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Why you need protein during pregnancy
The amino acids that make up protein are the building blocks of your body's cells – and of your baby's body as well. It's important to get enough protein throughout your pregnancy, but it's especially critical during the second and third trimesters. That's when your baby is growing the fastest, and your breasts and organs are getting bigger to accommodate the needs of your growing baby.
How much protein you need
Protein requirements for pregnant women can range from as little as 40 grams to as much as 70 grams per day, depending on how much you weigh. To find out how much protein your body needs each day, you can go to ChooseMyPlate.gov and create an individualized meal plan.
You don't have to get the recommended amount of protein every day. Instead, aim for that amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week.
Most women in the United States regularly eat more protein than they need, so you probably won't have any trouble meeting your body's needs during pregnancy. If you don't eat meat, you can meet your protein requirements through other sources, including dairy, beans, eggs, or soy products.
Weight loss, muscle fatigue, frequent infections, and severe fluid retention can be signs that you're not getting enough protein in your diet.
Food sources of protein
Beans are a great source of protein, as are lean meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, milk, cheese, tofu, and yogurt. Although animal products contain complete proteins (all nine amino acid components) and plant sources generally don't, eating a variety of foods throughout the course of the day will help ensure that you get all of the amino acids you need.
Eat three or four servings of protein daily, and you'll be well on your way to eating right for a healthy pregnancy and baby. (Seventy grams of protein roughly equals the total of two 8-ounce glasses of milk, a 5-ounce chicken breast, and one 7-ounce container of nonfat Greek yogurt, for example.)
Here are some good protein sources:
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese: 14 g
- 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese: 12 g
- 8 ounces low-fat yogurt: 9 to 12 g
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese: 11 g
- 1 ounce Swiss cheese: 8 g
- 1 cup low-fat milk: 8 g
- 1 ounce cheddar cheese: 7 g
- 1 ounce mozzarella cheese: 6 g
- One large fresh egg: 6 g
Beans, nuts, legumes
- 1/2 cup raw tofu (firm): 20 g
- 1 cup cooked lentils: 18 g
- 1 cup canned black beans: 15 g
- 1 cup canned kidney beans: 13 g
- 1 cup canned garbanzos: 12 g
- 1 cup canned pinto beans: 12 g
- 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter: 8 g
- 1 ounce dry roasted peanuts: 7 g
- 1 cup light plain soymilk: 6 g
Meat, poultry and fish
Note that 3 ounces of cooked meat or fish is about the size of a pack of cards.
- 1/2 roasted chicken breast (no skin): 27 g
- 3 ounces baked or grilled sockeye salmon: 23 g
- 3 ounces baked or grilled trout: 23 g
- 3 ounces lean beef hamburger patty, broiled: 21g
Caution: Not all fish are considered safe during pregnancy. Some predator fish – particularly shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish – should be avoided because they contain methyl mercury, a metal believed to be harmful in high doses to the growing brains of fetuses and young children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that you eat 8 to 12 ounces of other fish during pregnancy.
Learn more about how to avoid mercury while eating fish.