Pregnancy is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking periods of someone’s life. You’re probably eager to meet your baby and start the next phase of your life, but you also might feel daunted by the responsibility. When you’re pregnant, your health directly affects your baby’s development. As they say, you’re eating for two now.
It can also be stressful because it seems like everyone has advice when it comes to pregnancy and motherhood. All these voices can present conflicting ideas and it can be difficult to know who to listen to.
If you are vegan, some of these voices may be telling you that you’re harming your baby by sticking to this diet during pregnancy. Some of these people may be of the opinion that veganism isn’t a healthy diet in general, so they may be harsher on you during pregnancy.
What’s the truth, though? As we’ll discuss in our article, it is possible to stick to your vegan diet during pregnancy. You can have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby while avoiding animal products; it just may take some extra planning and preparedness.
- An Overview of Dietary Needs During Pregnancy
- Communicating With Your Doctor
- Creating Meal Plans
- Common Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
- Being Adaptable
- Vegan Breastfeeding
- Having a Healthy Pregnancy
An Overview of Dietary Needs During Pregnancy
Dietary balance is essential during pregnancy. While it’s always important for your health, developing fetuses need extra vitamins and minerals, so watching what you eat becomes even more important.
Increased Caloric Intake
As a general guideline, it’s recommended that you consume about 300 more calories per day when you’re pregnant. No need to double your portions, but you should still get a little extra.
Sufficient Vitamins and Minerals
Watching your diet to ensure you get enough vitamin A and D, potassium, calcium, iron, and folic acid is important, too. Most doctors will recommend taking prenatal supplements to give an extra boost. Fortunately, many of these necessary nutrients are found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, so when combined with supplements, getting enough shouldn’t be a problem.
Sufficient Protein Intake
The thing people worry about most when it comes to veganism is your ability to get complete proteins that provide your body with the nine essential amino acids that you must get from food. Just as an athlete might up their protein intake during training, you should somewhat increase your protein intake during pregnancy. Not just any proteins will do, either; getting complete proteins is essential.
It’s also recommended that those observing a vegan diet should aim for about 10% more protein than what is suggested for omnivores since plant protein can be a little harder to absorb. We’ll discuss some methods to help you get enough plant-based complete proteins soon.
So how can you ensure that you meet these dietary needs during pregnancy while still maintaining your vegan diet? Keep reading for all of our tips on communicating with your doctor, planning your meals, addressing potential deficiencies, and keeping adaptable through challenging periods.
Communicating With Your Doctor
Doctors are people too. Sometimes they have biases and gaps in their knowledge. They may only get a few hours of training in specific areas, like nutrition, during their entire education. Some OBs may not like the idea of a pregnant patient following a vegan diet., so when you’re choosing a doctor, make sure you express your needs to them and let them know that you intend to follow your diet throughout your pregnancy. If your doctor isn’t willing to work with you, find one who will.
Some doctors may even refer you to a dietician or nutritionist that can help you develop meal plans that accommodate your lifestyle and vegan diet. A dietician or OB can also recommend the best vegan supplements to use as a back-up, not as a replacement, for your healthy diet.
Creating Meal Plans
You probably lead a busy life. Most of us don’t have the luxury of cooking gourmet meals for ourselves every day. Sometimes we need to take shortcuts. However, to get sufficient amounts of all the nutrients that you and your baby require to flourish, you need to think more carefully about your nutrition than ever before. Going to lunch at a non-vegan-friendly restaurant with friends and just having fries isn’t going to cut it.
Making choices based on your nutritional needs, particularly trying to avoid some of the deficiencies that are more common in vegan diets, is important. Planning your meals in advance can help you have what you need on hand, and you can even prepare some of the ingredients in advance.
Meal prep has become the darling of social media. Pictures of containers lined up with perfect portions of the exact same food precisely measured and gleaming have become the idea of what we “should” all be doing.
For many people, though, the idea of eating the exact same meal all week isn’t very appealing. You also might not want to carve out a four-hour block from your day off to cook everything. Fortunately, there are other ways to meal prep.
Partial Meal Prep
Preparing the individual components of meals might be a more approachable way to incorporate this habit. You can batch cook some of the ingredients you use multiple times in a week to save labor.
Cooking a big batch of brown rice or chickpeas in advance can help you throw together meals quickly on a weeknight. Pre-chopping vegetables can also save time and effort when you’re tired and hungry after a long day. Keep a big container of chopped onions in the fridge and grab a handful whenever you want to add an aromatic base to your dish.
Start with Lunch
Lunch can be a good meal to batch cook. You can cook up a bit pot of lentil stew or a batch of fried rice on your day off and eat this for your lunch all week long.
Breakfast and dinner can still offer the variation you crave, but you won’t need to wonder what you’ll have for lunch every day. The middle of the day is the busiest time for many of us; we often only have a limited break from our daily work. Instead of skipping a meal or just snacking on something that’s less healthy, a pre-packed lunch can help keep us balanced.
Try New Recipes
If you’re feeling bored, you can branch out by trying new recipes. Websites like Veganuary and Forks Over Knives have vegan recipes from all over the world and tools to help you plan your meals for the week. Some meal kit and food delivery services are even starting to get savvy about plant-based diets. Ordering from these services can save you time and preparation during those particularly busy weeks.
