Everything I needed to know about nutrition to have a healthy vegan pregnancy…

Posted by on Oct 7, 2015 in Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting | 0 comments

A couple of years ago at my annual gynecological check up, my midwife asked if I was intending to have a child. I answered eventually.  Then she told me that when I became pregnant that I should include at least eggs and fish in my diet; she said that she was concerned that I would be lacking too many essential nutrients if I remained vegan. I told her that I was convinced I could have a healthy pregnancy as a vegan and that is what I intended to do. And I started looking for a new ob/gyn practice! 

Leading up to my pregnancy and during the first few months I read everything I could about how to eat healthfully and ensure that all of my and my baby’s nutritional needs were met. I was determined to prove the skeptics wrong and show the world just how right a vegan lifestyle was for growing a happy and healthy infant. 

The two best sources I found were the chapter on pregnancy in Vegan for Her by Virginia Messina and JL Fields and The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book by Reed Mangels. Both of them give great advice about what pregnant vegans should be eating and how much over the course of pregnancy, with detailed instructions about what nutrients are needed, sample meal plans and recipes.

The advice I took away from both of them is as follows: 

  • Take a vegan prenatal vitamin starting well before you want to get pregnant. Even if you think you might not need it, it’s better to be sure that you are getting adequate folate, iron and other essential vitamins and minerals than risk not getting them. 
  • Supplement with B12. All vegans should be doing this all the time anyway, but it’s particularly important when you’re growing a vegan baby.
  • Eat an abundance of iron-rich foods and supplement if you need it. Beans and seeds are great sources of iron, particularly soybeans and soy products like tofu and tempeh and sesame seeds. Dark leafy greens, blackstrap molasses, dark chocolate and grains like quinoa are also good sources of iron. 
  • Eat more protein. We all know that vegans get plenty of protein from just about everything we eat, but when we’re growing a vegan baby we need about 50% more than usual in the second and third trimesters. Luckily, some of the best vegan sources of protein are also the some of the best sources of iron. Adding some protein powder to a green smoothie or snacking on a high-protein energy bar can also help us meet our protein needs.  
  • Get your fill of omega-3s. DHA is important for your baby’s nervous system and making sure you get enough either through eating flax, hemp and chia seeds, using hemp or flax milk, or supplementing is important.
  • Eat a wide variety of whole foods: fruits, vegetables (including sea vegetables), grains, nuts and seeds and you’ll likely get all of the calcium, zinc, iodine and other nutrients you need and then some. 
  • Eat for two, but remember that your growing vegan is tiny and doesn’t need a whole lot more food!  In the first trimester you need just another 100 calories per day. In the second that increases to 350 extra calories per day and in the third, 450. Aim to gain between 25 and 35 pounds over the course of your pregnancy, most of that in the second and third trimesters.
  • Avoid raw sprouts, alcohol and caffeine.

I could have driven myself crazy with meal planning throughout my pregnancy to make sure that I got recommended levels of nutrients. I didn’t, that’s just not who I am. But I did pay attention to these broad guidelines. I tried my best to eat a wide variety of whole foods and I faithfully took my prenatal vitamins, b-complex, b12 and DHA supplements. I listened to my body and ate when I was hungry. And I still enjoyed sweet indulgences (probably a bit more than I should have).  

And how did I do? I was the picture of health throughout my pregnancy. I never experienced morning sickness (which is likely due to good genes rather than the food I ate). I didn’t have any food cravings or food aversions. Nor did I experience any other common problems during pregnancy, apart from a little exhaustion in the first and third trimesters.  I gained 28 pounds.  Most of the time I felt great, had plenty of energy, and enjoyed thicker hair, smoother skin and that much talked about “pregnancy glow.”  And most importantly, I gave birth to a very healthy baby boy who is just perfect in every way (of course, I’m his biased mama!). 

I am absolutely convinced that my vegan lifestyle had everything to do with it. There is no need to compromise on our commitments to our health, animals and the planet while we’re pregnant by eating animals or their secretions. If we pay attention to what we eat, like all pregnant mothers should do, there is no reason why healthy vegan mums can’t grow strong, healthy, vegan babies! 

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