Before we begin, I have to give the disclaimer that this is not meant to diagnose, treat or prevent any illness and you should always consult with your doctor before beginning any supplements.
Now, let's jump into it. Collagen is HOT right now. It's in creams, hair products, you can drink it, eat it, have it injected, I mean, IT. IS. EVERYWHERE. I think most people have heard of collagen in reference to skincare and anti-aging, but it serves a wide variety of purposes. Collagen is a critical protein found in our skin, hair, nails, and other connective tissues, bones, teeth, etc. It is a BIG deal. It gives our skin elasticity, which is why it is often found in anti-aging products! This brings us to our first bonus for using collagen during pregnancy...
During pregnancy, it is inevitable that parts of our bodies are going to be stretching. An unfortunate side effect to that stretching and growing is the appearance of stretch marks. Since collagen can improve skin elasticity(1), it may be helpful in minimizing the appearance of these lines.
Our joints are full of connective tissues! Ligaments and tendons and cartilage are all players when we think of joints. During pregnancy, our bodies are physically changing shape. Pregnancy can put a lot of pressure on joints that weren't previously an issue. The culprit here is not just the added weight of baby, but the hormone relaxin. Relaxin is helpful when it comes time to deliver baby, but can make your joints more prone to injury in the meantime. Collagen can help with strengthening the joints (2), which in turn will help to alleviate some of the aches that come along with pregnancy.
Energy is not something most people would think about when someone mentions collagen. Collagen helps with repairing the body. So, it just makes sense that having to spend less energy on repair, you'll have more energy to spend elsewhere! You will need that extra energy for making milk, taking care of a newborn, and taking care of yourself. Glycine (one of the amino acid building blocks of collagen) also helps the body breakdown and transport nutrients that aid in energy. Glycine bonus, it's a powerful anti-inflammatory (3).
Skin, Hair & Nails
This is the most common thing people think about when discussing collagen. While pregnant, your body may grant you a luscious head of hair, long nails and radiant skin (or like me you end up looking like Shrek...but I digress), but after baby is born, many women experience postpartum hair loss, brittle nails, and dry skin. Pregnancy is INTENSE. Your body is trying to figure out what to do after the baby has been born, and working on ramping up milk production. Taking a collagen supplement helps your body by giving it access to this critical protein so it can continue to recover from pregnancy, while also having a healthy impact on your hair, skin and nails. Collagen has been shown time and time again to improve skin firmness, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scarring (5). Another perk? Collagen has been shown to have a dramatic effect on reducing the appearance of cellulite(4), something so many of us suffer from whether we've had children or not!
Another not often talked about perk of collagen is gut health. Collagen is important for healing the lining of your digestive system (3), and it draws water into the intestines, which helps to keep the food moving. It also helps with hydrochloric acid production which aids in digestion. Fun fact: The amino acid glycine in collagen helps the liver break down toxic substances. Your liver is in overdrive processing the increased fluids during pregnancy, so this can be incredibly beneficial in giving your liver a little boost in detoxing your body.
While research is limited on pregnant and nursing test subjects (this isn't limited to collagen testing - but we can nerd out on that later), there is one study I was able to pin down specifically targeting these demographics. The study involves pregnant women, in their 3rd trimester, utilizing hydrolised collagen to improve birth outcomes for mother (and baby). Guess what? It worked! Mother's using the supplement found increased overall scores for health, and wound healing, with no negative side effects or impacts on breastfeeding outcomes. *high five, collagen* You can view the research here: Hydrolised Collagen Protein Supplementation in Pregnant and Postpartum Women
Are there any negatives to using collagen while pregnant and breastfeeding?
Collagen can cause an increase in calcium levels in the body (hypercalcemia), but this is usually found in supplements that were derived from marine animals, like shark cartilage. There may also be cases of hypersensitivity reactions. This is why it is import to work with your team of healthcare professionals in deciding if this is right for you (feel free to take in this list of reasons why you SHOULD use a collagen supplement).
Do I use it?
Absolutely!! I currently utilize a multi-patented unique formulation (with hyaluronic acid - pregnancy/nursing safe). It is in a highly bioavailable form, and it has helped immensely with the aches and pains I had experienced after two pregnancies and several car accidents. After I sought Chiropractic care for the initial relief (and still seek out Chiropractic care because I know it works), I have supplemented that care with this amazing collagen product - which is not marine sourced. I've gone from not being able to walk properly after sitting for prolonged periods of time, to being able to hop out of the car after a road trip and now I hop in this fun contraption daily, a Yoga Trapeze. I KNOW this stuff works. I'm living proof.
TL;DR Collagen is amazing, and if you aren't using it, you should be :)
1. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/an-oral-supplementation-based-on-hydrolyzed-collagen-and-vitamins-improves-skin-elasticity-and-dermis-echogenicity-a-clinical-placebocontrolled-study-2167-065X-1000142.php?aid=58654 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18416885 3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12589194 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26561784 5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4206255/