You just found out you’re expecting, congratulations! You probably have a million things to organize and prepare until your bundle of joy arrives. While the practical aspects like decorating the nursery and selecting a car seat are somewhat easy, it’s the nutrition side of things that can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian.
You’ve probably done a lot of research and already know that with a bit of extra attention to meal planning and taking the recommended vitamins and minerals, you can absolutely enjoy a healthy and successful pregnancy. If you haven’t read up on the particulars yet, we’ll cover the basics here.
Advice from all sides
Your family will no doubt be thrilled to hear that you’re expecting, but in the next breath, you’ll be told to throw your vegan or vegetarian diet out the window and get down to eating meat, fish and drinking your milk! Maybe back in your mother-in-law’s day, changing your diet to support a pregnancy was the norm, but your generation is different.
You may have started taking prenatal vitamins during your pre-pregnancy planning, which means you’re already on a supplement regimen. As far as eating goes, there may be nutrients like protein, iron, vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D in the foods you already eat but not in high enough amounts. Not to worry, you can get everything you need from other sources.
According to whattoexpect.com, pregnant women need to eat as much protein as possible to help build cells and create hormones for baby. Egg and dairy eating vegetarians will have no problem getting their quota, but vegans need to be sure they’re getting at least 75 grams of protein a day. Whole grains, legumes, soy, nuts and seeds are all good sources.
Aside from building bones, calcium is also needed for developing your growing baby’s muscles, nerves and heart. The third trimester is crucial for calcium intake. If you don’t take in enough to pass on to your growing baby, it will be absorbed from your bones and put you at risk for osteoporosis when you’re older. Cow’s milk isn’t the only reliable source. You can try calcium-fortified nut milks and non-dairy yogurts, tofu, and for vegetarians, yogurt, cheese, and cow’s milk. A good calcium supplement will also help along the way. Aim for 1,000 mg a day during pregnancy.
You need iron to make red blood cells for both you and your baby. In fact, your blood volume increases about 50 percent during pregnancy. Low iron could lead to anemia which can cause early labour and low birth weight. Meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike can have a hard time keeping their iron levels at their peak. A supplement is commonly recommended because it’s difficult to get enough iron from food, no matter how much red meat one might eat. Pregnant women need about 27 mg of iron a day. If you want to top up your iron from food sources, try increasing your bean, Edamame, spinach, kale and oat bran consumption.
Vegetarians and vegans are more prone to B12 deficiency than meat eaters but it’s rare. B12 teams up with folic acid to build a healthy fetal brain. It’s also needed for making red blood cells and genetic material. You need 2.6 mcg a day if you don’t eat animal products. Consult your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough B12 from your multivitamin or even if you’re taking too much, which can be detrimental as well.
Some food sources are fortified cereals, fortified vegan meat products and soy milk and nutritional yeast.
In addition to building healthy bones and teeth, vitamin D is needed to prevent rickets, a softening of the bones that cause skeletal deformities and below average growth. Though many foods like bread, cereals and orange juice are vitamin D fortified, doctors recommend that a supplement is a sure way to go.
Being a pregnant vegetarian or vegan is not as difficult as it once was. With the right foods, supplements and under your medical provider’s watchful eye, you should be able to carry on eating the way you want throughout your pregnancy just as you did before.