A nutrient-dense diet is a vital part of a healthy pregnancy for both you and your growing baby. The gold standard to meet your increased energy and nutrition needs during pregnancy is a well-balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

However, as many pregnant women experience first-hand, eating a varied, whole foods diet may be easier said than done. This is especially true during the first trimester when many women experience nausea, food aversions, and changes in appetite.

Whether you’re pressed for time, too fatigued to cook, or having a hard time eating larger meals, you may find smoothies or shakes an easier way to get some nutrition while pregnant.

Many people reach for whey protein powders to bump up the protein content of their smoothies, but is it a safe ingredient to use during pregnancy?

In honor of Women’s Health Month, we’re shedding some light on healthy eating during pregnancy. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about using whey protein during pregnancy.

 

Protein and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Your doctor or care team should provide you with a list of foods to eat and foods that are best to avoid early on in your pregnancy. In general, pregnant women should focus on whole foods and minimize their intake of processed foods that contain unhealthy fats, sugar, and/or additives.

Pregnant women require all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Protein is a vital nutrient at every stage of life and its importance is emphasized during pregnancy.

 

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The importance of protein for proper growth and function has been thoroughly vetted and published in articles and books such as Dr. Nicole Avena’s, What to Eat When You’re Pregnant where she discusses why protein is essential for the normal growth and development of a new baby. It helps with the growth of fetal tissue, impacts the development of the brain, and can help increase a mother’s blood supply which delivers nutrients and oxygen to your growing baby.

Protein deficiency in mothers during pregnancy has been associated with lower birth weight and various undesirable changes in the infant’s biochemistry. On the other hand, an excessively high-protein diet may raise maternal blood pressure and may increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. Nutritional balance is key when you are pregnant for your own health and the health of your baby!

The American Pregnancy Association recommends that women consume 75 to 100 grams of protein per day during pregnancy. Consuming the recommended amount of protein during pregnancy is the safest for both you and the baby.  

Including a good source of protein at each meal and snack can help you meet your protein needs. Some of the most common protein-rich foods include meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, peas, lentils, soy foods, nuts, and seeds.

It’s important to note that most people in westernized countries consume more protein than they actually need. Unless you’re having trouble consuming food and calories over a prolonged period, it’s unlikely that you’re falling short in meeting your protein needs.

Keeping track of your protein intake for a few days can give you an idea of how much you’re getting and whether you’re far off from the recommended amounts during pregnancy.

If you’re struggling to include protein throughout your day, whey protein is one option to help you stay on top of your protein intake. However, there are a few potential drawbacks to be aware of before you start using protein shakes for pregnancy. Let’s examine the pros and cons of protein powder for pregnancy.

 

Pros and Cons of Protein Powder During Pregnancy

There are 3 main benefits to using protein powder during pregnancy.

  1. Easy to prepare

You can add a scoop of protein powder into milk, smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, chia pudding, and more.

  1. Added protein

Protein powder can help meet a woman’s increased protein and energy needs during pregnancy.

  1. Liquid appeal

The ease of consuming shakes and smoothies with protein may be more appealing to some women experiencing appetite changes during pregnancy.

 

Here are some potential drawbacks to using protein powder during pregnancy:

  1. Not designed for pregnancy

Because dietary supplements, including protein powders, are not required to be tested for the safety or needs of expectant mothers and developing babies, it can be hard to find a pregnancy safe protein powder. Supplements are not required to be approved by the FDA before hitting the market. That’s why many doctors recommend passing on anything other than a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy.

 

  1. Safety of ingredients

Many whey protein products have unnecessary and potentially harmful additives that pregnant women should avoid. Mothers who seek to avoid artificial sweeteners like saccharin would be disappointed to discover that many protein powders contain these sweeteners. Protein powders are also frequently formulated for athletes and may contain stimulants, such as caffeine and taurine, to boost energy during workouts. These additives could prove detrimental to both the mother’s and infant’s health, so it’s wise to avoid them.

