Vegan and Vegetarian Pregnancy Diet

By: Women's Care Staff

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you may be wondering if your diet is appropriate — or even safe — for a growing baby. You also may be thinking it is completely safe since many American pregnant women who are neither vegetarian or vegan don’t receive enough nutrients while others get too much. Can you provide proper nourishment without meat, eggs or dairy?

The experts at Women’s Care say yes.

Vegan or vegetarian mothers-to-be can maintain their diets as long as they are diligent about nutrients. The most important thing a woman can do for her unborn child is to ensure it gets the right nutrition and care for proper growth.

Nutrients for the Vegan Pregnancy Diet

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are five essential nutrients every expectant mother needs on a daily basis: folate, calcium, vitamin D, protein and iron. And while all pregnancies require these, regardless of diet choices, many of the nutrients are more readily found in animal products.

Here’s a quick look at some meat/animal-free sources for these mighty nutrients.

  • Folate/Folic Acid:
    • 400 to 800 micrograms a day helps prevent neural tube defects.
    • Sources: Green, leafy vegetables, oranges, peanuts, and fortified cereals.
  • Calcium:
    • 1,000 milligrams a day strengthens bone and teeth development; it helps the circulatory, muscular and nervous system run smoothly.
    • Sources: Broccoli, spinach, soy milk, tofu, almonds, and fortified cereals and juices.
  • Vitamin D:
    • 600 IU a day promotes bone strength.
    • Sources: Fortified soy milk, breads and cereals; supplements
  • Protein:
    • 71 grams a day helps with growth; especially important in second and third trimesters.
    • Sources: Peas, quinoa, oatmeal, nut butter, soy milk, tofu, whole-grain cereals, and bread.
  • Iron:
    • 27 milligrams a day gives more blood to supply oxygen to the baby. It carries oxygen to your muscles to help avoid fatigue, weakness, irritability, and depression.
    • Sources: Beans, edamame, barley, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and soy products.

Nutrients and Supplements Explained

Prenatal multivitamins will provide many vitamins and nutrients, like calcium and folic acid. However, they do not replace a well-balanced diet. In addition, vegetarian or vegan mothers should be aware of which nutrients they lack. More and more studies report that plant-based diets keep you healthier than dairy and meat-rich diets. Nonetheless, don’t jump the gun and assume you already receive enough nutrients for pregnancy.

Folic acid is one of the eight vitamins in the B complex. A healthy pregnancy requires all eight. With a mindful vegetarian or vegan diet, you can ensure you get enough of these nutrients, except for one: B12.

Vitamin B12 helps with the proper development of the nervous system and can help prevent spina bifida and other birth defects in your growing baby. Unfortunately, the vitamin is mostly found in animal products such as eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. A 2013 study found that 62% of pregnant vegetarians were vitamin B12 deficient. However, vegans and vegetarians can take supplements instead of receiving the vitamin from a food source.

Questions about a Vegetarian Pregnancy Diet?

Talk with your Women’s Care physician. It’s important that expectant mothers let us know they’re vegan or vegetarian during our first prenatal visit. Ideally, we’d discuss this even earlier at the preconception health visit. Together we can develop a healthy eating plan and determine which vitamin supplements, like B12, are needed to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby.

You can read more about pregnancy nutrition on our website, including a list of 13 pregnancy superfoods. Or, schedule an appointment with your Women’s Care physician to discuss a healthy eating plan for you and your growing baby.

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