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Pregnancy and Being Vegan or Vegetarian

Now that you’re pregnant, you’re wondering if your decision to become vegetarian can still be carried out successfully during your pregnancy. And while it is possible for you to obtain all the nutrients your body will need during pregnancy through a well-planned, nutrient-dense vegetarian diet, careful planning and observation will be crucial to your overall success transitioning to vegetarianism during your pregnancy. In other words: take it slow and be smart!

A good vegetarian diet has a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, and nuts and some eggs and dairy or their equivalent if you so choose. Fast food, highly processed junk foods, and canned fruits and vegetables are eaten rarely if at all. It’s imperative that you make wise food choices at this crucial time since a pregnant woman only needs approximately 300 more calories per day and about 10-16 extra grams of protein; however, the body's need for certain nutrients increases significantly. Every bite you take is important when you're pregnant. While the RDAs (recommended daily allowances) for almost all nutrients increase, especially important are folic acid, iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12. Attention to adequate amounts of vitamin B-12 is crucial for vegetarians who choose not to eat eggs and dairy.

Work closely with your healthcare professional during this transition. The changeover from a meat-eating to a vegetarian diet can be rough on your body as it actually goes through a detoxification process during the transition. So, you want to ensure your baby is getting all the nutrients it needs at this time and is growing and developing at a healthy rate. Start very slowly; perhaps only one or two days per week eating a vegetarian diet. Gradually work in soy- and plant-based proteins into your diet, and little by little use them to replace proteins obtained from eating meat products. Be sure to adequately supplement your diet with a quality prenatal supplement, and get adequate amounts of exercise and exposure to sunlight to promote your body to naturally produce vitamin D.

With careful planning, observation, and your healthcare professional’s guidance, the transition to vegetarianism during your pregnancy can be a cleansing and healthy start for both you and your baby to a lifetime of optimal health.

Sample Daily Menu for Pregnant Vegetarians

Though your nutritional needs increase now that you’re pregnant, your pregnancy vegetarian diet shouldn’t have to change all that much. With some careful planning to ensure your caloric, vitamin, and mineral needs are met, you can still enjoy a rich variety of nutrient-dense delicious foods and help give your baby a nutritious jump-start. Consider the following daily menu for ideas and inspiration.

Breakfast:

1/2 cup oatmeal with maple syrup

1 slice whole wheat toast with fruit spread

1 cup soy milk

1/2 cup calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice

Snack:

1/2 whole wheat bagel with margarine

Banana

Lunch:

Veggie burger on whole wheat bun with mustard and catsup

1 cup steamed collard greens

Medium apple

1 cup soy milk

Snack:

3/4 cup ready-to-eat cereal with 1/2 cup blueberries

1 cup soy milk

Dinner:

3/4 cup tofu stir-fried with 1 cup vegetables

1 cup brown rice

Medium orange

Snack:

Whole grain crackers with 2 Tbsp peanut butter

4 ounces apple juice

If morning sickness is giving you fits during your pregnancy, try eating low fat, high carbohydrate nutrient-dense foods. These are digested more quickly and stay in the stomach for less time giving less time for queasiness. Remember to eat often. Sometimes nausea is really hunger in disguise.

Be sure to drink juice, water, or soy milk if you can't eat solid food. Keep trying to eat whatever you can. If you’re unable to eat or drink the appropriate amounts of foods or fluids for 24 hours or more, get in touch with your healthcare provider.

The Special Needs of the Pregnant Vegetarian

It’s apparent that your nutritional needs increase when you are pregnant. However, you only need approximately 300 more calories than normal during this time, so it’s imperative that you make wise food choices and eat nutrient-dense food.

A good start is to ensure that you’re eating plenty of protein. Your need for protein increases about 30 percent during pregnancy, but most vegetarian women eat more than enough protein in their regular diets. Soy proteins, beans, and legumes are wonderful vegetarian sources of protein.

