Pregnancy is a time of rapid growth and development for both mom and baby, making it important to have plenty of protein to support this growth. 

Why is protein important during pregnancy?

One essential nutrient during pregnancy is protein, which plays two critical roles for both mom and baby. First, protein serves as the building blocks for tissue, muscles, and collagen. Second, it functions as enzymes, transport proteins, and hormones.

Adequate protein intake is essential during pregnancy to reduce the risk of fetal growth restriction or small for gestational age. Additionally, moms that consumed enough protein during pregnancy reduced the child’s risk for developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes later in life.

How much protein do you need during pregnancy?

The current guidelines from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggest an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) and Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein. The EAR is the estimated needs to meet ½ of the healthy individuals in a population, while the RDA is the average daily dietary needs that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of almost all healthy individuals (97-98%) in a particular life stage. According to the IOM, the EAR is 0.88g/kg/day of protein and the RDA is 1.1g/kg/d of protein.

Note: the key work is HEALTHY. If a pregnant person is underweight or has other medical complications, their protein needs may be different.

However, this way of determining protein needs for pregnant people is significantly flawed since the research to determine the RDAs and EARs for protein is based on MEN. Go figure.

The new research suggests that protein needs actually increase with each trimester of pregnancy and do not remain constant as suggested by the RDA and EAR. Using a method called indicator amino acid oxidation (IAAO), researchers found a way to measure the amount of different amino acids needed for protein synthesis and growth. 

Observational studies confirmed protein needs estimated by IAAO and found that by the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, women need at least 1.2g/kg of protein per day, which is about 80g of protein per day, and by the third trimester need at least 1.52g/kg of protein per day, which is about 108g of protein per day. In these observational studies, pregnant people who meet these protein needs had lower rates of fetal growth restriction.

During the first half of pregnancy, women need at least 80g of protein and by the second have of pregnancy, women need at least 108g of protein per day.

Meeting your protein needs during pregnancy

Protein-rich foods to incorporate into your diet during pregnancy include animal protein from chicken, eggs, fish, beef, pork, turkey, shellfish, game meats, and dairy such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Plant-based protein options include beans and lentils, soy products like tofu, edamame, and tempeh, nuts, seeds, and quinoa.

What if you are struggling to eat enough protein?

A common food aversion during pregnancy is animal protein. Whether it is seeing animal protein raw, the texture, or the smell, animal protein can be a hard pass for many pregnant women.

If you struggle with animal protein intake, you can opt for plant-based proteins and slowly reintroduce animal protein foods that sound appealing. 

If seeing raw meat makes you sick, have another household member or friend cook for you, or order protein-rich foods from a restaurant. 

You can also utilize cooked frozen proteins and make protein-packed smoothies.

Adding protein powder or collagen powder to oats, cereal, soups, stews, and mashed potatoes is another great way to increase protein intake.

Let’s put it all together

Protein plays an important role in not only the growth and development of baby, but also provides the building blocks for tissue growth for mom, as well. Adequate protein can reduce the risk for fetal growth restriction and risk of chronic disease for children later in life. Finally, you likely need more protein than what the Institute of Medicine recommends.

Remember, it is always important to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider for personalized recommendations. These suggestions are for the general public. If you are looking for more specialized guidance, you can contact a prenatal dietitian, like myself to schedule a pregnancy nutrition appointment.


Elango, R., & Ball, R. O. (2016). Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(4), 839S–44S.

Institute of Medicine (US) Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: A Risk Assessment Model for Establishing Upper Intake Levels for Nutrients. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1998. What are Dietary Reference Intakes? Available from: 

Murphy, M. M., Higgins, K. A., Bi, X., & Barraj, L. M. (2021). Adequacy and Sources of Protein Intake among Pregnant Women in the United States, NHANES 2003-2012. Nutrients, 13(3), 795.

Stephens, T. V., Payne, M., Ball, R. O., Pencharz, P. B., & Elango, R. (2015). Protein requirements of healthy pregnant women during early and late gestation are higher than current recommendations. The Journal of nutrition, 145(1), 73–78.

Weiler, M., Hertzler, S. R., & Dvoretskiy, S. (2023). Is It Time to Reconsider the U.S. Recommendations for Dietary Protein and Amino Acid Intake?. Nutrients, 15(4), 838.

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