Creating a new human life is a complicated process that relies on access to many different nutrients that you can get by drinking milk during pregnancy. There are a lot of mixed opinions when it comes to dairy, but high-quality milk can be really beneficial to both you and your developing baby.
Milk supplies calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and protein, which work together to keep you strong during pregnancy and allow your baby to grow to a healthy birth weight. Although it might go against what's conventionally taught, opting for grass-fed, full-fat milk, over conventional low-fat varieties may provide even more benefit. Of course, always make sure to discuss any questions or concerns you have with your doctor and your birth team.
Gives You Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient at any life stage, but it's especially vital during pregnancy. A developing fetus relies heavily on protein to build healthy new cells. Because the fetus grows the most rapidly during the second and third trimesters, protein needs are highest in the later stages of pregnancy.
According to a report in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition in December 2013, insufficient protein intake during these later stages of pregnancy can negatively affect the growth of the fetus and result in a lower birth weight, which is connected to an increased risk of neonatal death and the development of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes in adulthood.
But it's not just about the amount of protein you're getting, it's about the quality too. The protein in milk is classified as a complete protein, which means it contains all of the amino acids you need to keep your body functioning optimally. Milk protein is also highly digestible and absorbable, so your body is able to actually utilize all of the protein you take in.
The typical recommendation for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, but during pregnancy, protein needs jump to 1.1 grams per kilogram of weight. That means, if you weigh 175 pounds, you'll need about 88 grams of protein per day; and as you gain weight during your pregnancy, your needs increase accordingly. One cup of whole milk provides almost 8 grams of protein.
Provides Lots of Calcium
In addition to protein, it's also vital to get enough calcium during pregnancy. Your body uses calcium to help build your developing baby's bones, teeth, heart, muscles and nerves. If you don't have enough calcium circulating in your blood, your body will pull calcium from your bones to supply the baby with what it needs. This can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, or thin, fragile bones that are prone to breakage, later in life.
During pregnancy, your calcium needs jump to 1,000 milligrams per day. One cup of milk provides around 275 milligrams, or more than 25 percent of your entire day's needs. But milk isn't the only source of the mineral; you can also meet your needs by increasing your intake of other calcium-rich foods like:
- Other dairy products (cheese and yogurt)
- Collard greens
- Broccoli rabe
- Bok choy
- Dried figs
- White and red beans
- Chick peas
Contributes Some Vitamin D
Vitamin D goes hand in hand with calcium because, without it, you wouldn't be able to absorb adequate amounts of the mineral. Together, these two nutrients work to keep your bones strong, especially during pregnancy. Vitamin D also plays a vital role in keeping your immune system healthy, which can help ward off infection and keep you and your baby safe. Getting adequate amounts of vitamin D also contributes to a healthy birth weight.
During pregnancy, you need 600 IU of vitamin D every day, but there aren't a lot of foods that contain the vitamin. Because of this, milk is commonly fortified with vitamin D to help you meet your needs. One cup of fortified whole milk provides approximately 125 IU of vitamin D, which is more than 20 percent of your daily needs.
Go Grass Fed
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to the health and proper development of your baby's eyes and brain. When you're pregnant you need at least 200 milligrams daily of DHA which is often left out of prenatal vitamins.
According to a February 2018 report in Nutrients, conventional (and even organic) varieties of milk don't contain significant amounts of DHA, but milk that comes from grass-fed cows does. Grass-fed milk is also higher in other omega-3 fatty acids (147 percent higher, according to the University of Minnesota Extension) and lower in omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation when consumed in excess. Drinking milk with more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 fatty acids also decreases your risk of developing heart disease and other metabolic diseases, like Type 2 diabetes.
Another fat found in higher amounts in grass-fed milk is CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, which is naturally made in the stomachs of ruminant animals fed their natural diets. A report published in Lipids in Health and Disease in February 2015 notes that when CLA is combined with calcium, it may be able to reduce pregnancy-related high blood pressure.
Low Fat or Full Fat?
In the nutrition world, there's a lot of controversy about another type of fat: saturated fat; but more recent research shows the fears to be unwarranted. When it comes to milk specifically, a December 2017 report in the Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran points out that dairy fat is not associated with weight gain or an increased risk of heart disease or Type 2 diabetes when consumed as part of an otherwise healthy diet.
Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2016 compared full-fat dairy to low-fat dairy and found that full-fat dairy can help improve risk factors for metabolic syndrome, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, but that same effect was not seen with the same amount of low-fat dairy. This may be because many of the nutrients found in dairy are coupled with the fat, and when you take that fat out, you lose important nutrients too.
If you're looking to optimize your nutrition and provide your developing baby (and yourself) with the nutrients you both need to stay healthy, drinking a glass or two of grass-fed, full-fat milk during pregnancy every day really may be able to do your body good.
- Food and Nutrition Research: "Does Milk and Dairy Consumption During Pregnancy Influence Fetal Growth and Infant Birthweight? A Systematic Literature Review"
- American Pregnancy Association: "Where to Get Calcium Naturally During Pregnancy"
- University of Minnesota Extension: "Grass-Fed Cows Produce Healthier Milk"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Total and Full-Fat, but Not Low-Fat, Dairy Product Intakes Are Inversely Associated With Metabolic Syndrome in Adults"
- Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran: "The Dairy Fat Paradox: Whole Dairy Products May Be Healthier Than We Thought"
- March of Dimes: "Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy"
- Food Science and Nutrition: "Enhancing the Fatty Acid Profile of Milk Through Forage‐Based Rations, With Nutrition Modeling of Diet Outcomes"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Protein and Amino Acid Requirements During Pregnancy"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Milk Consumption During Pregnancy Is Associated With Increased Infant Size at Birth: Prospective Cohort Study"
- Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition: "Milk and Protein Intake by Pregnant Women Affects Growth of Foetus"
- Lipids in Health and Disease: "Effect of Conjugated Linoleic Acid on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Milk, Whole, 3.25% Milkfat, With Added Vitamin D"