You need to also step up your calcium intake. Each day you need to be eating at least four servings of calcium-rich foods like broccoli, calcium-fortified soy milk, tofu, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Sunlight stimulates your body to naturally produce vitamin D, and it’s probably the easiest way to ensure you get an adequate amount each day. You only need about 20 minutes directly on your face and hands two to three times per week, when the sun is weakest. If you aren’t able to get out into the sun, be sure to incorporate vitamin-D rich foods into your daily diet by choosing fortified cereals, or using a supplement.

Take a look at your iron intake, as it’s a vital mineral during your pregnancy, especially the last half. Choose beans, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds, or fortified bread and cereals. You might also want to consider supplementing to ensure you get the required amount.

Vitamin B-12 is also an important nutrient during your pregnancy, but it’s difficult to find in most plant-based foods. Select fortified cereals or soy milk, brewer’s yeast, and consider a multivitamin with an adequate level to ensure your body gets the amount it needs.

And though zinc is difficult to come by in a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, the need for it increases during pregnancy. Whole grains and legumes are wise choices to obtain this nutrient, but you again may need to supplement to make sure you’re getting what you need.

As long as you eat a good variety of nutritious foods that provide the right amount of calories for a healthy weight gain, you should have no problem getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs at this marvelous time. And though many women do choose to take a prenatal vitamin daily, they should not be a substitute for good nutrition. Develop a cooperative relationship with your healthcare provider who supports your vegetarian lifestyle, and consider consulting a nutritionist when necessary.

Having a baby is a very exciting time in the lives of most people and trying to stay healthy is something that is at the forefront of most people’s minds. Trying to carry a successful pregnancy while following a vegan lifestyle might seem extremely difficult, but for the average woman who is healthy during pregnancy, it is completely possible to do. However, there are a few considerations that you should take into account in order to obtain the best results possible.

The average woman going through a normal pregnancy has very few complications. Yet at the same time, this seems eerily like a wonderful dream that may not actually describe your situation. Most women have at least some mild problems during their pregnancy, which makes it a bit difficult to have the perfect smooth pregnancy that they have dreamed of. You are certainly not alone if you have experienced some complications, but if you are Vegan, it is very important to ensure that you are giving yourself, as well as your baby the nutrients that are needed.

It is vitally important that you tell your doctor that you are vegan when you first start seeking prenatal care. This will help your doctor to discuss your specific nutritional needs and also closely monitor you and your baby to be positive that you are getting the results that are needed. Many women are able to gain the proper amount of weight with no problems, however, many others need assistance monitoring their weight to ensure that they gain enough weight while others need help to ensure they do not gain too much. There are plenty of ways that your doctor can help you, but without knowing your typical eating habits, it is virtually impossible to determine.

Taking the time necessary to write down all of the foods that you consume is extremely helpful as well. This will allow your doctor to quickly and easily see if there is anything that you should be eating that you are not presently eating. Additionally, taking a multi-vitamin is very important. This will help you to ensure that any deficiencies that you might have are actually resolved, rather than just ignored. Taking steps to ensure you stay in good health is much better than waiting until a problem develops to seek help as well, especially since your goal is ensuring that your baby stays healthy.

Unlike what you might think, it is not impossible to carry a baby to full term while consuming a vegan diet. You might need to devote a bit of additional effort to planning meals, but every year there are hundreds of successful vegan pregnancies. You too can join the women who begin and finish their pregnancies as a vegan and you are sure to be proud that you completed it as well. Trying to raise your baby as a vegan right from pregnancy is a great start for their life and can also provide some great benefits as well.

Taking the time to really discuss your dietary needs with your doctor is vital though to ensure that you remain healthy. Also, make sure that you are consuming enough calories to cover your needs as well as the needs of your baby. This will help you to ensure that your baby develops properly and you are not weak or lightheaded at times. This is not a problem that is exclusive to veganism, rather it is a complication that can happen to women regardless of typical dietary habits.

Healthy babies are possible regardless of which diet you choose to follow. Talking to your doctor and ensuring that you are eating properly are all the basic steps that you need to follow which will be extremely effective in helping you achieve your goal of a happy and most importantly healthy baby. Skipping over vital nutrients is obviously not recommended regardless of which dietary method you are planning to follow and should be avoided at any costs possible.

Further Reading:

Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide

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