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Are Protein Shakes Safe During Pregnancy and While Nursing?

Is Protein Powder Safe During Pregnancy And Nursing Featured Image
Isaac Robertson
Written by Isaac Robertson
Last Updated on

Most of my female clients who become pregnant continue with modified fitness plans during their pregnancy and when their baby is born. One question I often get asked by pregnant women is whether it's safe to continue with their protein powders.

Obviously, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, women have very different nutritional needs, and safety is a very real concern.

So, our team here set out on a mission to research exactly how much protein pregnant and breastfeeding women need. We also spoke with dietitians and nutritionists to see if protein powder is a safe option.

Pregnancy

1- Why Is Protein Important During Pregnancy?

Protein is vital during pregnancy because it provides the amino acids needed for the development of every single cell in your baby's body [1].

Let's take a look at some of the main areas that protein supports:

  • development of muscle fibers and bone tissue
  • creation of hormones and enzymes
  • support the immunes system by making antibodies
  • transportation of oxygen through blood cells
  • healthy brain development
  • support development and function of vital organs
Baby Growth during Pregnancy

As you can see, these are critical developments for your baby, and with a new growing human being to support, women do need an increased supply of protein.

This need for additional protein increases with each trimester, and moms have to pay very careful attention to their protein intake.

However, this may become problematic, especially when morning sickness creates a serious barrier to your ability to even look at food.

Before we get to different ways of adding protein-rich ingredients to meals, let's take a look at some recommended amounts.

2- How Much Protein Does A Pregnant Woman Need?

Pregnant Woman Eating Salad

A pregnant woman needs at least 75 g of protein every single day. However, that number may gradually increase, especially through the second and third trimester.

But what exactly does that mean?

How much protein do you actually need during pregnancy?

Fortunately, there are some medical guidelines that you can follow. The American Pregnancy Association recommends 75 to 100 grams of protein per day, no matter what trimester you're in [2].

At a more individual level, the calculation would be 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight taken in as part of your diet. That number should increase to 0.55 grams in the third trimester [3].

The important thing to note is that as you progress through your pregnancy, you will gain weight. And your daily intake needs should be based on your current weight, not your pre-pregnancy weight.

3- What Kind Of Protein Should Pregnant Women Take?

Pregnant women should aim to take mainly natural protein through the foods they eat. The reason for this is that a healthy, nutrient-dense diet will also provide loads of vitamins and minerals that are essential during pregnancy.

But let's face it, when you're pregnant, you're not always going to look forward to all types of protein-rich foods, right?

Avocado, Broccoli, Carrot, Capsicum, Seeds etc

Between cravings and just the thought of certain foods being enough to turn your stomach, it's often quite challenging to stick to the ideal macro-diet.

That's where high quality and organic protein powders may fill the gap and provide you with the additional nutrition you need.

If you don't have any dairy intolerances, then choosing a whey protein supplement may be your best choice. It's highly bioavailable, which means it may be easier for you to digest without causing bloating or cramps [3]. 

4- Is Protein Powder Safe During Pregnancy?

Pregnant Lady Making Protein Shake

Yes, protein powder is generally considered safe during pregnancy. It's also a suitable option that may help avoid deficiencies, especially for pregnant women who are struggling with getting enough macros due to morning sickness.

However, that doesn't mean you can just grab any protein product, as some of them contain ingredients that may not be suitable.

This is mainly the case when it comes to artificial additives and certain products that are designed to increase metabolic rates like fat burners. If you stick to products with very few all-natural ingredients, then you should be fine.

Nursing and Breastfeeding Mothers

1- Why Is Protein Important While Nursing?

Protein is important while nursing as it is one of the critical nutrients that new moms and their babies need.

First of all, a baby will continue with a very rapid growth phase for many months. Based on medical guidelines, this may amount to an ounce of body weight per day [4]. And that means new bone tissue, muscle fibers, brain cells, and organ tis sue has to be developed continuously.

Baby Feeding

Similar to the growth phases in the womb, these processes are reliant on many different nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

And the best way to provide those nutrients is through a ready supply of breast milk. But breastfeeding moms also have to ensure that they are taking care of their own bodies.

Especially in the weeks after a baby is born, a lengthy healing and repair process will take place. It's an unfortunate part of pregnancy, but your food and diet plan may help to make the process easier.

Keep counting your macros (more on how to do this below) to avoid running the risk of deficiencies.

Bet you're wondering how much protein you need to aim for, right?

2- How Much Protein Does A Nursing Mother Need?

Protein for Nursing Mother

A nursing mother needs about an extra 20 grams of protein per day while exclusively breastfeeding [5]. This is calculated on top of the average daily needs, which for women, is about 0.5 grams per pound of body weight.

Confused?

Let's take a look at an example.

Let's say a breastfeeding mom has a post-pregnancy body weight of 130 pounds. That works out at 0.5 x 130 = 65 grams per day.

Add to that another 20 g of protein intake to support adequate milk supply, and the goal on a day to day basis should be 85 grams of protein.

If you can stick to that calculation, then most women should be able to ensure good and healthy production of breast milk for their babies.

