When I became pregnant with my daughter Ursula I had been vegan for about two years and people inevitably asked me if I was going to have a vegan pregnancy. It seemed like a strange question to me. I was vegan for ethical reasons and didn’t see why that would change just because I was pregnant! I now follow a whole foods plant based diet, but I had a perfectly healthy vegan pregnancy and a perfectly healthy baby at the end of it.
Here are some of the most common questions people ask when they want to make sure their vegan pregnancy is healthy and provides all the nutrients that both mama and baby need.
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is it safe to follow a vegan diet in pregnancy?
Absolutely! In fact, many risk factors around food during pregnancy are automatically removed – you’re already avoiding seafood and blue cheese, so you don’t need to think about it!
In terms of the research it’s fairly thin on the ground, however a 2019 study into vegetarian and vegan diets during pregnancy found that a balanced plant based diet rich in fibre and low in fat may help protect against poor pregnancy outcomes.
The key word here, however, is BALANCED diet. I’m sure you know that there are healthy vegans and unhealthy vegans, and the same is true of pregnant vegans. The study concluded that, “plant-based diets during pregnancy…require a strong awareness for a complete intake of essential key nutrients and vitamin supplements”
So, while a vegan diet in pregnancy is not unsafe simply because it’s vegan, it can (like a non-vegan diet) be unsafe if you’re not conscious and aware of your nutritional intake.
can vegans have healthy babies?
Yes, vegans can absolutely have healthy babies. There are some myths going around that vegan pregnancy causes autism, but I’ve written a post about this and there is absolutely no evidence to support it.
Again, the key to having a healthy vegan pregnancy and a safe outcome to your pregnancy is to be conscious of your nutrition.
My own experience is that both vegetarians and vegans are often more conscientious of their nutrition than omnivores simply because we’re generally having to be aware of what we’re eating. That’s not always the case though and I have met vegans who eat just as much, if not more, nutrient-deficient foods than omnivores. It can be tempting to choose vegan meat and dairy substitutes over whole foods but these products are not always rich in nutrients. If you’re a whole-food-averse vegan, you’ll need to step up your game during your vegan pregnancy or risk denying vital nutrients to your baby.
what foods should I avoid during my vegan pregnancy?
Most of the foods to avoid during pregnancy are not vegan, so a vegan pregnancy is relatively easy to maintain from that point of view. There are, however, some things to be aware of:
Listeria – listeria is a bacterium that causes an illness called listeriosis (see what they did there?) Although it’s a relatively rare infection and one that usually goes away on its’ own, in pregnant women it can cause serious complications.
Most foods at risk of containing listeria aren’t vegan such as soft cheeses, however there are some listeria sources you should be aware of. Avoid any vegetarian or vegan patés, cut back on pre-packed sandwiches or lunchbox salads, make sure you wash all your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and avoid coming into contact with farm animals, especially sheep or cows that have recently given birth. I realise most vegans probably aren’t cattle farmers but it’s worth mentioning anyway!
Also, cold rice in pre-packaged vegan sushi, or leftover rice that has been kept in the fridge for more than a day could pose a listeria risk. The risk is relatively low but I personally chose to avoid vegan sushi unless it was freshly made at a restaurant with good hygiene standards where the rice was unlikely to have been left in the fridge for a long time.
should I eat for two during my vegan pregnancy?
Not in terms of quantity, no! Excessive weight gain (and indeed loss) during pregnancy can cause complications and pregnant women are advised to eat only an additional 400 calories per day.
In terms of quality, though, you should absolutely be conscious of the fact that you are responsible for another person’s nutrition. You need to make sure you get adequate supplies of all your essential vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (EFAs), especially those that are hard to find in a plant-based diet. Vitamin B12, for example, is most commonly found in animal protein, so you’ll need to make a special effort to get it in your vegan pregnancy.
If you want to know what foods you should eat for a healthy, balanced vegan pregnancy diet you can download my free vegan pregnancy diet guide below. It provides you with a full list of all the nutrients you and your baby will need over the coming months and where you can find them in 100% plant based sources.
what vegan pregnancy supplements should I take?
I’ve written a whole post on vegan-friendly pregnancy supplements, so do check that out. In the meantime, the most important vegan pregnancy supplements you need to take are:
Folic acid is the supplement version of folate, also known as vitamin B9. It is most commonly found in plants so those on a vegan or plant based diet tend to naturally have higher levels of folate than omnivores. All pregnant women are advised to take a daily folic acid supplement of 400mg from before they become pregnant and then up to at least 12 weeks into their pregnancy.
