Being pregnant is a wonderful time full of so many changes and vegan mamas are no exception. There are many things to consider along the way and some situations you might have to deal with during those nine months that non-vegans might not necessarily have to worry about. I think it is important to address the topic on how veganism impacts your experience as a pregnant person, how you will alter your diet, the type of medical care you receive and the type of comments you might intercept from well-meaning friends & family. I hope by the end of this article, you will see it is completely possible to have a healthy vegan pregnancy from conception. It will include common misconceptions along with a list of recommended supplements you can try. If you are already on this path, you should feel confident in your decision to raise your baby on a well-balanced plant based diet.
What Do I Need To Consider As a Vegan Now That I’m Pregnant?
For any woman, the moment you find out that you’re pregnant changes your life significantly. There are adjustments you will need to make to your current diet or exercise routine in addition to finding ways to manage your mental health. Regardless of what type of diet you have, you’ll need to stop your intake of alcohol and tobacco and will need to watch that your caffeine intake does not exceed the recommended 200mg (1 1/2 cups of coffee) per day. I personally found that it’s easier and gives me a greater peace of mind to avoid consuming any stimulants like caffeine during pregnancy altogether. This is because several long-term studies show that consumption can have a negative impact later in your child’s life leading to behavioral issues or other disorders (Source). If this is your first pregnancy, whether you’re a new or well-seasoned vegan, you might wonder how your nutritional needs will be changed over the period of nine months as well as what type of supplements you’ll have to take in order to meet both you and your baby’s needs.
There are several key components of you’ll need to monitor closely whether you’re on a plant or animal based diet which are protein, iron, folate, calcium, magnesium, choline, iodine and zinc. There are also essential vitamins like A, C, D, E, K and B6 that you’ll want to make sure your prenatal supplements include. As a vegan, you already need to consume vitamin B12, so it’s important to make sure you’re not getting too much with your full spectrum prenatal as many of them will include a little over your daily recommended value. A well-balanced vegan diet can provide many of these essential nutrients, if not more, than an animal based diet because the key to a vegan diet is variety. You will find there are many more protein source choices for vegans in comparison to the types of animal meats on the market today. Vegetables also provide a wider range of nutrients straight from the source and are much easier for your body to process.
What Supplements Should I Take During Pregnancy?
There are many options when it comes to your prenatal supplement. You may find it difficult to find vegan friendly supplements that do not include gelatin capsules, but it is certainly possible to do so through proper research and review scouring. I mention reviews because while a prenatal can be marketed to give you everything you need; the reviews may hint towards a lack of validity based on symptoms women are experiencing (i.e. restless legs or extreme fatigue). I tried two different prenatals before switching back to my original choice due to feeling very tired and nauseous on my second one. It can be beneficial to buy 30-day supply bottles before you commit to a 90-day supply that doesn’t work for you. Your body will often tell you what it needs though. For example, if you’re experiencing brain fog a lot, you might have a choline deficiency. On the other hand, restless legs can be soothed by a healthy dose of magnesium.
I had been experiencing some issues in my second trimester with fatigue and pale skin, so we had concerns about my thyroid function and body’s ability to process glucose after doing this test. I was told it was best to focus on improving my diet by increasing protein consumption and limiting carbohydrates. After analyzing the results with a few family members, we found that my vitamin D level was very low and this nutrient plays a vital role in both of those functions. I was a little surprised but did see how this could happen, especially because I wasn’t getting enough sunlight early on in my pregnancy due to quarantine. It helped me to learn that is that this is a common deficiency among pregnant women of all diet types and very easy to fix with diet, supplementation and healthy doses of good ol’ sunshine. I started to drink a glass of orange juice with my breakfast in the morning, going on more walks during the day and taking Mary Ruth’s Vitamin D drops. Within the span of a week, my skin had started to gain more color and energy levels were back to normal. By the end of the second trimester, I didn’t feel the need to keep drinking the juice but have kept vitamin D as part of my supplements. You can find the full list of what I’ve been taking below. Keep in mind, this is not an end list of what your body will need as every pregnancy is different but it’s a great menu for you to pick from especially if you are having a similar experience.
- Garden of Life Once Daily MyKind Organics Prenatal– Full spectrum prenatal derived from whole foods providing a minimum or maximum of your daily value of: Vitamin A, C, D, E, K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Biotin, Pantothenic Acid, and Chromium as well as a healthy dose of iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, & manganese. This will help with common pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness & fatigue and will aid in your baby’s overall development.
- Garden of Life Prenatal Vegan DHA– Omega-3 supplement derived from agal oil providing a healthy dose of DHA & DPA. This will support your baby’s brain development.
- Garden of Life Once Daily Prenatal Probiotic– Contains 16 probiotic strains and guaranteed to provide 20 billion probiotic cultures. This will help reduce various complications during pregnancy, reduce the risk of baby developing eczema, and improve the mother’s gut health (this comes in handy with symptoms such as constipation).
- Nested Naturals Choline– Provides nearly all of your recommended daily intake of choline. This will not only help with the dreaded “pregnancy brain” and assist in baby’s brain & liver development.
