Veganism and pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when it is important to be as healthy as possible, and when information about health can be both contradictory and confusing. A balanced, whole foods, plant based (vegan) diet is demonstrably a great choice for you and your growing baby. Such a diet may help prevent many of the ills that often accompany modern pregnancy such as excess weight gain, hypertension, blood sugar issues and constipation.

The human birth canal has evolved to birth a baby weighing between 2.5 and 4 kilograms. Nutrient dense vegetable foods provide the necessary metabolic fuel without causing the excess weight gain that might lead to oversized babies and increased risk of birth complications and interventions like caesarean sections1. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends you aim for normal energy intake during the first trimester, an extra 1400kJ (340 calories) in the second trimester, and 1900kJ (450 calories) in the third trimester. They provide the following chart to help plan meals2.

Whole Grains, Breads, Cereals
9 or more servings
Serving = 1 slice of bread, 1/2 bun or bagel,
1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta,
3/4-1 cup ready-to-eat cereal

Vegetables
4 or more servings
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetables
Choose at least one dark green vegetable daily

Fruits
4 or more servings
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked, 1 cup raw,
1 piece of fruit, 3/4 cup fruit juice, 1/4 cup dried fruit

Legumes, Soy Products, Nondairy Milks
5-6 servings
Serving = 1/2 cup cooked beans, tofu, or tempeh;
8 ounces fortified soymilk or other nondairy milk;
3 ounces meat analogue

Nuts, Seeds, Wheat Germ
1-2 servings
Serving = 2 tablespoons nuts or seeds,
2 tablespoons nut butter, 2 tablespoons wheat germ

Be sure to include a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as many prenatal vitamins or fortified nondairy milk or cereal. Also see What every vegan should know about B12.

Supplements

A general recommendation is to begin taking a multivitamin containing a low dose of iron prior to conception. Opt for a formulation that does not contain synthetic folic acid, due to the associated risks3. Folate rich foods such as green vegetables and legumes are essential to maintain adequate levels of this vitamin.

Extra iron may be necessary, based on the results of blood tests during pregnancy. Vegan Omega 3s (from algae) are being found to be very beneficial in the development of the baby and the health of the mother. Vegan probiotics (in capsules and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kim chi) help maintain healthy gut flora and immune response.

Lifestyle

Maintain physical fitness with regular, moderate exercise. As far as possible, live as "cleanly" as you can by avoiding unnecessary medications, tobacco, alcohol and refined carbohydrates (always consult with your health care provider before changing your regime).

References and further reading

  1. Nutrition for Pregnancy, Dr McDougall
  2. Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy, PCRM
  3. Top Health Concerns: Pregnancy, Dr Fuhrman
  4. The McDougall Diet for Pregnancy, Dr McDougall
  5. Plant-based diet planning, Robyn Chuter
  6. Herbivorous Diet During Pregnancy, Amanda Benham
  7. Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet, Vegetarian Resource Group
  8. Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide, Sayward Rebhal (book)
  9. Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven, Rory Freedman (book)
  10. The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book, Reed Mangels
  11. Healthy eating and weight gain for vegan pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, Queensland Health Department



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