Vegan Pregnancy - How to Stay Healthy

Maintaining a healthy and safe vegan pregnancy

As a vegan or vegetarian, the decision to not eat meat, fish, or any animal product is made for a number of valid reasons.
So what happens when you get pregnant? The good news is that you don't have to go back to eating foods you've cut out of your diet just because you're expecting. 
There might be a lot of well-meaning people in your life telling you that you can't possibly sustain a healthy pregnancy on a vegan diet. They say this because some of the vital nutrients needed for pregnancy can easily is found in animal products. What most people don't know is, they can just as easily be found elsewhere too.

Veganism in pregnancy is perfectly safe as long as you make sure that you and your baby get all the requisite nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy.

Veganism in pregnancy is perfectly safe as long as you make sure that you and your baby get all the requisite nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy

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Can having a vegan diet affect my baby's growth?

No, a vegan diet will not adversely affect your baby's growth, if you monitor your diet carefully and make sure you consume all the nutrients a developing fetus needs. The American Dietetic Association confirms this, as its position is that  "Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes." The Canadian Pediatric Society also reiterates this by stating that " Well-planned vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets can both meet the nutritional needs of pregnancy." Taking care to exercise, abstain from drinking alcohol will also improve your chances of carrying a healthy baby to term.

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What can you eat to make sure baby has all the nutrients it needs?

Maintaining a balanced diet is necessary for a healthy pregnancy, but certain nutrients are especially important.

Iron: Though you no longer get your period while you're pregnant, you need even more iron now. This is because your body uses iron to make extra blood for you and your baby. Great vegan sources of iron are:
Pulses like beans, lentils, and peas
Dried fruits like apricots, peaches, currants and raisins
Iron-fortified cereal
Dark leafy vegetables
Whole grains like quinoa, oatmeal, and barley. Whole meal bread is also a great source.

Calcium: While you're pregnant, your baby needs calcium to develop strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps reduce your risk of preeclampsia and hypertension. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all women over the age of 19, including pregnant women, get at least 1000mg of calcium daily. Other medical authorities even recommend upping your intake to 1200 or 1300mg daily. While dairy products such as milk and cheese are generally considered the best sources of calcium, vegan alternatives to them are:

  • Broccoli
  • Dark, leafy vegetables
  • Calcium-set tofu and soy beans.
  • Calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Nuts like almonds and hazelnuts
  • Protein: Getting adequate protein during pregnancy is vital for a healthy pregnancy especially during the second and third trimesters. You need about 71 grams daily. Good vegan sources of protein are:
  • Legumes like beans and lentils
  • Soy products
  • Nuts

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How do I ensure my baby gets enough vitamins on a vegan diet?

You can do this by making sure your diet is filled with foods that provide size-able amounts of vitamins especially Vitamin B12 and Vitamin K. It's also crucial that you take your prenatal vitamins, as prescribed by your ob.gyn, every day!

  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal foods, and as a result, vegans have a lower intake of this vitamin. As a pregnant vegan, to get the recommended 2.6mcg (micrograms) of  Vitamin B12 daily, you may have to supplement your diet. Vegan food sources of it are fortified breakfast cereals, fortified unsweetened soya drinks and yeast extracts like Marmite.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D works with calcium to ensure that your baby has strong bones and teeth. It also promotes healthy skin and good eyes. It is recommended that pregnant women take 600 IU (International Units) of Vitamin D daily. Food sources of Vitamin D are few, and for vegans, only foods like cereals and soy milk fortified with Vitamin D are available.

Spending some time in the sun also helps your body produce vitamin D, but this can be hard for people who live in not-so-sunny climes, use a lot of sunscreen or have darker skin. 

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Vegan Supplements While Pregnant 

You may be wondering, "Should I take any vitamins/supplements to support healthy development?"

Even if you eat a wide variety of food, it can still be tough to get all the nutrients you and your growing baby need. More so for vegans who have very limited food sources of crucial vitamins like Vitamin K and Vitamin B12. Prenatal supplements also contain nutrients like folic acid, iron, and calcium which are super important. All of these factors make prenatal vitamins essential for healthy vegan pregnancies. Your ob/gyn or doctor will recommend/prescribe the best prenatal supplements for you to take. Never start a herbal supplement without consulting your doctor first.

Take your prenatal vitamins daily and never skip one, or you may be putting your baby's health at risk.

How to make sure your vitamins and supplements are vegan?

Options are limited, and sometimes it seems that all prenatal vitamins contain animal derivatives. But don't despair, vegan supplements do exist, and there are a few ways to ensure that you get to use them.

  • Firstly, once you start seeing a doctor or ob/gyn for your pregnancy, you must communicate to him/her that you are a vegan and therefore do not wish to take any supplements or vitamins made from animal products. 
  • Secondly, check the ingredient list at the back of every container of supplements you use. Look out for gelatin particularly, as it is animal derived. Vitamins A and D3 are also common in supplements and are sometimes made from animal liver and lanolin. Fortunately, synthetic forms of these vitamins exist and are suitable for vegans.

Breastfeeding as a vegan mother

The nutrients you need for breastfeeding while on a vegan diet are not vastly different from those needed when you are pregnant. If you had been taking vitamin D or vitamin B12 supplements previously, it's recommended you continue doing so while breastfeeding. Do not worry about the calcium content of your breast milk as it's largely unaffected by a vegan diet. Your breast milk may be short of the adequate amount of zinc needed for babies over the age of 7 months. So if you're planning to breastfeed your baby past that age, you should consider getting a zinc supplement.

Note: You MUST consult your doctor before starting on any new vitamin/supplement.

Cord Blood Banking and Anticoagulants (Natural Heparin VS. Synthetic Heparin)

Your vegan lifestyle should be allowed to extend to all parts of your life including your decision to bank your baby's cord blood. All cord blood banks use anticoagulants to make sure the cord blood does not clot during transportation and processing. 

Some cord blood banks use Heparin, which is made from pig fat, as their anticoagulant. As a result of this fact, you may want to go with a cord blood bank that uses a different kind of anticoagulant. Americord Registry uses CPD(citrate-phosphate-dextrose), which contains no animal derivative whatsoever, making it the best choice for you.You shouldn't have to sacrifice a set of your beliefs to protect your baby from future diseases or conditions!