Other Supplements to Consider
- Mary Ruth’s Vitamin D3– For those experiencing deficiency, this will help with fatigue and pale skin.
- Mary Ruth’s Vitamin C Gummies– If you are having frequent yeast infections or other vaginal infections, this will help boost your ability to fight them while pregnant (in addition to a daily probiotic)
- Now D Mannose– This will help support a healthy urinary tract and help your body fight off infections like UTIs which can lead to pregnancy complications.
The Way Medical Professionals Typically Approach a Vegan Pregnancy
There’s a lot of scrutiny in the medical field as far as nutrition goes for vegan parents and their children. The irony in this, however, is the fact that many OBGYN and even midwife professionals are not experts are not certified dietitians nor do they typically have expertise in the area of nutrition. For many, it is a new and unique concept that is difficult to fit into their “one size fits all” advice when it comes to meeting your body’s new daily needs. In my experience, many of these professionals have gone into the situation with doubt that it was possible to maintain a healthy balance until proven otherwise. You’ll hear comments like “make sure you are getting enough protein” or “iron levels could be low… we should check”. While there are routine tests that need to be conducted, I hear from other pregnant vegans that there is an overwhelming lack of support when it comes to plant based diets versus the traditional animal based diet. There is no applause for avoiding deli meats which are prone to listeria, heart-disease inducing beef products, cholesterol filled eggs, puss-filled cow’s milk, unpasteurized dairy cheeses and mercury filled fish. Instead, questions are constantly raised on how you and your baby’s needs are being met.
It can be easy to let medical scrutiny of your diet affect your confidence, but trust that your blood work will speak for itself. I found that after my initial bloodwork came back from a test my midwife team conducted, my nutrient levels were looking great. As mentioned above, I had a vitamin D deficiency which is common among pregnant women of all diets and very simple to resolve. During my 1-hour glucose test to screen for gestational diabetes, I opted for a store-bought smoothie (Bolthouse Farms) to meet my required intake of 50g of sugar before the test. I consumed a protein based breakfast as directed consisting of JustEgg, sauteed bell peppers and onions. My levels came back within the normal range, and I was not diagnosed with gestational diabetes which was no surprise to me or my partner due to our balanced diet established in the home. My iron level was the same as before even after my blood volume had finished expanding (they typically like to see it drop a few points to let them know it’s finished, but any more could hint towards anemia). I mention this because vegans are stigmatized to have carb heavy, low nutrient meals and during pregnancy it is crucial to ensure you are meeting your body’s daily needs. Vegans who are already conscious of their nutrient intake are at an advantage versus those who rely solely on processed foods. It just takes a little bit of prep work (meal planning) and research. If you’re new to this, you can start learning what nutrients come from different foods by simply searching the web for terms like “Benefits of chia seeds during pregnancy”, “Best vegan protein sources” or “What foods contain folate?” and build your meals around nutrient rich dense foods.
Unsolicited Advice From Family & Friends During Your Pregnancy
Probably the most disappointing thing during a pregnancy experience is an unsupportive “support” system. If you weren’t raised vegan or don’t have a large plant based community to lean on (like me!), you might find yourself on the receiving end of some pretty unwelcome comments or a wide range of questions regarding how you are taking care of your baby. If you already faced judgement or misunderstanding with your diet before pregnancy, it’s likely that it will be even more heavily discussed whether you are present or not. You might hear comments that people are nervous about your baby’s health or questions like “How are you getting your omega-3s?”. They might even ask if you’re visiting the doctor regularly hoping that they might deter you from your plant based diet. What a pregnant mom needs during this special time is unconditional love and support, but well-meaning comments and concerns can make you feel like the people who you care about are providing the exact opposite. It can be easy to feel alienated at times because of this and feel completely alone in your experience. You are not alone. Remember that many women have done this before you, are doing it now, and will continue to long after you are through your childbearing years. It’s not a new concept and there are many studies to back you up in the fact that it lowers your risk for certain health conditions and provides you with everything you need to sustain your pregnant body & child.
Stand strong in your stance that you are doing what you feel is right for your child based on research you’ve conducted. You can choose to share articles with friends and family approaching you with concerns or simply move on from the conversation if you find that it causes you feelings of stress or even anger for having to prove you know what you are doing. It’s important not to let these comments affect you negatively because that can impact the well-being of both you and your unborn child. Keep in mind that this is going to be the first bout of unsolicited advice you’ll receive on parenting. People (with or without children) will have opinions on the choices you should make for your baby relating to education, medical care, exercise, clothing, discipline, and so much more. It’s up to you on how you’ll handle these topics either by facing them head on with hard facts or simply saying “thank you” for the advice and taking it for what it is… an option, not an obligation. It’s great to hear what has worked for others, but your child is a unique individual and so are you. You and your partner are the only people who should be making these types of decisions for your family and it’s up to you to seek out support when needed.
I hope this article helps you better understand what it’s like to be pregnant as a vegan, things you should be aware of and how to handle criticisms from others along the way. If you can relate to this, feel free to share your experience below along with any questions you might have.
As always, thanks for your love & support.
‘Til next time!
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