It is important to eat a varied, balanced diet during pregnancy, whether you’re vegan or not. However, as a vegan you may feel a little nervous about going vegan or staying vegan during pregnancy due to familial pressures and misinformation.
Be assured that a well-planned vegan diet is safe and healthy for pregnant people. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as American Dietetic Association):
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.
Some of the most essential baby-boosting nutrients are more easily found in meats and other animal-based products, but that doesn’t mean vegans can’t get them. We can!
Vegan mammies-to-be need to make sure they get enough protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
For a full list of vegan sources of all essential nutrients, click here.
Pregnant people need more protein than ever as it helps build cells and makes hormones for your growing baby.
What to eat:
- Soya milk
- Seeds and nuts
Calcium is important for building your baby’s bones, muscles, heart and nerves, particularly during the third trimester.
What to eat:
- Green leafy veg eg: kale, spinach, watercress
- Calcium set tofu
- Soya milk (fortified)
Believe it or not, your blood volume increases by almost 50% during pregnancy to support you and your developing baby, and iron is required to produce more red blood cells. It’s important to get enough iron as deficiency can result in anaemia.
Lucy Taylor, of Bloom Nutritionist, says that “there is no greater risk of iron deficiency if you’re vegan or vegetarian” and that in fact, most people on plant-based diets actually get more dietary iron than those who aren’t on a plant-based diet.
Your GP might prescribe an iron supplement for you depending on your circumstances, but it’s also a great idea to munch on iron-rich foods as well.
What to eat:
- Green leafy vegetables eg: kale, cabbage
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dried apricots
Tip: Serve a vitamin C rich food with every meal to boost iron absorption.
Vitamin B12 and folic acid team up to help with proper foetal brain development and the formation of red blood cells, as well as for building genetic material.
Deficiency has been linked to neural tube defects as well as increased risk of preterm labour,so don’t rely on fortified foods – take a B12 supplement (speak to your doctor about the best supplement for you and your needs).
How much do I need? 2.6mcg per day
What to eat:
- Fortified soya milk
- Fortified cereals
- Yeast extract (eg. Marmite)
Again, don’t rely on food sources for B12 during your pregnancy.
As Irish people, we simply do not get enough sun in our part of the world, so many of us are deficient in vitamin D without knowing it. It’s important for pregnant people to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin D throughout pregnancy, as it’s essential for building and maintaining healthy teeth and bones.
According to the HSE, in severe cases low levels of vitamin D can cause rickets in children. Get as much sun as you can, but be wary that it probably isn’t enough to maintain your vitamin D levels, particularly if you have dark skin or you wear sunscreen.
Most pregnancy multivitamins contain vitamin D, but if you decide to take a vitamin D supplement on its own, talk to your GP or pharmacist about one that’s right for you. Many brands may not be suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding people.
Omega 3s provide energy for the body and are used to form eicosanoids, which have wide-ranging functions in the body’s cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems.
DHA is a key component for the developing brain and eyes. It is particularly important for the brain, nervous system and eyes of developing infants. Dr Michael Gregor recommends that vegan pregnant people supplement 200mg of preformed, uncontaminated DHA and consume ALA from plant-based sources such as flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil.
The DEVA brand is a good EPA/DHA supplement, but speak to your GP before buying to ensure it is the right choice for you.
Make sure to see your GP regularly throughout your pregnancy to ensure everything is okay and that you’re meeting all your needs, and ask them questions if you have any concerns.