One of the most frequent questions we get is "is a vegan diet safe during pregnancy?" and often coupled with "my OB told me that I need to start eating milk/meat/etc while I'm pregnant".
It's funny how everyone and their mother (especially their mother?) has an opinion about eating during pregnancy. During YOURpregnancy. Don't eat this. Eat more of that. Are you sure that's healthy for the baby? are constantly being tossed around pregnant mamas - especially if they've chosen to follow a 'non-traditionally Western' diet. AKA lots and lots of meat and potatoes.
Let's start here: There is no "best way" to eat for a healthy pregnancy.
There are great ways, and there are not so great ways but if you're reading this you're probably not eating just red meat, black coffee and candy, right? It's safe to assume you fall somewhere in the middle: Trying to nourish your and your growing baby with the best foods possible.
Food for thought: The recommendations for combating some of the most common fertility issues are to eat a more varied diet with vegetables taking center stage. So normal logic would suggest a plant-based pregnancy would be the healthiest choice for an expecting mama, right?
Yes and no. If done properly - with care, getting the right nutrients and vitamins and minerals and really taking care of your body - a vegan or plant-based pregnancy is an amazing option. You're probably already eating more healthy veggies and a more balanced diet than your meat-eating counterparts and vegans are generally more conscious consumers and more aware of what they're putting in their bodies if they've been doing it for a while and know how to eat. I know from experience, I was eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted (including lots of meat and animal products) during my pregnancies and it didn't feel great in my body compared to my now plant based diet. I had was meeting most of the requirements, but not really aware of what I was putting in my body. Now that I'm plant based I really take the time and energy to prepare meals that are nourishing and cover all the bases. A pregnant vegan diet isn't much different.
THERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU WANT TO LOOK OUT FOR YOUR PLANT BASED PREGNANCY:
- Protein - this one you'll also get asked about a LOT by well-meaning friends and family. A pregnant woman should be getting about 77grams of protein daily in the second and third trimester. Most women are getting that much already without having to worry about adding more. Plant based mamas might need to be armed with a nice little list of their plant proteins to rattle off when asked though so keep track of what you're eating and be ready to answer any prying questions with confidence (but not snark).
- Vitamin D & Calcium - Loads of cereals and milks (Rice Dream is an awesome choice!) are fortified with vitamin D and folate so you can usually get away with your recommended increase by adding a bowl of cereal to your day. It's also a comfort food for a lot of mamas which can be really lovely during these long 40 weeks. Also if you're getting regular sunlight, extra vitamin D shouldn't be a problem.
- Iron - plant based mamas can get enough iron during their pregnancy with regular meals of tofu, dried beans, whole grains, and green leafy veggies (but you're probably already eating those, right?) Iron supplements are often recommended in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters but make sure not to take them with any calcium supplement or it won't absorb properly in the body and nullify all your hart work!
- B12 - this is a big one most vegans are already taking in a supplement form. Lots of cereals, soy milks and nutritional yeast brands are fortified with B12 as well to get enough in your diet.
- Folate - Folate is a tricky little guy and I could write an entire book trying to explain how it absorbs in your body and the different kinds you need and how to get it but for the sake of brevity (you're a busy mama!), most pastas, dried beans, cereals, orange juice and green leafy veggies are great sources of folate in addition to 400 micrograms from a supplement. This is one where the whole food source isn't going to cut it. You should be taking a folate supplement before you even get pregnant or start taking it the minute you see those two little pink lines and continue to take it throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Lastly, keep a gentle mind when questions arise about your choice to continue your plant based diet during pregnancy. Ironically, no one seems to think it's socially acceptable to question a mama living off of McDonalds, but perfectly fine to ask endless questions of plant based mamas. It's OK. Remind yourself that plant based diets make up very little of the population and many (especially older generations) just don't know what it means, really. Honestly when I first heard of 'veganism' I thought y'all were eating salads and water and it sounded awful. Now that I've joined the ranks, I'm constantly amazed at how delicious and varied and nutrient dense my vegan meals are. Even my meat and potatoes-loving husband can't get enough! So be gentle, take heart, and take a minute to educate a little when someone asks a question about your calcium intake. They might just learn something new and begin to see plant based diets in a whole new light.