Is It Safe to Have a Vegan Pregnancy?
My husband and I are having a baby, and we are both over the moon about it! Ever since we started trying to get pregnant, I’d been steeling myself for the questions and concerns from my doctors about my vegan diet. I was ready for them to try to pressure me into drinking cow’s milk for calcium or eating red meat for iron. Now that I’m in the second trimester of my vegan pregnancy, I wanted to share some of my experiences and some of the advice from the nurses and doctors I’ve talked to.
Because of a childhood illness, my pregnancy is not as straightforward as I wished it could be. Home birth is out, and we are one of those couples that’s going to need our doctor in the delivery room. I am not interested in getting into the specifics of my medical history here, but because of my history, I have seen more than my share of doctors since conceiving, so I’ve had lots of chances to bring up my vegan diet and get reactions and advice. You know what shocked me?
Not a single nurse or doctor has batted an eye about my veganism.
In fact, my diet puts me ahead of the game in some respects. Our health plan includes phone consultations with an OB nurse, and in my first call with her, I told her that I was vegan. When the time came to talk about forbidden pregnancy foods, she took a long pause and said, “You know, since you’re vegan, you don’t eat any of these things anyway.” Forbidden foods for pregnant women include things like certain types of fish, unpasteurized dairy products, sushi, and cold cuts.
She did have a few pieces of dietary advice for me:
- Avoid pre-packaged unpasteurized juices. Just like unpasteurized cheese and dairy, your risk of contamination is higher. Fresh-squeezed juice is OK.
- Eat plenty of leafy greens. She recommended several servings a week of greens like kale, collards, Swiss chard, etc for calcium.
- Wash your produce well. This doesn’t just get off pesticides, but it can also remove pathogens.
That was pretty much it from her. When I’ve asked my doctors about my vegan pregnancy, they have all basically said, “Pshaw! Just eat lots of healthy food, don’t drink, and get a little bit of exercise every day!”
On the next page, let’s talk vegan prenatal vitamins and some dietary sources for nutrients that pregnant women need!
Vegan Prenatal Vitamins
Like all pregnant women, I’m taking a prenatal vitamin and at 20 weeks, I’m planning to start taking DHA.
You don’t need animal products to make a good prenatal vitamin. There are plant-based sources for all of the vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need during this time.
The prenatal vitamin I’m taking is called Prenatal One, and it comes from a company called Rainbow Light. It’s totally plant-based, and it even has the VeganGuard certification, verifying that it’s animal ingredient free. This isn’t the only vegan prenatal vitamin on the market, but this one is very easy to find. We found out that I was pregnant while we were on vacation in a tiny beach town, and the local CVS carried this brand. The Target by my house carries it, as well, and you can find it on Amazon.
We haven’t picked up our DHA supplements yet, since we’re about a month and a half away from needing them. My doctor recommended DHA starting at 20 weeks, and she said she recommends the same to all moms-to-be, not just vegan ones. Vegan DHA comes from algae, and I’ve had a harder time tracking this one down in regular stores. I did find this vegan DHA supplement that we’ll probably end up ordering if I can’t find any in stores.
Your prenatal vitamin will have plenty of nutrients to supplement your diet, but it’s still a good idea to eat foods rich in calcium, iron, and B vitamins when you’re pregnant. Here are some tips for vegans looking to get more of these nutrients:
Worried about getting enough calcium without dairy products? Don’t you fret! There are lots of vegan calcium sources, and they often are easier for your body to use than cow-based calcium sources. Check out 25 Vegan Sources for Calcium for a great list of calcium-rich foods.
You might be worried that you need to eat meat to get sufficient iron, but this isn’t the case at all. Check out these vegan iron sources for more.
The real trick to getting enough iron is making sure your body can absorb it. Pair your iron sources with vitamin C to help your body use the iron available in your food. Some things inhibit iron absorption, and you should avoid the following when you’re eating your iron-rich foods:
- Tannins – found in things like coffee, tea, and red wine
- Phytic Acid – in undercooked beans and in raw seeds, spinach and chard. Combining with a good source of vitamin C can help!
Two words, ladies: nutritional. yeast. Nutritional yeast has an excellent balance of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on savory dishes like pasta, rice, and soups. It adds a mild cheesy flavor and plenty of B vitamin goodness! You can find nutritional yeast in the bulk bin at most health food stores. I highly recommend buying this in bulk. Pre-packaged nuritional yeast tends to be wildly overpriced, and it’s the same stuff as in the bins.
Other great vegan sources of B vitamins include:
- dried apricots
I’d love to hear from other vegan moms or vegan moms-to-be! What did and didn’t work for you during your vegan pregnancy? Were your doctors as progressive as mine turned out to be?