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Proper Nutrition and Diet for Pregnant Vegans

Being a pregnant women and vegan can be very challenging. Many vegan moms-to-be do not get the encouragement they need from friends, family and doctors. Often they are told that they should eat meat or animal products like eggs or dairy for the development of their unborn child and that by being vegan they're harming both their baby and themselves.

A vegan diet during pregnancy leads to happy and healthy babies - photo courtesy of Johnny Greig: www.JohnnyGreig.com

"She told me to add some Carnation Instant Breakfast drink to my diet. I told her I couldn't do that. She literally lost her temper and told me she couldn't treat someone who so blatantly was trying to harm her child." - 'Dealing with Doctors during Your Vegan Pregnancy' by Erin Pavlina.

However contrary to popular belief, vegans are actually giving their child a better start to life with successful births and happy, healthy vegan children. With many success stories, a vegan can feel confident in maintaining their lifestyle throughout their pregnancy. Vegan mothers and babies are exposed to less mercury and hormone or antibiotic residues which stem from a meat/dairy based diet. When good nutrition is maintained by eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds; vegan mothers often show optimum health through-out pregnancy.

One mother who chose an omnivorous diet during pregnancy and then a few years later a vegan pregnancy, stated that during her vegan experience she experienced less morning sickness, weight gain and swelling and after birth she experienced quicker weight loss with breast feeding. Some pregnant vegans experience animal product cravings, however research has shown that cravings are not linked to nutritional requirements and most vegans manage to find a substitute to subdue their cravings without actually consuming animal products or by-products.

"I remember one reason veganism is great - fresh produce tastes so darned good." - 'Not-So-Vegan Pregnancy Cravings' by Caity McCardell.

Your nutritional needs during pregnancy

With pregnancy, in all women comes a required increased intake of vitamins and minerals. It is very important that during pregnancy you receive adequate protein, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, folic acid and essential fatty acids.

Protein intake needs to be increased by 16-20%, crucial for cellular growth and maintenance. Studies show that most American women consume more than the daily recommended allowance of protein so it is easy to keep levels up by eating foods high in protein like beans, barley, tempeh, legumes etc.

A very crucial vitamin that pregnant mothers must get enough of is B12, required for tissue synthesis. If the mother is deficient the child could be too, which could lead to delayed development and even brain damage. Seaweed and fermented soy foods are believed to be un-reliable sources of vitamin B12 and it is recommended that fortified yeast extracts like nutritional yeast and cereals, fortified non dairy drinks etc. are consumed to ensure adequate B12 levels are received by vegan baby and mother during pregnancy.

Doctors will be concerned about your iron intake and may recommend a supplement, as it is needed to increase the mother's red blood cells, so there is enough to form baby's blood. Iron intake needs to be increased by 30% and a corresponding increase in Vitamin C is also required as this will help with iron absorption. Iron is found in green leafy vegetables, beans, legumes etc.

Luckily during pregnancy the body absorbs and retains calcium more efficiently, ensuring a baby's optimum bone growth and development. Vegans also have a lower level of calcium depletion, as they do not consume high volumes of animal proteins. However you will still need to ensure you get plenty of calcium and, despite what many will tell mothers to be, cow's milk is not a good source of calcium as it contains saturated fat and many other nasties and is only really suitable for calves.

It is easy to obtain more than enough calcium for a vegan mum and baby simply by eating the correct foods. Calcium can be found in broccoli, almonds, kale, figs and more. Vitamin D sourced from the sun, and found in fortified margarine and soy or rice milk, promotes calcium absorption and although most is obtained from the sun, foods or supplements might be needed (check with your doctor first) if you feel you're not getting enough.

Zinc deficiency has been associated with mi s-carriage and congenital malformations, it is important for baby's growth and development. Zinc can be found in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms etc.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 are crucial for babies brain development and visual acuity, these essential fatty acids can be found in flaxseed, avocados etc. and to some extent nuts and legumes.

Vegetarians on average consume more folic acid than meat-eaters, however in the early stages of pregnancy high levels of folic acid are required to ensure a baby does not obtain neural tube defects as a result of a deficiency. Women planning to become pregnant, or that have a good chance of getting pregnant, should ensure they have high levels of folic acid by eating oranges, green leafy vegetables, green beans etc.

Educate yourself

When embarking on such a journey as parenthood, mothers and fathers need to ensure they are informed and aware of both baby and mother's nutritional needs. Research must be done, books read and eating plans formulated. This will also make it easier when explaining the nutritional advantages of having a vegan pregnancy to ignorant friends, family members or even doctors.

A most recommended vegan pregnancy book, written by mothers with successful pregnancies, births and healthy children is 'Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet' by Dr. Klaper. Another recommended by the Vegan Society is 'Raising Your Vegan Infant - With Confidence' by dietician Sandra Hood. As long as the parents ensure both vegan baby and mom get the correct daily amounts of vitamins and minerals, you should only have bio-degradable nappies to worry about.

Read our vegan nutrition and our vegan children sections for more information on the vegan diet.

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