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The Importance of Protein During Pregnancy
What Role Does Protein Play in the Body?
Sufficient protein consumption is already a very important part of keeping our bodies healthy, but is especially important during pregnancy. Carbohydrates provide our bodies with quick, simple energy, but proteins are literally the building blocks of life and vital to normal cell development and regulating bodily functions. A baby’s soft tissue, the placenta, and all the extra red blood cells needed to keep a fetus healthy in utero all require protein to develop. In addition, protein is the primary component of your baby’s nails, hair, bones, and skin, and it creates the hormones needed to regulate every system in the body. Because protein is vital to every aspect of human bodily functions, it comes as no surprise that it’s a critical part of a healthy nutrition plan during pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters.
What impact does protein have on fetal development?
Because protein is such an important nutrient, may clinical studies have been conducted that analyze the effects of protein on a fetus. One common finding across many of these studies is that the amount of protein consumed during pregnancy directly correlates to a healthy birth weight. Babies born to mothers who consumed enough protein throughout their pregnancies have higher birth weights than babies born to mothers that did not consume enough. Low birth weight is associated with a variety of problems including a compromised immune system, jaundice, susceptibility to respiratory infections, and poor muscle tone. If a mother does not get enough protein during pregnancy, this may put her baby at risk for low birth weight and health problems.
How can protein help mothers during pregnancy?
Protein isn’t just good for fetal development; it can help mothers have an easier and healthier pregnancy. Consuming protein before bed and in the morning during the first trimester may help reduce morning sickness.. Protein helps to regulate blood sugar and make expectant mothers less likely to indulge in extra calories and sugar, which may contribute to gestational diabetes. Women who consume lean protein during pregnancy tend to lose less muscle and gain less fat, which makes them less likely to have to deal with complications of obesity. Protein also build cells that transport vital nutrients like iron through the blood, which can help combat common problems like anemia that cause dizziness and fatigue. Overall, getting enough protein can help mothers have a safer and more comfortable pregnancy.
How can pregnant women make sure they are eating enough protein?
The average woman who is not pregnant needs about 60-75 grams of protein that can be consumed in two or three meals throughout the day, but this amount and the frequency of consumption go up when a woman is pregnant. Ideally, pregnant women should eat around 90 grams of protein per day, and this should be split across as many small meals as possible. Good sources of protein for pregnant women include lean, fully cooked meats, legumes, hormone-free dairy such as cottage cheese and milk, nuts, certain types of fish, eggs, and grain sources such as quinoa. Vegetarian moms needs to be especially vigilant about making sure that they get enough vitamin A, as this is primarily found in animal proteins. Moms that have trouble getting enough protein into their diet due to nausea, busy schedules, or just because of dietary preference should consider supplementing with a high quality whey protein or vegan protein. Certain types of protein such as mussels, raw sushi, shark, uncooked deli meats, and unpasteurized dairy products should be avoided.
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