  1. Heavy metal contamination

Protein powders have been known to contain naturally-occurring, but unwanted, heavy metals like lead and cadmium due to the sourcing of certain compounds used in them.

  1. Excessive protein intake

If you’re getting adequate protein from your diet and start using a protein powder, you may be taking in more protein than you need. Consuming excess amounts of protein may lead to unnecessary weight gain for both a mom and her baby. Excess weight gain can lead to other complications during pregnancy/delivery and postpartum, therefore maintaining a balanced diet is key for pregnant moms.

  1. Indigestion

When you are pregnant, the hormonal and physiologic changes in your body can impact your digestive system. You may experience a number of digestive health issues, such as heartburn, acid reflux, and constipation.

Adding whey protein into the mix could make these digestive issues worse. If you experience any discomfort from using whey protein, it is important to stop taking the supplement as any undue additional distress during pregnancy is unnecessary.

 

Tips for Safely Using Protein Powder During Pregnancy

If you’re considering supplementing with protein powder during pregnancy, it’s important that you do your research and always defer to the opinion of your doctor.

Here are some tips to help you find a protein powder safe for pregnancy:

  • Read the labels carefully

Read the ingredient list and look for a protein powder that does not contain any artificial sweeteners, artificial ingredients, or stimulants. These ingredients are not recommended for consumption during pregnancy.

  • Choose quality protein

If you choose a whey protein supplement,  look for one that is natural and comes from grass fed cows like Vital Whey Protein Powder from Well Wisdom. This protein powder from Well Wisdom is non-GMO, antibiotic free, never from isolate, and contains a full amino acid profile that includes delicate protein fragments like Immunoglobulins, Lactoferrin, and Serum Albumin.

  • Choose a third-party tested product

Third party testing is done by an unbiased party and can provide peace of mind when it comes to quality, safety, and purity. Third-party testing seals can verify that the product contains what it says it does, in the amount it claims, and is free from dangerous levels of potentially harmful substances.

  • Show your doctor or dietitian the specific products

You should speak with your doctor or registered dietitian before taking whey protein during pregnancy. It’s a good idea to bring the specific protein powder you choose to your healthcare team to let them see what you are consuming. They’ll be able to read the label and see exactly what’s in the product. If they recommend you avoid it, heed their advice!

 

FAQs

Can you drink whey protein while pregnant?

Yes, whey protein can be used in shakes, smoothies, and other recipes during pregnancy. Pregnant women should speak with their healthcare provider before taking a whey protein product. It’s important to choose a whey protein powder that is made with high-quality, natural protein and free from potentially harmful ingredients.

Which protein powders are safe during pregnancy?

The safest protein powder to consume during pregnancy should be made with high-quality protein, be free from artificial ingredients and sweeteners, contain zero stimulants, and have a third-party testing seal on the label.

Are protein powders safe during pregnancy?

Some protein powders can be safe to use during pregnancy, but many are not. Many protein powders are flavored with artificial ingredients and artificial sweeteners. Some protein powders also contain energy enhancing ingredients, like caffeine. These ingredients should be avoided by pregnant women.

Heavy metal contamination is another concern with many protein powders. To help you find a protein powder without dangerous levels of heavy metals or other contaminants, look for third-party tested products.

 

Takeaway

The best way to meet your protein needs during pregnancy is to incorporate more protein-rich foods.

Instead of relying on protein powder for pregnancy needs, find ways to include more protein from meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These natural sources of protein provide beneficial nutrition to you and your baby and are much easier on your digestive system.

If you track your protein intake and find you’re consistently struggling to get enough protein, adding whey protein to smoothies or yogurt may help. Your healthcare provider can help you find a protein powder that is appropriate and safe for your needs.

 

 

 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235221/

http://www.drnicoleavena.com/

https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/pregnancy-nutrition-1008

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/4/993/4576606

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30355392/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32275895/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7509468/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22127335/

 

 

 

Jaime Rangel, RD
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