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What is the role of protein during pregnancy?

From everyone at Go Good, we wish you all the best throughout your pregnancy!

As experts in nutrition, especially protein, we want to help make the days and months ahead of you a little easier.

Of course, we’re sure you already know that the best way to keep yourself in great health is by maintaining a nutrient rich diet – we’ve been taught that since school. But did you know it’s also the best way to ensure your baby’s in perfect health when they’re born?

Studies have shown that your nutritional intake during pregnancy, especially your protein intake, has a huge impact on your baby’s development (Guoyao, 2004). So it’s certainly worth learning about!

 

Why Is My Nutritional Intake So Important During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your fetus will develop from a small cluster of cells into a fully formed human being .

For those nine months, your baby’s nutrition will come solely from you.  As a result, a nutritious, well-balanced eating plan can be the greatest gift you give your developing baby – and yourself.  And there’s no better time to start than right now!

Here’s some reasons why your nutrition is so important. It can

1. Keep you feeling healthy during pregnancy

Just as in day-to-day life: if you’re eating well, you’ll generally feel better than if you’re not eating well. Everything else is easier when your body’s feeling healthy, and pregnancy is no different!

2. Pave the way to an easier labor

Mums-to-be who are generally fit and healthy tend to have a shorter, more straightforward labor. Childbirth is a tough time on the body, so it’s important that it’s as strong as possible! (Parents, 2015)

3. Help establish the essential building blocks of growth and overall health for your child

Additional protein given to pregnant women with energy or protein deficiencies in their day-to-day diets has been shown to improve fetal growth and increase both birth weight and height (Liberato et al, 2013).

4. Decrease your child’s likelihood to develop disease in adult life

This phenomenon, known as ‘fetal programming’, has led to the recent theory of “fetal origins of adult disease”. Simply put, deficiencies in fetal nutrition may result in developmental adaptations that predispose individuals to metabolic, endocrine, and cardiovascular diseases in adult life (Wu, 2004).

With the above in mind, we hope you can understand that what you personally consume, will have a huge effect on the child’s development – and your own wellbeing.

Why Is Protein Specifically So Important? 

A good question! A rich, healthy diet is important, but it’s only complete if you have sufficient protein!

As we’re sure you know, your baby is made up of cells. Starting from one at conception but soon growing to many.

And what are cells created from?

Protein!

How Does Protein Help My Baby During Pregnancy?  

During pregnancy, protein is essential to aid the normal growth and development of the baby. It helps promote:

1. The growth (and repair) of new body tissue

The human body’s constantly using protein to produce and replace cells for the maintenance of its tissues!

2. The production of antibodies for the immune system

This keeps baby healthy after they’ve been born, protecting against infectious diseases and more.

3. Creation of hormones and enzymes

These are essential for human life and play a big role in ensuring baby's development is as normal as possible both before and after birth.

4. Movement of oxygen through the blood

Hemoglobin transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body - it’s made from protein!

5. Healthy birth weight

As we mentioned earlier, pregnant women that take in good, quality protein in sufficient amounts will be more likely to have a baby at a normal birth weight (Liberato et al, 2013)

Taking these reasons into account, it’s easy to see why adequate protein intake is so important for the entire pregnancy.

To make things easier to understand, it can be beneficial to view your pregnancy in trimesters (the three, three month periods that make up a full pregnancy) and note what’s happening with your baby in each.

How Does Protein Help Me During Pregnancy? 

During pregnancy, your protein intake is going to prove valuable, not just for your developing baby, but also for you.

Healthy weight gain during pregnancy is a big concern for most and luckily, protein can help to solve at least a part of this process.

The craving of sugary, junk or simply unusual food choices is very common in pregnant women due to volatile blood sugar levels. Protein can help to stabilize those fluctuations and reduce cravings (Malik, 2016).

It’s also been found that women who eat more protein while pregnant tend to gain more muscle and less fat, so they’re less likely to deal with all the health complications that arise from obesity while pregnant (BMC, 2010).

Additionally, just as protein builds hemoglobin in your child, the same is true for you. Sufficient hemoglobin production can help keep you from developing anemia or suffering from dizziness and fatigue (Darynee, 2005).

Overall, from merely ensuring you have enough protein in your diet, you can ensure you have a safer, more comfortable pregnancy (Blount,2005).

We’re sure you can agree the benefits are substantial and more than worth it.

How Much Protein Do I Need During Pregnancy? 

To be on the safe side, pregnant women are usually recommended to eat one-third more protein each day than the average woman. As we mentioned earlier, this is especially important as you go into the second and third trimesters when baby’s growing faster (USDA, 2016). However, some experts recommend even more than this. (Brewer, 1983).

Protein intake can usually be averaged out over the course of a day, so don’t fret if you don’t consume a high amount of protein in every meal, you can make up for it in the following meals – no harm done.

Your doctor or midwife would be best to speak to for an exact idea for what amount you should personally aim for, but a typical amount of daily protein depending on activity level is between 1.0 - 1.5g protein per kilogram of body weight with a ⅓ increase moving into trimesters 2 and 3. 

Using this calculation a moderately active person with a 60kg bodyweight in their second trimester should expect to consume between 90g - 110g of protein over the course of a day.

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Download the Protein and breastfeeding Guide.

 

References

1. Guoyao Wu, Fuller W. Bazer, Timothy A. Cudd, Cynthia J. Meininger, Thomas E. Spencer, Maternal Nutrition and Fetal Development, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 9, September 2004, Pages 2169–2172, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.9.216

2. Pregnancy week by week in-depth. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/hlv-2004947

3. Liberato, S. C., Singh, G., & Mulholland, K. (2013). Effects of protein energy supplementation during pregnancy on fetal growth: a review of the literature focusing on contextual factors. Food & nutrition research, 57, 10.3402/fnr.v57i0.20499. https://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v57i0.20499

4. Wu, G., Pond, W. G., Flynn, S. P., Ott, T. L. & Bazer, F. W. (1998) Maternal dietary protein deficiency decreases nitric oxide synthase and ornithine decarboxylase activities in placenta and endometrium of pigs during early gestation. J. Nutr.128:2395–2402.

5. Protein in your pregnancy diet. (2015, April 17). BabyCenter. https://www.babycenter.com/0_protein-in-your-pregnancy-diet_1690.bc

6. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. http://ndb.nal.usda.go

7. Blount, Darynee (2005). Growing a Baby: Diet and Nutrition in Pregnancy. The Birthkit, Issue 46.

8. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. http://ndb.nal.usda.go

9. The Brewer Medical Diet for Normal and High-Risk Pregnancy, by Gail Sforza Brewer (Krebs) with Thomas Brewer, M.D., 1983 (p. 11). 


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