy moms, is to find a minimally processed protein shake or smoothie recipe they like for convenience but also to meet their increased protein needs. They’re a safe and effective way to get a variety of nutrients into their diet, such as protein.
 
Protein shakes and smoothies are also a great tool for those suffering from pregnancy-related nausea. If you lack an appetite or are having a hard time keeping foods down, shakes and smoothies can help fill in the nutritional gaps. And, as a breastfeeding mom, shakes and smoothies are an easy way to stay hydrated and fed while you’re holding Baby with one hand.
 
I like to recommend organic protein powders or protein shakes. One that I really like is Organic Valley® Chocolate Prenatal Support Smoothie Mix. It tastes great, it doesn’t have that chalky mouthfeel so many other protein shakes have, and it’s specifically designed to provide a boost of nutrition for mom-to-be.

Protein in Smoothies Increases Energy

The daily protein needs for expectant moms is 71 grams and sometimes more depending on how active a woman is and other lifestyle factors. Adding a protein shake or prenatal protein powder into your diet daily can help you achieve adequate levels more easily.
 
The protein content of the smoothie mix alone does so much for expectant moms like increasing the mother’s energy (and we could all use more of that!) and maintaining a healthy blood sugar balance.
 
Organic Valley Prenatal Support Smoothie Mix, when mixed with 8 fluid ounces of 2% milk, provides:

  • 17 grams of protein
  • Folic Acid and DHA
  • A good source of potassium, selenium, folate, and zinc
  • A good source of vitamins A, D, B3, and B5
  • An excellent source of calcium, iodine, phosphorus, and vitamin B12
A pregnant woman drinks a smoothie.

Easy-to-Make Prenatal Support Smoothie

There are 14 servings in each 10-ounce canister of Organic Valley smoothie mixes. I recommend blending one scoop of the Organic Valley Prenatal Support Smoothie Mix with Organic Valley Grassmilk® Whole Milk and drinking as is. Or, one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is to add the smoothie mix and milk to a blender with half of a banana, a small spoonful of almond butter, and a splash of vanilla extract to take this smoothie to the next level! It’s super tasty, full of protein to support a healthy pregnancy, and it couldn’t be any easier to make.
 
I confidently recommend the Organic Valley Prenatal Support Smoothie Mix because of all of those reasons listed above, but also because it’s made from ingredients I can get behind, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Certified Organic ingredients made from milk that comes from farms that don’t use toxic pesticides, synthetic hormones, antibiotics or GMOs.
 
When you choose Organic Valley, you are getting all the good stuff and none of the bad, plus when you choose Organic Valley,  you can feel confident that you’re getting products that are ethically made which means it’s good for you, your baby, the animals, and the planet.
 
Organic Valley also offers a Vanilla Postnatal Support Smoothie Mix with nutrients needed for new moms. Visit the Organic Valley product page to locate stores near you.

 

Carly Knowles , MS, RDN, LD, PCD is a master's-educated registered dietitian nutritionist, postpartum certified doula, and cookbook author of “The Nutritionist’s Kitchen.” She specializes in perinatal care including individual and group nutrition counseling, as well as media consulting for healthy food brands. For other helpful, straightforward, evidence-based pregnancy information, recipes, and recommendations, visit carlyknowles.com and check out her cookbook “The Nutritionist’s Kitchen: Transform your diet and discover the healing power of whole foods.”