Whether collagen has been on your radar for a while or you're just learning about it as a mom-to-be, you might have some questions about this popular protein. Collagen plays a crucial role in supporting fetal growth and development during pregnancy, and when taken as a supplement, it could deliver benefits to your joints, skin, and bones.
So should you add collagen supplements during pregnancy?
Despite what you may have seen on social media or heard from friends; the answer isn't clear-cut. Collagen, while natural, hasn't been well-studied in pregnant populations, so experts can't say for sure what the effects of supplementing might be.
That's where this guide comes in. Here's a look at how your body uses collagen during pregnancy, the benefits and risks of adding collagen peptides to your diet, and how to make a safe, informed decision that's right for you and your baby.
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is a fiber-like protein used to produce connective tissue and help the tissue remain strong and elastic. Concentrated in the bones, ligaments, tendons, skin, blood vessels, and internal organs, collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. In fact, nearly 1/3 of the body's protein content is made from collagen [*].
The body uses amino acids (the building blocks of protein) along with dietary vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, zinc, copper, and manganese to produce all of the collagen it needs. Collagen can also be obtained by eating meat or fish since it occurs naturally in animal flesh.
Some people opt to take in additional collagen from supplements, which typically come in powdered form. Supplemental collagen is derived from collagen peptides, a digestible form of collagen typically made from cows, fish, or chickens.
What Are the Benefits of Collagen During Pregnancy?
Collagen produced by the body plays a crucial role during pregnancy. It's possible that collagen supplements could deliver additional benefits as well, though the majority of the research conducted has not looked at pregnant women specifically. That makes it hard to say for sure whether taking collagen supplements while pregnant is actually helpful.
Supports Healthy Pregnancy and Fetal Growth
Collagen is a protein, and protein is a must-have nutrient for a healthy pregnancy. Collagen in particular is involved in helping the uterus prepare to receive and support an embryo, and it's needed to support fetal organ development and growth [*]. It also plays a role in helping your body build and preserve lean muscle tissue.
Experts generally recommend that moms-to-be consume around 71 g of protein per day to support their baby's growth [*]. If you're meeting your daily protein requirements, chances are that your body is getting the nutrients it needs to produce adequate amounts of collagen, so there's no need to supplement. However, some research on non-pregnant people suggests that collagen peptide supplements can be used as a protein source (in moderate quantities) as part of a healthy diet [*].
May Support Joint Comfort
Hormone fluctuations, weight gain, and postural shifts can all contribute to achy joints during pregnancy, particularly in the hips, knees, pelvis, and lower back. Though research hasn't specifically looked at the effect of collagen supplements on pregnancy-related joint discomfort, studies on athletes, as well as people with knee osteoarthritis, show that supplementing with collagen peptides may provide some relief [*][*].
If you're considering taking collagen for pregnancy joint pain, it may be worth discussing with your doctor. Beginning a supplement regimen early on before discomfort develops is ideal, since it could take weeks or months before you start to notice any relief.
May Support Bone Health
The extra demands placed on the body during pregnancy can put additional stress on bones. Research suggests that women who supplement with collagen have increased bone density compared to those who don't [*][*]. These studies, however, were not conducted on pregnant women, and it's thought that bone mass lost during pregnancy typically bounces back within a few months of giving birth [*].
May Support Healthy Skin
Though the findings on collagen's effects on the skin are far from definitive, it's possible that supplementing could support and even enhance that natural pregnancy glow. Supplementing with collagen peptides has been shown to improve skin's hydration and elasticity, which could help skin appear more plump and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines [*]. However, again, the research hasn't specifically looked at taking collagen during pregnancy.
What Are the Risks of Taking Collagen While Pregnant?
The body needs collagen during pregnancy, and taking collagen peptides has been shown to deliver some benefits in those who aren't pregnant. Still, there are some potential downsides to consider before popping a collagen supplement while you're expecting.
Collagen Supplements Haven’t Been Studied in Pregnant People
Collagen peptides are considered safe for the general population. However, since specific studies have not been conducted on expecting populations, experts can't say for sure how collagen supplements could affect people or growing fetuses during pregnancy.
Supplements Aren’t Typically Recommended During Pregnancy
Experts generally recommend that moms-to-be avoid dietary or herbal supplements other than a prenatal vitamin (or other supplements that have been recommended by your healthcare provider). Again, that's because the majority of supplements have not been studied in pregnant people, so there's no way to know for sure how they could impact you or your baby [*].
It’s Hard to Know for Sure What’s in Your Supplement
Dietary supplements are not reviewed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness, so it's hard to say for certain whether a supplement contains the ingredients listed on the label and whether it will actually work. This lack of oversight means a supplement could contain contaminants that could harm you or your baby, including heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, or chemicals [*].
Collagen Supplements May Trigger Abdominal Discomfort
Though collagen supplements are generally well tolerated, some people report side effects like nausea, heartburn, or uncomfortable feelings of fullness. These could exacerbate some of the GI discomforts that you might already be experiencing during your pregnancy.
You Shouldn’t Take Collagen if You Have Certain Food Allergies
Some collagen supplements are derived from common allergens like eggs, fish, or shellfish. If you have an allergy to one of these foods, you should avoid collagen sourced from them.
Is It Safe to Take Collagen During Pregnancy?
Collagen produced by the body is needed for fetal growth and development during pregnancy. It's also possible that supplementing could deliver some added benefits, however, taking extra collagen certainly isn't necessary if you are meeting your protein goals. What's more, the lack of research on taking collagen peptides during pregnancy means that experts can't say for sure whether supplementing is safe or how much is okay to take.
If you're considering taking collagen supplements during pregnancy, talk with your healthcare provider. Together you can weigh the pros and cons to make an informed decision about whether collagen peptides are right for you, and if so, how much you should take. Brush up on the basics of buying a safe supplement too, making sure there aren’t unwanted chemicals in the product you choose.
If you and your provider decide that supplementing with collagen makes sense, consider using hydrolyzed collagen peptides. These powders are light and flavorless, so they're easy to blend into drinks or smoothies [*].
Pregnancy-Safe Collagen Alternatives
You don't need to take a supplement in order to get more collagen. Many food sources are naturally occurring sources of the protein, while others deliver nutrients that allow your body to ramp up its collagen production. These include [*]:
- Tough cuts of meat: Cuts like pot roast, brisket, and chuck steak are all rich in collagen. They also serve up plenty of iron, a mineral that can be hard to get enough of during pregnancy.
- Fish: Fish skin and bones are also a good source of collagen. Salmon, herring, or mackerel with the skin on are some of the best options during pregnancy - they're rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids while being low in mercury.
- Bone broth: Slow-simmering animal bones in water creates a collagen-rich broth.
- Eggs, dairy, legumes, and soy foods: These foods deliver the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which the body uses to produce collagen.
- Nuts, seeds, and whole grains: Minerals like zinc are also needed to make collagen. Foods like almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, quinoa, oatmeal, and brown rice are good sources.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables: Collagen production also requires vitamin C. Colorful fruits and veggies are some of the best sources, plus they offer fiber and other nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy.
The Bottom Line on Taking Collagen Supplements During Pregnancy
While collagen peptides could offer some benefits during pregnancy, supplementing isn't necessary, since the body produces all the collagen it needs as long as you're meeting your protein needs.
Additionally, to date collagen hasn't been studied for use in pregnancy, so there's no way to say for sure how it could affect you or your baby. If you're considering taking a supplement during pregnancy, always talk with your doctor first.