This crucial mineral helps protect your baby from developing spina bifida and, ideally, you have been taking it as soon as you started to try and conceive. It’s perfectly safe to take a separate folic acid supplement in addition to another multivitamin that contains the usual 200mg – you can’t consume too much folate between this and a plant based or vegan pregnancy diet. However, most multivitamins contain vitamin A which is definitely to be avoided during pregnancy, so ensure that your multivitamin is suitable. Taking a vegan pregnancy supplement is the easiest way to make sure you are getting all the recommended nutrients you need in addition to healthy vegan pregnancy diet. I recommend WholeVits Pregnancy by Together, which is organic as well as vegan and obviously pregnancy safe. They’ve also ditched the plastic bottles you usually find your supplements in and are using low-waste packaging.
Finally, there is a lot of speculation among midwives that the recent rise in incidents of tongue tie in babies is related to the introduction of folic acid supplements during pregnancy. There is no scientific evidence to support this however, and not taking folic acid whilst pregnant increases the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
If you have epilepsy, diabetes, take anti-retroviral medication for HIV, or either you or the baby’s father has a family history of neural-tube defects, it is important that you consult your doctor before taking folic acid supplements as you may need a special dosage.
Vitamin D is only found in a very small number of foods, most of them not vegan. Only fortified plant milks, cereals, breads etc will provide a vegan with vitamin D. It is important therefore to take a vitamin D3 (make sure it’s D3 and not plain D, as most vitamin D supplements are not vegan) especially during the winter months.
Iron is a crucial mineral during pregnancy to avoid suffering from anemia or extreme fatigue. In some cases anemia can cause complications during pregnancy. Fortunately, plant based diets are packed with iron-rich foods including spinach, lentils, broccoli, strawberries and loads more. You can get a full list of iron-rich fruits and vegetables in my free vegan pregnancy diet guide to nutrients below. It’s worth investing in a vegan pregnancy supplement as well though just to keep those iron (and energy!) levels up.
Calcium helps to make your baby’s bones and teeth, so consuming sufficient levels of it is absolutely crucial – your body will literally start sucking calcium out of YOUR bones and teeth if it needs to (seriously!) so you need to make sure you’re packing enough in if you want to stay clear of future dental problems and osteoporosis. The WholeVits Pregnancy supplement contains a good level of calcium in it to add to your calcium-rich diet that includes dried fruit, tofu and edamame beans, quinoa and root vegetables such as swedes and parsnips.
This is one that most vegans are super conscious of anyway since it’s an important vitamin that doesn’t crop up that much on a plant based diet. The B vitamins are all essential for proper development of your baby’s nervous system, muscle tissue, brain, bone, vision and skin – so pretty fundamental stuff really! Fortunately WholeVits Pregnancy has 200% of your RDA for vitamin B12. You can also use your pregnancy as an excuse to throw plenty of nommy nutty nutritional yeast on your soups and salads, or use in things like “cheese” sauce in a vegan moussaka, like this one from my favourite vegan recipe queen Ania at Lazy Cat Kitchen.
essential fatty acids (omega 3, 6 & 9)
Again, essential fatty acids (EFAs) are hard to come by without effort in a vegan diet, but when you’re pregnant, you need them to help support your baby’s cell and brain development.
The best known plant-based source of omega-3 is ground flaxseed (also known as linseed). It’s important that it’s ground in order to help your body soak up the fats, and you can easily sprinkle it liberally on your breakfast smoothies, lunchtime salad or soup.
Other sources of omega-3 include chia seeds, walnuts and hemp oil. You can of course find vegan omega-3 supplements such as this one from Together. If you’re looking to get all your EFAs in one go though, I’m loving the Vegan Omega Totale Oil Blend from Fushi which contains not just omega-3 but 5, 6, 7 and 9 as well. It’s organic and ethically sourced and will be a perfect way of getting those EFAs into your toddler once you blink and you suddenly have a picky eating two-year old on your hands!
I hope you’ve found my guide to vegan pregnancy helpful – don’t forget to download my free vegan pregnancy diet guide below to help you get all the vital nutrients you need to grow your new little person!
Wishing you all the best for a happy and healthful pregnancy and birth.