Is it safe to be vegan while pregnant?
Being a vegan often involves intense curiosity about your diet and lifestyle. And if you thought the constant nutritional scrutiny would be no different for a vegan pregnancy, you're right. The strange questions and the ill-informed assertions will come from people that may not have shown any concern about your diet before. But are they right? Is a vegan pregnancy dangerous? The answer is usually no, but this involves a few conditions and caveats.
Pregnancy creates extra nutritional demand on your body. Your body will use energy, vitamins, and minerals to support the growth of your baby's vital organs, bones, muscle tissue, and more. Vegan diets require you to get that energy and those vitamins and minerals from sources that may differ from a typical British diet. These sources may involve supplements in addition to nutrient-dense food. It's common for vegans to be concerned about nutrients usually found in animal products even when they're not planning a family. But if you are currently pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, it's a good idea to know where you and your diet stand.
Get in touch with your GP. Let them know that you're planning to become pregnant and you'd like to make sure that you're doing all right with regards to nutrition. Your GP may ask you to document your regular diet, check for symptoms of common deficiencies, and draw blood to check levels of various nutrients. If you're already pregnant, ask your GP to run those tests in addition to routine antenatal screenings.
Your GP or midwife may want you to consult with a dietitian if you aren't getting enough nutrients. Let the dietitian know that you are vegan, and will work with them to find animal-free sources for any nutrients you're lacking. It's entirely possible to have a healthy vegan pregnancy, and your antenatal care team should provide you with the support you need to do that.
Review your diet
If your levels are within normal ranges but you want to make sure that you're getting what you need, review your current diet. While you should do your best to get sufficient nutrients every day, don't fret over the occasional junk food indulgence or skipping a meal. Your regular diet might provide everything you need for a healthy vegan pregnancy. Check the following categories to make sure.
- There's no need to "eat for two" when one of you is the size of an apricot. You probably won't need any extra calories in your first and second trimester, and you may need additional calories in your third trimester. Your caloric needs will also depend on your pre-pregnancy weight and activity level. If you are on the heavier side before pregnancy, your GP or midwife may suggest that you not consume extra calories.
- If you've been a vegan for a while, you may have made an effort to get additional iron in your diet or had meat eaters insist that you can't possibly be getting enough. Whole grains, dried fruit, pulses, and blackstrap molasses are all vegan sources of iron. If your diet is low on iron, a breakfast of oatmeal drizzled with molasses can set you right. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so try to have fruits such as strawberries or citrus or vegetables such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts with your iron-rich meals.
- Calcium is essential for healthy bones, teeth, and pregnancies. Green vegetables such as broccoli and okra have calcium, as do pulses, but bread is also fortified with calcium, so if your stomach is still a little sensitive, some toast will help you stay the course in terms of nutrition.
- Vitamin D is also vital for a healthy vegan pregnancy, as it helps your body absorb calcium. It's also a tricky nutrient to find in vegan sources. Especially if you're expecting during the winter or burn easily, find a vegan supplement to meet your need for vitamin D.
- Folate is a B vitamin that has shown to help prevent spina bifida, a severe congenital disability. You can get folate from leafy greens and chickpeas, but your antenatal care provider may recommend a folate supplement. Folate is typically included in prenatal vitamins, so check with your favourite vegan supplement brand for prenatal formulas.
- Vitamin B12 can pose the most significant challenge to vegan diets, but a healthy vegan pregnancy must include a source of B12. If yeast extract isn't to your taste, look for a cereal or soya drink fortified with the vitamin.
If you had a pound for every time a vegan faced an unnecessary inquiry into their protein intake, you'd have enough for the deluxe package at the Lindo Wing. But pregnancy is when your protein needs take on extra urgency, so if you're inclined towards salads for lunch, add a few chickpeas for additional protein, iron, and folate.
Providing adequate nutrition for a growing baby may seem like a significant cause for concern, but there's a decent chance that your regular diet, paired with a vegan prenatal vitamin, would cover what you'll need for a healthy pregnancy. If you plan to breastfeed, you may need additional calories postpartum, and you'll need extra water to stay hydrated. A vegan pregnancy can be just as healthy as one that includes animal products, so there's no need to sacrifice ethical concerns for the sake of a healthy body and baby.