Protein is essential during pregnancy, and without sufficient amounts, your baby won't grow normally. Regularly consuming more protein than you need, however, can also impede your baby's development.

Sara IpatencoHealth Journalist

3- What Kind Of Protein Should A Nursing Mother Take?

A nursing mother should take in as much natural protein through her regular diet as possible. The main reason for this is that eating the right levels of macros through healthy food may help to increase the supply of other essential nutrients.

This includes minerals like iron, and all the essential vitamins that moms and their babies need in constant supply.

Seeds, vegetables And juice

However, there are times when it may become a bit more difficult to get enough protein through food alone. This could end up causing milk supply issues, which is something all new moms should avoid.

If this happens, then using high quality and all-natural protein powders is a suitable option.

But there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

4- Is Protein Powder Safe During Breastfeeding?

Safely Feed Baby

Yes, protein powders are safe during breastfeeding, but it's important to check the nutrients label before just choosing any supplement. I'll get to some information about ingredients that you should avoid below, but generally speaking, these products tend to be safe.

One of the better options is whey protein, as long as you don't have any dairy allergies.

For most women, their bodies may find it easier to absorb than many other types of protein. Especially in the weeks after childbirth, it may be an advantage to not put as much strain on the digestive system.

So, with all this talk of protein amounts for pregnant and breastfeeding women, you're probably wondering how you can actually work all that out.

Let me introduce you to a little trick. 

Protein Monitoring Made Easy

If you're careful about your meal planning and you've worked out all the details of how much fat, carbs, and protein you need, then the next step is actually keeping track of it.

But that might sound easier said than done.

Back in pre-smartphone days, you needed a pen and paper to write down what foods you ate. These days, some apps might make it a lot easier.

Woman Monitoring Protein with App

A favorite one is My Plate, which has a huge food database. All you need to do is enter what you eat, and at the end of the day, you can check what your protein intake was.

If you're consistently below your target, then you know that some changes are needed to your diet.

MyFintessPal works similar, and it has the advantage that you can track your fitness routines and activity levels as well.

Give them a try as they may save you a lot of time and effort.

Avoiding Certain Types Of Supplements

Artificial Sweeteners, Metabolic Boosters and Stimulants

I mentioned above that not all protein supplements are suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The following are some types of ingredients that you should stay away from when choosing protein shakes.

1- Artificial Sweeteners

Sweeteners have become unwelcomely common in protein products. Unfortunately, they are synthetically created using chemicals that really shouldn't be in your stomach.

While initial studies have found no negative effects on the unborn baby [6], there may still be concerns over nausea and cramps [7].

2- Metabolic Boosters

These are often added to protein shakes as a way to help people with weight loss goals.

While weight management is essential during pregnancy, women should avoid these products as they may disrupt the natural metabolic rates. In some cases, they may increase your body temperature and blood pressure [8], which are not welcome effects when you're carrying a baby.

3- Stimulants

Caffeine is a prevalent ingredient in sports supplements, and it's always a good idea to check the label for it. If you follow the advice of the American Pregnancy Association, then the more you can limit stimulants like caffeine, the more likely you are to have a healthy pregnancy and baby [9].

Current guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other experts say that it's safe for pregnant women to consume up to 200 milligrams of caffeine a day, or around one daily 12-ounce cup of coffee.

Alanna Nuñezwomen's health blogger

Now, let's move onto some ideal sources of protein.

Natural Protein Sources For Moms To Be

The more natural nutrients you can get through your food, the better it will be for you and your baby. However, there is one aspect that you need to pay close attention to, and that's to ensure that you get the full range of essential amino acids.

Meat and dairy products are one of the best options as they also provide many of the essential vitamins and minerals like iron. But you want to make sure that you balance this with plenty of greens as well.

One thing that my dietitian recommended was to add plenty of legumes, lentils, and beans. These are not only good sources of protein, but they may also provide you with an added boost of folic acid during pregnancy.

FAQ

Pregnant women and  Babies

How can you increase protein during pregnancy?

Is too much protein bad when pregnant?

Will eating more protein help my baby grow?

What happens if you don't get enough protein during pregnancy?

So, How Should You Approach Your Protein Needs?

The best thing you can do is spend a few days keeping track of your food intake and use one of the apps recommended above to do this.

Once you have a better idea of how much protein you're actually getting, you can start making some adjustments to your meal plans. And if you're really struggling with your protein sources, then some supplements may be a perfectly safe option.

Just make sure you choose protein shakes that only contain natural and ,ideally, organic ingredients. That way, you can reduce the chance of any harmful stuff causing issues.

We have created a list of suitable products that you can check out here.

If you still have some questions, then just reach out to us on one of our social media pages.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4942872/
  2. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-nutrition/
  3. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/much-protein-second-trimester-8211.html
  4. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/grownewborn.html
  5. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/page/protein-dietary-recommendations-protein-intake-pregnant-and-lactating-women-described-food-and-182882
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4229159/
  7. https://www.livestrong.com/article/510270-can-artificial-sweetners-upset-your-stomach/
  8. https://www.babymed.com/blogs/summer-banks/5-supplements-you-should-never-take-during-pregnancy
  9. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/caffeine-intake-during-pregnancy/

About the author

Isaac Robertson

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

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