Even the most committed and knowledgeable vegan may get overwhelmed during pregnancy. On the other hand, some may think the worries are much less for omnivores.
But nothing could be further from the truth since most of the foods that are advised to avoid during pregnancy are derived from animals. If you’re a vegan, then you’re also free from many foodborne illnesses that come from animal products which can be fatal during pregnancy.
Actually, it’s quite easy to follow a vegan diet which gives enough nourishment & energy for you and the baby.
Before you over think and clutter your mind making it overly complicated let’s get one thing clear.
Pregnancy and childbirth are all part of nature and if you’re already doing the basics right as a healthy vegan, you almost have everything in place already for a smooth & healthy pregnancy!
Just making sure that you’re eating a varied and balanced diet during pregnancy will provide enough nutrients for your own health and the development and growth of your baby.
Pregnant vegans should pay special attention to getting enough vitamin B12, protein, omega 3, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc during pregnancy and breastfeeding. These nutrients are vital to your fetus’s cellular growth, brain and organ development.
Let’s discuss all the vital nutrients and the kind of diet required to make sure that you do the basics right and have a healthy vegan pregnancy!
Things to Consider When Getting Prepared for Vegan Pregnancy
- If you have the option, don’t hesitate to seek advice from parents. Their experience & guidance can be invaluable.
- Start having a discussion with your partner to make things easier. Points you may consider discussing are:
- Budget for the visits to the clinic and the baby
- If you’re employed check your health plan to see which doctors and hospitals it covers
- Since you know there will be less time for you and your hubby as would-be parents, try to have a vacation and do something together for a refreshing break. This may help you both to be mentally prepared for the times ahead.
- If you own pets see how they can be taken care of during this period.
- See how best to maintain a peaceful & stress-free environment to keep you calm and maintain stability psychologically and emotionally for pregnancy
- Smoking & alcohol should be avoided! Politely & respectfully ask your partner to quit, too. Second-hand smoking is as dangerous as smoking itself!
- Consult a doctor and discuss:
- Mention that you’re a vegan
- Ask for any food to avoid
- Tests or vaccines you need
- Any prenatal vitamins
- If you have any medical condition and taking medicines
- If you’re working or living in an environment exposed to toxic substances
- The ideal weight for you. Being too thin or being overweight can both cause problems
- Any exercises you should follow to make pregnancy and delivery easier
- What veggies, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, and whole grains to stock up (refer general diet guide below)
- Reduce the consumption of junk foods with higher calories (including candy and sweetened beverages) to prevent excessive weight gain and caffeine (recommend only: one 12-ounce cup of coffee or four 8-ounce cups of tea)
- Avoid toxic substances, environmental contaminants, harmful materials and radiation at work or at home
- If living in an area prone to diseases coming from mosquitos, use a mosquito net to avoid infections
Nutrients for Your Attention!
Vitamin B12-deficiency is not exclusive for vegans and it is quite common in general during pregnancy.
Such deficiency can pose a risk for the developing fetus and may increase the risk of neural tube defect (a birth defect of the baby’s brain and spine), and preterm birth.
Sources of Vitamin B12:
Vitamin B9 – Folate / Folic acid
Just like B12, folate deficiency has been linked to babies with neural tube defect. According to studies the mothers of such infants have shown lower blood folate levels.
Thus, folate intake is highly recommended early in pregnancy for normal neural tube development. Vegan diets are generally high in folate, but if your tests show the levels are low at an early stage, you should consider taking a supplement or use fortified foods that provide 400 micrograms of folate daily. Make sure to discuss this with your doctor.
Unlike folate the natural form, folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B9. It is used in supplements and added to processed food products, such as flour and breakfast cereals.
Folate-Rich Vegan Food Sources:
- Green leafy vegetables like asparagus, spinach, collard greens, and brussels sprouts
- Beans such as pinto beans, black beans, navy beans and kidney beans
- Orange juice
- Fortified bread (folic acid)
- Fortified pasta (folic acid)
- Fortified cereal (folic acid)
The amino acids which are the building blocks of protein are essential for fetal cell growth and development. Protein also affects the growth of fetal tissue and the brain.
The other role in protein is to support you, growing the tissues of breasts and uterus (womb) during pregnancy, while increasing blood supply.
Current recommendations for protein during pregnancy is 75-100 grams of protein per day.
