September 22, 2017

Pregnancy and Protein Shakes – A Safe Combination?

Lorri Harris-Sagaribay of MotherToBaby North Carolina, offers expert advice on just how healthy those energy and protein shakes are for pregnant women, as seen in WNC Parent.

“Just found out I’m pregnant. Can I still drink my energy shake in the mornings?”

“My obstetrician gave me the go-ahead to work out. OK to have a protein shake after the gym?”

At MotherToBaby, we provide facts about how a woman’s exposures in pregnancy might affect her developing baby. So when we get questions about shakes, powders and other nutritional supplements in pregnancy, we look to the research. And that research, or lack of it, leads us to caution women against drinking that favorite nutritional shake while they’re pregnant. Here’s why:

Nutritional shakes and powders fall under the category of “supplements.” Although the FDA sets out safety requirements for supplements, the manufacturers themselves are responsible for ensuring that those requirements are met (kind of like a homebuilder inspecting his or her own house).

This means products can be sold without proof that they are safe or effective. Once a supplement is on the market, the FDA relies mostly on consumers’ reports to alert them of problems that could lead to warnings or recalls. Of course, many supplement makers go above and beyond the FDA requirements for safety and efficacy. But the lack of oversight has allowed supplements to wind up on shelves despite being contaminated with bacteria, pesticides or heavy metals (such as lead), or having mislabeled ingredients or amounts of those ingredients.

Nutritional shakes usually contain a lot of ingredients, many of which have not been studied in pregnancy. That means we don’t know if they might be harmful for a developing baby or increase other risks. For example, some ingredients may be “generally recognized as safe” when eaten in the amounts usually found in food, but they could increase the risk of miscarriage when used at high concentrations in pregnancy. The concentration of any plant-derived ingredient can vary from batch to batch, depending on the growing and harvesting conditions of the plant. So in the end, you can’t be sure what you and your developing baby are getting with that shake.

A varied, healthy diet along with a daily prenatal vitamin recommended by your health care provider should give you all the nutrients that you and your growing baby need during pregnancy. Adding the extra vitamins found in that shake might result in exceeding the daily recommended amounts for pregnancy. On the flip side, if you drink a nutritional shake as a meal substitute, you might be missing essential nutrients that you should be getting from food. Always talk to your health care provider about your specific nutritional needs during pregnancy.

All things considered, we recommend shelving that nutritional shake until after you’ve delivered and are no longer breast-feeding. After all, you want to give your pregnancy a “fair shake,” right?

Lorri Harris-Sagaribay, MPH, Teratogen Information Specialist, MotherToBaby North Carolina.

If you have questions about supplements, medications or other exposures during pregnancy or breastfeeding, call MotherToBaby North Carolina toll-free at 1-800-532-6302 or visit us online at

MotherToBaby North Carolina is housed at the Mission Fullerton Genetics Center.