Facts and tips about protein every expecting and nursing mom should know

(BPT) - Eating for two? One critical thing pregnant women and new moms alike need to focus on is maintaining an adequate level of dietary protein, says registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin.

As a rule of thumb, pregnant women should aim for 70 to 100 grams of protein a day, which in many cases would amount to 20 to 25 percent of their total daily calorie intake.

“Protein is important for ensuring the proper growth of fetal tissue, including the brain, and increased blood supply,” Rifkin explains. “Once the baby is born, a nursing mom’s protein and calorie needs will continue to remain higher than usual — similar to what’s required during the second and third trimesters.”

Whether you’re sporting a barely-there bump, or nursing a newborn, these tips and insights from Rifkin can help you make sure you and baby are meeting your protein needs.

* Go for variety: When pregnant, make sure you’re taking in a variety of lean protein sources throughout the day, including chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, cheese, tofu and cottage cheese. Choosing from this wide selection can help you and baby reap the other nutritional benefits these foods have to offer. One option Rifkin recommends is Muuna, single-serve cups of cottage cheese with fruit-on-the-bottom flavors. Not only is it packed with protein, but cottage cheese also offers one of the three servings of calcium pregnant women need in their diets. Muuna also contains probiotics and potassium, which can aid with the health of your gut integrity and microbiome.

* Watch your sugar intake: For a protein boost, sometimes we turn to convenient options, especially when schedules get hectic. Check the label, Rifkin says, because some, including flavored yogurts, trail mixes and protein bars, can contain more sugar than we think. Make sure these high protein choices are low in sugar, like Muuna single serve fruit-flavored cottage cheeses with only 4-8 grams of sugar per serving. This lets you maintain a better energy balance — helpful for nursing moms to keep an adequate milk supply — while helping you steer clear of large shifts in blood sugar.

* Be aware of your changing needs: A lot is happening with your body as baby grows and develops, which is why it’s important to be aware of your changing needs as your pregnancy progresses. During the second and third trimesters, for example, your energy needs will increase, Rifkin explains. How much you need will depend on your weight and other factors, but for most women, that amounts to a 300-calorie-per-day increase. With that increase, be mindful of keeping your macronutrient ratios (protein, fat and carbohydrates) in balance. That’s why you’ll want to increase your protein intake during this time.

* Make time for breakfast: When pregnant, it’s all too common to feel nauseous in the morning, especially during the first trimester. The good news is research shows that eating protein-packed foods can be helpful in curbing the queasiness. This recipe for a make-ahead breakfast bowl will give you a delicious morning dose, while allowing you to grab those extra few moments of shuteye.

Hearty Oat and Cottage Cheese Breakfast Bowl

Prep time: 10 minutes

Overnight oats ingredients:

1 1/3 cups milk (or milk substitute)

1 cup rolled oats

1 container of 5.3 oz. strawberry Muuna cottage cheese (or any of Muuna’s 8 fruit-flavored or plain cottage cheese)

1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)

Toppings ingredients:

1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1/2 cup pear, chopped

1/2 banana, sliced

1/8 cup sliced almonds

Drizzle of nut butter (almond butter or peanut butter will work)

Directions

Pour the overnight oats ingredients into a large glass lidded container.

Cover and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 4 hours).

Place half the oats mixture into a bowl (and refrigerate the leftovers).