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How to Support Your Body During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Having a child is without a doubt life’s greatest wonder. In just nine short months, the fetus develops from a few cells into a beautiful baby with fingers and toes. This is not only an unbelievable miracle – it’s also an enormous undertaking for your body.

But don’t worry, by paying a little extra attention to your daily routines you can provide your body with all the support it needs during this exciting time.

A Healthy Diet and Exercise

Getting a balanced diet and doing regular exercise are the foundation for keeping your body healthy and strong during pregnancy. When it comes to diet, you need to get both energy and nutrients in the right amounts so your body has the fuel it needs. This means taking care to avoid a one-sided or low-calorie diet, as this can harm your baby’s development[1], [2].

Even though it’s a myth that you have to eat for two, you will definitely need more energy as your pregnancy progresses. From the second trimester and onwards, you should increase your daily energy intake by around 340 kcal[3]. And a healthy pregnancy also means gaining a bit of weight. Most women gain on average between 10-16 kilograms[4].

You Have Special Needs During Pregnancy

The general advice of eating a varied diet consisting of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals also applies when you’re pregnant. However, you do need larger amounts of certain micronutrients, including folate, Omega-3 fatty acids – and vitamin D if you live in a country with limited amounts of sunshine4. Your doctor can tell you exactly which supplements to take and how much you need.

During pregnancy, you should also pay extra attention to your protein intake. Protein forms the building blocks of your body and also your baby’s. In other words, you need to get enough protein for both of you. Studies show that mothers who get enough energy and protein during their pregnancy reduce their risk of their baby being born with a low birth weight by 32%[5].

So what is enough protein? For the average woman, a daily intake of 0.8 g protein per kilogram of body weight is recommended. During pregnancy, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) increases to 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight[6]. More recent studies show that an even larger amount – up to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight – can be beneficial[7].

The recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) is to increase your protein intake by one gram of protein per day during the first trimester, increasing to nine grams per day during the second trimester and to 31 grams extra per day in the third trimester[8].

What About Breastfeeding?

Protein is a main component of breast milk. So during the period when you breastfeed, you also need to make sure you get enough protein. The RDA recommends 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day6.

WHO recommendations are that you consume an additional 19-20 grams of protein per day during the first six months when feeding your baby exclusively on breast milk. As you start introducing solids, you can reduce your daily protein intake to 12.5 grams of protein for the following six months if you continue to partially breastfeed your baby8.

What Type of Protein Do You Need?

Generally speaking, you can cover your protein needs by eating a healthy and varied diet. However, you need to be aware that the quality of protein varies depending on the food.

For example, proteins from animal-based products such as milk, meat, fish, and eggs are of the highest quality and provide you with all the necessary amino acids in the right amounts. If you prefer to get your proteins from plant-based foods, you need to be a bit more careful to make sure your needs are covered. This is because the composition of plant-based proteins is different from animal-based ones.

During pregnancy, you might experience reduced appetite or nausea. If so, you can consider taking a whey protein supplement. Whey protein is made from milk and gives you all the amino acids you need. But remember that a dietary supplement can never replace a healthy diet and eating well is an important part of caring for you and your baby.

[1] Langley-Evans SC. Nutritional programming of disease: unravelling the mechanism. Journal of Anatomy, 2009; 215(1); 36-51.
[2] Blumfield ML and Collins CE. High-protein diets during pregnancy: healthful or harmful for offspring? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014; 100(4); 993-995.
[3] https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
[4] Deutsches Ärzteblatt, „Ernährung in der Schwangerschaft – Für das Leben des Kindes prägend“, Jg. 110, Heft 13, März 2013
[5] Imdad A and Bhutta ZA. Maternal nutrition and birth outcomes: effect of balanced protein-energy supplementation. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 2012; 26(1); 178-190.
[6] Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, USA: 2005.
[7] Stephens TV, Payne M, Ball RO, Pencharz PB and Elango R: Protein requirements of healthy pregnant women during early and late gestation are higher than current recommendations. The Journal of Nutrition, 2015; 145(1); 73-78.
[8] WHO/FAO/UNU. Protein and amino acid requirements in human nutrition: report of a joint WHO/FAO/UNU expert consultation. WHO technical report series 935, 2007; 1-265.

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