By Markita Lewis, MS, RD
We all know that protein is important to have in our diets and is needed for a healthy pregnancy. However, many moms-to-be don’t know how protein, and specifically collagen, is essential to uterine health and pregnancy outcomes.
Today let’s talk about how protein intake affects the health of your cervix, how a healthy cervix impacts your pregnancy, and why collagen supplementation is a great way to safely meet your body’s protein needs during pregnancy.
Increased protein needs during pregnancy
Protein needs increase during pregnancy, with the most protein needed during the second and third trimesters for proper development and support. The U.S. National Academy of Medicine recommends pregnant women consume approximately 71g of protein per day during pregnancy, but individual needs may be as high as over 100g of protein daily.
During pregnancy, protein is used for increasing maternal breast and uterine tissues, supporting fetal development, increasing blood supply, and helping the development of the placenta in addition to the protein that your body needs to function normally.
Not getting enough protein during pregnancy may worsen pregnancy outcomes and impair the healthy development of your baby.
The role of the cervix during pregnancy
The uterus is the main site of your baby’s development, and is naturally where a large quantity of protein is used during pregnancy. One important structure that makes up the uterus is the cervix, which is essential in a healthy term pregnancy.
The cervix is a structure located at the lower end of the uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. Most of the cervix’s structure is made up of collagen fibers, which helps with its strength.
The cervix secretes substances that assist with conception, and during pregnancy it closes to protect the womb against bacteria and outside disturbances. This helps prevent preterm birth by making sure that your baby safely remains in the womb through your third trimester.
Once you reach the end of your pregnancy and are about to go into labor, the cervix changes its structure and opens (also known as dilation) to allow you to give birth.
Protein supplementation during pregnancy
We know that having enough protein in our diets during pregnancy is important, but it can be hard to actually get enough in our diets. National survey data found that about 1 in 20 women in their first trimester and up to 1 in 8 women in their second and third trimesters don’t get enough protein in their diets.
When we look at protein and lab values, a recent study found that nearly 98% of women tested during pregnancy had low blood protein levels.
Because of this, balanced protein supplementation may be needed in order to help attain a healthy pregnancy. The World Health Organization considers balanced protein supplementation to be an intake that provides less than 25% of total energy needs.
Research finds that balanced protein supplementation can significantly reduce the risk of having an infant born small for gestational age, especially in pregnant women who are undernourished. Increased protein intake to meet pregnancy requirements may also reduce preterm birth.
It is important to note that protein supplementation should not happen in isolation. Imbalanced (high energy percentage) protein supplementation may increase risk for fetal growth restriction (which can also lead to small for gestational age infants).
If you are going to include protein supplements into your routine, be sure to balance it out by increasing the number of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats in your diet.
Protein supplements should also be used as a support to your existing intake of protein foods – incorporating lean meat, legumes and beans, and nuts and seeds into your diet can provide protein and other beneficial nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy.
Collagen supplementation and pregnancy
The types of protein that you have in your diet matter as much as the amount of protein in order to have a healthy pregnancy.
Collagen is the most abundant protein type in the body. It has a unique amino acid composition that features higher levels of the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline compared to other proteins.
Generally, collagen is largely known as the protein that holds us together – it’s abundant in our bones, muscles, skin, tendons, and other tissues. Collagen is necessary during pregnancy for roles including immune function, bleed vessel development, placental development, and uterine function.
In the uterus, collagen helps the cervix maintain its strength during pregnancy until the third trimester when it remodels itself to prepare the body for birth. Collagen also makes up part of the structural support that surrounds the uterus during pregnancy.
Recent research finds that glycine, one of the main amino acids in collagen, could be also significant for protein synthesis during pregnancy. One study found that glycine levels in the body were significantly lower during late pregnancy and limited the synthesis of glutathione, an important antioxidant.
Collagen also supports joint and ligament strength, blood vessel strength and flexibility, skin firmness, and hair and nail quality during pregnancy.
Why should you choose a collagen supplement?
Collagen has the potential to provide a number of benefits to your body during and even after pregnancy. It can help support the health of all of your body’s tissues during pregnancy, help you meet your protein and amino acids needs, provide structural support to the uterus and more.
In a clinical trial, pregnant women took Protiva collagen peptides twice daily (15g per serving) during their third trimester through 10 weeks postpartum. By the end of the trial, women who took the collagen peptides had significant improvement in blood protein levels, improved quality of life, and improved wound healing compared to women who did not take the peptides.
Hydrolyzed collagen is also easier to digest than some other protein powders. Because it is already broken down into peptides (short amino acid chains), it takes less work to be absorbed and used by the body.
If you’re a mom-to-be or in your postpartum journey, Protiva collagen peptides may be a good choice to help you stay healthy during every stage of motherhood.
Before trying a new supplement of any kind, first speak with your doctor to see if it is right for you.