Planning Complete Proteins
Most naturally occurring complete proteins are animal-based. Things like eggs and meat already have that neat little amino acid package ready to go. However, it’s not too difficult to create your own plant-based complete proteins by pairing foods.
Whole grains like brown rice, wheat berries, and quinoa can become complete proteins when paired with beans, legumes, or nuts. Cooking up rice and beans topped with your favorite homemade salsa, some salad, and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast will give you an easy and nutritionally complete meal, for example. Hummus with whole grain crackers is an amazing afternoon or evening snack that will give your body the amino acids it needs.
If you’re feeling a little starched-out or just want to have potatoes for a treat, don’t worry. Whole soy products are the star of the plant-based protein world. Tofu, edamame, tempeh, and miso all contain complete amino acids in their own right.
It’s recommended that you consume 25 to 30 grams of protein in each meal, so when you’re picking your food for the day, do a few quick calculations to make sure you’re hitting that target.
Choosing Nutritious Ingredients
Besides protein, there are plenty of essential nutrients that you’ll want to ensure you’re getting enough of while pregnant. Getting enough iron can be a little tougher when following a vegan diet. When eating plant-based sources of iron (like spinach and kidney beans), you can pair them with foods high in vitamin C (like citrus, broccoli, or strawberries) to enhance your ability to absorb the iron.
Common Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
To get enough calcium and vitamin D from plant-based sources, you may need to supplement with prenatal vitamins. You can also choose to work more fortified products into your diet. Cereal, oatmeal, and fruit juices can commonly be found with added vitamins and minerals. This can help you increase your intake and support stronger bones in your own body and in that of your developing child.
One of the most common nutritional deficiencies among vegans is a lack of B12. Not having enough of this essential vitamin can put you at risk for serious conditions like pre-eclampsia and pre-term labor, and can increase your baby’s risk for lower birth weight.
One of the easiest ways to get more B12 is to add nutritional yeast to your food. Also, make sure your prenatal vitamins have a healthy dose of B12 and look for juices that are fortified with it.
Iodine is a nutrient that many people don’t think about. However, it is vital for thyroid function and too little of it can restrict your baby’s growth and development. Fortunately, seaweed is a delicious vegan source of iodine, so working it into your diet is a good idea. You can also use iodized table salt in your cooking.
Make sure that you are taking your nutritional supplements every day to keep you well-balanced and fill any small dietary gaps. You should also make time to attend your regular doctor’s appointments. There, your OB will monitor your health and the development of your child, and they can make suggestions for any nutritional adjustments based on that information.
Pregnancy can be unpredictable. You may have unexpected complications crop up that change your nutritional needs and make it even more challenging to get all that you need from plant-based sources. Your doctor may recommend having a few eggs throughout your week or sipping on bone broth. So what should you do?
For most people, veganism is about the planet and the animals. You’re trying to live a more responsible life, but sometimes you have to be responsible for yourself and the life that’s growing inside of you first. If you find yourself having animal-based products recommended to you for medical reasons, or you just can’t calm your cravings any other way, you can still work to be more ecologically mindful.
Get cage-free eggs from a local farm instead of the industrially produced ones from the supermarket. Free-range and organic meats are also becoming more widely available because people are starting to take more interest in where their food is coming from and how it’s produced.
Don’t aim to be a “perfect vegan.” A more realistic aim is to be mindful of your impact on the world and cutting down on your consumption of animal products where your can. If you suddenly have an unstoppable craving for chicken tacos (here’s our guide for handling pregnancy cravings), you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. You’re listening to your body and doing your best.
In a world where the ethics and environmental impact of even plant-based foods can be in question (like our beloved almond milk), it is literally impossible to be a perfect consumer. Making the changes that you can and doing as much as possible is good enough.
If it’s possible for you to breastfeed your baby (and it’s not for everyone, which is okay!), you should aim to do so for at least the first six months of their life. Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you and is estimated to burn around 500 extra calories per day, so maintaining good nutrition is vital.
Just like during pregnancy, you’ll need to ensure that you’re eating enough and getting enough of the vitamins and minerals your baby needs to flourish. Watching your diet will also help you recover faster. You may also want to continue taking supplements to replenish yourself and provide more nutrition milk to your baby.
The bottom line is that it’s just as safe to be vegan while breastfeeding as it is to be vegan while pregnant.
Having a Healthy Pregnancy
You know your body best of all. While pregnancy can cause some unexpected changes and can require more carefully curated nutrition than usual, you can still embrace a vegan lifestyle while pregnant. If you’re a healthy vegan already, you most likely will be a healthy vegan mamma too.
If you’re brand new to veganism, it might be harder to figure out what works best with your body and how to plan healthy meals. Making such a major change in diet while your body is already working harder than usual may not be wise.
But for most women who are already vegans when they get pregnant, there’s no reason to go back to eating meat.
The bottom line? Most experts agree that as long as you plan your meals carefully to account for your additional nutritional needs, you can be healthy without animal products during pregnancy.