Protein-Rich Vegan Food:
- Soy milk
- Green beans
- Pulses: adzuki beans, black-eyed beans, chickpeas
- Nuts: cashews and almonds
Iron deficiency anemia is not uncommon during pregnancy whether you’re vegan or non-vegan and it can cause the baby to be born too small or too early.
Iron has an added demand during pregnancy since it is required for making extra blood and take oxygen from your lungs to the body and the baby.
If you’re taking iron supplements make sure to avoid taking iron & calcium supplements together and take it in between meals to maximize absorption.
Eating foods that contain vitamin C such as guavas oranges, kiwi, papaya, strawberries can improve the absorption of iron.
Good Sources of Iron:
- Dark leafy greens: spinach, parsley, cooked Swiss chard, cooked turnip greens
- Pulses: white beans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas
- Squash seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, ground flax seeds
- Cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds
- Dark chocolate
Both calcium and vitamin D are required for the development of the baby’s bones and teeth.
If you’re getting exposed to sun regularly then you should get enough vitamin D. At least 30 minutes of sun exposure twice a week is recommended.
If you’re not getting adequate sun exposure (especially during winter), you should consider a supplement, since it is quite difficult to find food sources with vitamin D.
Calcium is needed for the development of the initial fetal skeleton, to build strong bones and teeth, have a healthy heart & blood flow rhythm, and grow nerves & muscles.
Whether you like it or not your body will draw calcium from your bones and teeth for the baby. So making sure you have enough calcium in your body will keep your bones & teeth healthier later on.
- Chia seeds
- Dried figs
- Dark leafy greens: spring greens, parsley, watercress, mustard greens
- Pulses: white beans, navy beans, and pinto beans
- Fortified plant milk
- Calcium-set tofu
Omega 3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
DHA a fatty acid of omega 3, seems to be important in the development of the brain and the retina (a part of the eye). Pregnant vegans can rely on alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in chia seeds, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts to convert into DHA.
The efficiency of this conversion depends on the amount of omega 6 in your body as a higher amount of omega 6 can hinder the conversion of ALA into DHA.
To make sure you get the optimum amount of DHA during pregnancy you may consider a vegan DHA supplement.
Zinc plays an essential role in cell growth, construction of DNA, brain function, and a healthy immune system.
Vegan Sources of Zinc:
- Pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, sesame seeds
- Adzuki beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans
In pregnancy, iodine deficiency can increase the risk of miscarriages, perinatal mortality, birth defects and neurological disorders, and according to the World Health Organization, it is one of the most preventable causes of brain damage.
Iodine is also required for the fetal thyroid hormones and it is recommended for women to increase the iodine intake by about 50%. You can achieve this by taking one teaspoon of iodized salt per day or an iodine supplement after consulting your doctor.
General Diet & Health Guide Summary
Just to make things easier and for you to make sure that you have a variety of food, we compiled this list of different food segments and few other tips which will be much easier to remember.
Make sure you eat a healthy amount of food from each of the segments on a daily basis varying as much as possible. For optimum nutrition, vary the colors of the food you choose which includes the colors of green, yellow, orange, purple, and red.
- Vegetables: lentils, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, chickpeas, soybeans, green beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, black-eyed peas, navy beans, green peas, bell peppers (red, green and yellow), tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini
- Leafy greens: broccoli, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus, collard greens, lettuce, swiss chard, parsley
- Whole grains and cereals: oats, quinoa, pasta, rice, corn, pearl barley, fortified breakfast cereals.
- Nuts & seeds: cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, ground flax seeds
- Fruits: avocados, berries, bananas, papaya, apples, pears, oranges, watermelons, mangoes, grapes, grapefruit and dried fruits such as figs, prunes, dates (limit to one serving)
- Fluids: drink enough fluids to avoid constipation & keep you hydrated, such as water, smoothies, fruit juices, and fortified plant milk. Your urine color is a good indicator whether you’re well hydrated.
- Other food: tofu, dark chocolate
- Sun exposure: vitamin D
- Supplements to consider: vitamin B12, folic acid, omega 3 DHA, vitamin D (if no sun exposure)
In general, a healthy diet and a health-centric lifestyle will have a positive impact on the mother and the infant during pregnancy and post pregnancy.
Just be aware though many family physicians, obstetricians, and nurse-midwives are well-informed about general nutrition for pregnancy, but they may not be familiar with vegan diets.
Maintaining a record of your daily diet and other activities may help your healthcare professional to evaluate whether you’re getting enough nourishment and advise on any improvements.
- Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.
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