When I was pregnant with twins more than 16 years ago, there was very little information out there about the specific dietary needs of a woman carrying multiples. I basically had to “wing it.” Fortunately for me, I was a carnivore with a voracious appetite which I indulged frequently. Nearly twice a week throughout my pregnancy, I’d stop by the drive-thru of a local burger joint on my way home from work and order myself a double with cheese. It was just a “snack” as I’d then eat a full dinner several hours later! At first, I felt guilty for eating so much junk food but I was just so hungry and couldn’t possibly make it home without my beef fix. What I didn’t realize was my habit had a definite benefit—37 grams of protein, more than a quarter of what I needed for the day. And the proof was in the birth weight of my twins delivered at 39 weeks. Twin “A” came in at six pounds, eight ounces. Baby “B” made it to six pounds, 12 ounces.
Fortunately, over the years, more and more research has become available highlighting the benefits of a high protein diet for women carrying more than one, eliminating the need to guess. I’m a big believer in protein, too, writing often both on this website and on my blog about its importance. By why protein?
The amino acids found in protein are essential in building cells and vital in the growth and development of fetal heart, brain, tissue, and muscle. It’s what puts the weight on both you and subsequently your babies. A mom expecting twins should try to get at least 130 grams of protein each day. (Dr. Barbara Luke, author of When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads: Proven Guidelines for a Healthy Multiple Pregnancy, 3rd Edition, recommends 176 grams!) Furthermore, the research shows a strong and direct correlation between early maternal weight gain and strong fetal growth. According to new guidelines, a healthy mom pregnant with twins should gain between 37 – 54 pounds during her pregnancy with the biggest gains occurring during her first trimester. With that in mind, shoot for 3,100 calories a day in order to gain 24 pounds by Week 24. This often results in each baby tipping the scales at 5 pounds 8 ounces or higher at birth. Researchers believe that early weight gain aids in the development and function of the placenta. Keeping a food diary will help you get the calories and grams of protein you’ll need to stay on track.
When planning your meals and snacks, think lean meat, chicken and fish (and, yes, the occasional fast-food hamburger is fine, too). Sardines are very high in protein, if you’re a fan, and so is tuna but you need to watch your intake of the latter due to mercury concerns. (Pregnant women should limit themselves to no more than 12 ounces of tuna per week, or two, six-ounce cans.) Peanut butter and other legumes such as lentils and soybeans are very high in protein. And don’t forget nuts—almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans—they’re all high in protein. Pumpkin or sunflower seeds are high in protein, too, and make for great snacking throughout the day. Eggs and dairy products such as yogurt and cottage cheese are other good options as well. And don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a fast-food snack; just be smart about your choices.