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Protein Needs During Pregnancy
The mother's food habits and nutritional health during pregnancy as well as before conception influence the outcome of the pregnancy and the health of the baby. For both the obvious changes and the many complex changes not seen during pregnancy, dietary changes are required. Protein is the building block for the immense development and growth of cells and tissues in both the mother and infant, and it is important to get the right quantity and quality of dietary protein to meet these nutritional demands.
Protein is needed for the growth and development of healthy muscle, bone, blood, nerves as well a the specialized needs during pregnancy:
- Tremendous growth of the fetus: The rapid increase in size of the fetus from a single cell to an infinite number in only 9 months requires a large amount of protein.
- Placenta Development: The lifeline between the mother and the fetus, the placenta also provides immune protection for the fetus and sustains the pregnancy by producing hormones including progesterone. It begins developing immediately when the blastocyst implants into the wall of the uterus (five days after fertilization) and continues growing throughout pregnancy.
- Growth of Maternal Tissues: To support the pregnancy and the lactation afterwards, the mother's body requires protein to develop the uterine and breast tissue and all the blood vessels that are required to nourish it.
- Increased Maternal Blood: The blood volume in the mother increases by up to 50% during pregnancy, to nourish the fetus, supporting tissues and increase in metabolic workload. To increase blood volume, the body requires protein to synthesize blood components such as hemoglobin (which carries oxygen) and vital plasma proteins such as albumin (which controls the circulation of tissue fluids and prevents excessive edema or swelling).
- Amniotic Fluid: This shock absorbing fluid surrounds the fetus and protects it from injury. Amniotic fluid contains various proteins which help in fetal lung and kidney development, aid in growth and help to indicate the health of the growing fetus.
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Amounts of Protein Required
Pregnant women should increase protein intake by 25 g per day. This is approximately 50% more than normal, healthy protein requirements for an adult. Active pregnant mothers or those with high-risk pregnancies may require even more.
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Food Sources for Protein
Complete high value protein foods are milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, tofu and soy products and meat such as beef, poultry and fish. Other protein sources include nuts, seeds, legumes and grains such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, barley, oatmeal, quinoa, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and whole wheat bread and pasta. Vegetables and fruits also provide some protein a well as fiber to prevent constipation. Protein-rich foods also provide other important nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.