If you’re expecting a baby and you follow a strict vegan diet, you might hear a lot of concern from your obstetrician or midwife. That’s for good reason: even carefully planned vegan diets can sometimes provide inadequate amounts of nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, and iron, and, during pregnancy, the consequences of these nutritional gaps can be severe. Nevertheless, it is possible to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby without venturing into the world of animal products, as long as you’re very careful to make sure that your nutritional needs are being met. Here are some important tips to follow if you’re vegan and pregnant.
1. Get excellent prenatal care. It’s very important to see your doctor or midwife regularly during pregnancy, whether you’re vegan or not. Prenatal care not only helps to identify and treat common problems and complications of pregnancy, but it can help you ensure that you’re getting appropriate nutrition, as well. Your doctor or certified nurse-midwife can check for signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and provide helpful advice on meeting your nutritional needs if you choose to maintain a vegan diet during pregnancy.
2. Eat lots and lots of leafy greens. Leafy, green vegetables, like kale, turnip greens, collards, spinach, and cress are excellent vegan sources of several of the nutrients that most pregnant Americans get from animal products. Most notably, leafy greens a good source of iron, calcium, and folic acid, which are important for your baby’s brain, bone, and nerve development.
3. Take a prenatal multivitamin. Even moms who are getting excellent prenatal nutrition can benefit from taking prenatal vitamins, whether they’re healthy vegans, unhealthy omnivores, or any of the hundreds of shades in between. Very few moms can get the right levels of folic acid, trace minerals, and iron to sustain a healthy pregnancy through diet alone. Several companies offer vegan multivitamins, some of which are specifically engineered to meet the needs of vegans and moms-to-be.
4. Eat lots of fortified foods. There are no non-fortified vegan foods that can reliably provide the amount of vitamin B12 that it takes to sustain a healthy body, especially in pregnancy, when nutrition skyrocket. To keep yourself and your baby safe, include plenty of vitamin-fortified cereals, milk-replacement drinks, meat substitutes, and breads in your vegan pregnancy diet. This will not only help to fill in general nutritional gaps, but also provide plenty of the vitamin B12 you need to build a healthy baby.
5. Watch the weight gain. Vegan diets tend to be low-calorie compared to conventional American diets and, although it’s certainly possible to gain a lot of weight from vegan foods alone, it may be more difficult than average. Your target weight gain could be anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds depending on how lean you were at the beginning of pregnancy. Get tips and guidelines from your health care provider so you can make sure that you’re gaining enough weight without resorting to excessive sugar or unhealthy fats.
Although most practitioners don’t recommend a vegan diet during pregnancy, it is possible to have a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy if you make careful decisions and stay in close touch with your prenatal health care provider. See your doctor or midwife regularly and listen carefully to feedback and suggestions for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. For more information about veganism in pregnancy, see the guidelines published by BabyCenter and the Vegetarian Resource Group.