You might have just found out you’re pregnant, and with that comes a range of questions (and sometimes unsolicited advice from those around you) about what’s best for you and your baby. This can be challenging if you follow a vegan diet, especially if this advice comes from people who care for you, and can feel like a personal judgement on the ‘best way’ for you to carry out your pregnancy.
Keeping healthy should be at the forefront of your decision making. A large part of that involves considering your diet and the impact this might have on your baby throughout your pregnancy. There are many benefits to a vegan diet, but it’s important that you’re aware of what vitamins and supplements you’ll need. This way, you can ensure you’re as healthy as you can be to support the development of your baby.
Getting the right nutrients
The first few months of pregnancy are the most important. Your baby will grow faster during your first trimester (the first 12 weeks) than any other time. Therefore, it’s essential to pay close attention to what you're eating and to make sure you're getting all the nutrients and vitamins you need. Below are some nutrients that you need to pay particularly close attention to whilst on a vegan diet.
Make sure you’re getting enough protein during your pregnancy as this will provide you and your baby with all the essential amino acids you need. Many people think that you need to rely on meat and dairy products for protein, especially when pregnant, but these aren’t the only foods that help you maintain a protein-rich diet.
Whilst your sources of protein may be more limited when you’re on a vegan diet, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to get the right nutrients. Plant-based protein can be found in beans, pulses, and nuts, as well as in many vegan meat substitutes, and some of these foods even have higher protein levels than animal meat and dairy products.
One of the most important nutrients during pregnancy is iron. It’s generally recommended that you need around 27 milligrams of iron (mg) a day. It’s not only necessary for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body to your organs and tissues, but it can also prevent iron deficiency (anemia) during pregnancy.
Although the most commonly known sources of iron include lean red meat, poultry, and fish, you can find it in a variety of plant sources, such as lentils, tofu, and kale. Vitamin C will also help your body absorb more iron from your food, so why not have a glass of orange juice with your meals?
If you follow a vegan diet, you may already know that you need to take a B12 supplement; this doesn’t change during your pregnancy, and even non-vegans are encouraged to take it. The regular use of vitamin B12 supplements or B12 fortified foods helps your body carry out essential cell formation and DNA production.
B12 naturally occurs in animal products, although you can also find B12 in vegan-friendly foods like yeast extract (such as Marmite) and some cereals. However, taking a supplement is the best way to make sure you’re getting enough B12 each day.
Of course, these aren’t the only nutrients you should focus on during pregnancy. You should have a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, but we’ve highlighted a few of the ones that may be more difficult to come by in a plant-based diet.
If you’re worried, you can talk to a midwife or doctor about how to make sure you're getting enough of these important nutrients. You can also ask to be referred to a dietitian for advice on how to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you and your baby need.
Keeping up healthy habits
There’s a common misconception that you’ll need to ‘eat for two’ when you’re pregnant. This isn’t true, even if you’re expecting twins or triplets. You may certainly feel hungrier (which is a common side effect of pregnancy) but try to ensure that you have healthy meals to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fats and sugar.
It’s also really important to have healthy habits during your pregnancy as there’s evidence that chronic diseases can begin in the fetal stages, permanently increasing the risk of your child developing them in adult life. As long as you make sure that you’ve included a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins in your diet, you’ll know you’re getting the balance of nutrients you need.
Final thoughts from Kami
There are some nutrients that are essential during pregnancy and can be harder to get from plant sources. However, a well-planned vegan diet can provide everything you need during all stages of your pregnancy, from conception to birth.
It’s never been easier to maintain a healthy vegan diet. When you do your research on what foods are best for you, you can safely follow a plant-based diet during pregnancy. If you're worried that you may not be getting all of the nutrients you need from your meals, you can always consult with a dietician. They can make sure you're eating all of the essential foods you need for the healthy development of your baby.