The Ultimate Guide to a Vegan Pregnancy
One of the biggest challenges I faced throughout my pregnancy was ensuring I was getting enough vitamins and nutrients. After all, I was responsible for a little, growing life inside me!
So, I made sure I scoured the grocery store and brought back orange juice enriched with calcium and vitamin d, not to mention plenty of products packed with protein. Once I got the hang of it, eating everything I was supposed to was a cinch.
But, what happens when you have some dietary restrictions due to circumstance or personal preference?
I had a friend who became vegan, well before the days she was trying to conceive.
She didn’t change her eating habits, and you don’t have to either once you find out you’re expecting.
If you’re curious about how to make your pregnancy work as a vegan (especially if you’re a newbie to the concept), read on.
This is the ultimate guide filled with the most popular questions and concepts that will help you with everything there is to know about having a vegan pregnancy!
Disclosure: I am not a doctor! Always consult your doctor before making any decisions around your pregnancy!
Is it Safe to Follow a Vegan Diet While Pregnant?
The answer is yes, with a few potential caveats.
As long as you are able to gain weight steadily and in a normal, safe range, and you are consuming the suggested amount of vitamins and nutrients, then you’re sure to get the green light on veganism.
In fact, some studies show that women who followed a vegan diet while pregnant were more likely to have higher levels of folate and magnesium compared to their peers.
High levels of folate decrease the risk of your baby being born with spina bifida and other birth defects. It also helps boost brain and eye development right off the bat.
On the flipside, women who are vegan often don't get the iron and B12 intake they need (because like vegetarians, they don’t eat meat), so as long as you are aptly aware of that and have a well planned out meal and diet regimen that includes these essentials, you should be good to go!
How Will a Vegan Diet Affect Your Baby?
As long as you eat a variety of healthy vegan foods and plan your diet to include key nutrients, you can provide your baby with all the nourishment they need without eating animal products.
It would be incredibly difficult for me to not eat fish, eggs, dairy, meat, chicken, and honey. But, for others, this is their reality.
Plenty of beans can compensate for protein, and there is iron included in many prenatal vitamins.
Plus, vegans can load up on iron fortified breakfast cereals, whole grain breads, enriched pastas, tofu, soy foods, and leafy greens.
You can also get your levels checked regularly with blood work to ensure you are giving your baby everything they need with your specialized diet. Your doctor will also monitor their weight to check that they are growing properly in utero.
Can You Breastfeed While on a Vegan Diet?
Yes! Breastfeeding has just as many benefits for moms (less postpartum bleeding, calorie blaster, reduces cancer risk) as it does for babies (reduction of SIDS risk, custom made formula).
And, as long as the vegan mommy consumes adequate amounts of B12, calcium, and zinc, breastfeeding is fine.
If you’re worried you’re not maintaining a proper diet alone, then it’s essential you take plenty of supplements to compensate.
How to Deal With Food Cravings
You’re a vegan, so you’ll only crave kale, carrot sticks, and lettuce, right?
Pregnancy can totally unleash to food beast inside you. I know how crazy I got—ice cream with garlic pickles on top anyone?—so I can only imagine how difficult it is for a vegan to combat cravings!
If you start to crave hot dogs for example (yes, my vegan friend wanted to eat them daily), go ahead and pick up tofu dogs.
If you want ice cream, scour Pinterest for a vegan version. There are food substitutions for everything, so you don’t have to stray you just need an open mind and some creativity.
But, if you do stray time and again, just know you’re human and don’t beat yourself up for giving into the temptation.
Jump back on the wagon and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
My friend never strayed from her diet, and she attributes that to eating a lot of peppermint. When she started to have a craving, she popped a candy or poured herself a cup of peppermint tea.
For whatever reason, it decreased her appetite and reset her pallet. Also, it has been suggested that cravings occur due to thirst, so ensure you are drinking enough water throughout your day!
Getting Your Essential Nutrients
Your doctor will probably encourage you to keep up your vegan lifestyle, but they will be very stern with ensuring you consume enough essential nutrients so that the baby can develop and grow safely and properly.
When pregnant, here are the nutrients you need to be mindful of and the recommended daily amount you consume:
- Zinc: 12 milligrams
- Protein: 71 grams
- Iron: 27 milligrams
- B12: 2.8 micrograms
- Vitamin D: 10 micrograms
- Calcium: 1,200-1,400 milligrams
- DHA: 480 milligrams
- EMA: 205 milligrams
- Folate: 600-800 micrograms
Wow. That sounds like a lot. And, it is.
Eating right when pregnant is literally like a full time job at first. And, you may not even feel hungry in your first trimester due to nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
But, hang in there! Once you get the hang of eating for two (even as a vegan), you’ll be doing it without even thinking about it by your third trimester.
Most multi-vitamins cover and compensate for the nutrients you lack.
An added bonus? There are dozens of vegan approved pre-natals to choose from as well!
How to Gain Enough Weight & Eat Enough Calories
Vegans are generally small in stature and underweight. And, your specialized diet doesn’t allow you to gain weight readily or steadily.
But, when pregnant, everyone has to put on enough pounds to support their growing baby and their frame.
So, if you’re planning on remaining vegan throughout your pregnancy, you need to gain enough weight each trimester to support your baby and its needs.
Obstetricians generally want to see a 28-40 pound weight gain by the end of your pregnancy. If you are of an average weight, it is recommended that you gain 25-35 pounds.
If you are overweight, you should strive to gain 15-25 pounds. But, vegans tend to gain weight slowly. So, your goal should be to gain a pound a week in your second and third trimester.
Not happening for you? Then the solution is simple—you need to eat more food!
Doctors recommend eating more often throughout your day, or eating foods that are higher in fat content. Soy milk smoothies with fruit, or bean dips or nut butters will help you gain weight, healthily.
Your goal should be to consume 340 extra calories a day in your second trimester, and 450 calories per day in your third trimester. Doctors determine these numbers with a mathematical formula that looks like this:
Step 1. Take your prepregnant weight (in pounds) and divide it by your height (in inches) squared; then multiply by 700. BMI = lb/in2 x 700. For example, if I weigh 110 pounds and am 60 inches tall, my BMI is 110/3600 x 700 = 21.4.
Step 2. Use your BMI to find your pre-pregnancy weight-for-height status and the amount of weight you should try to gain in pregnancy.
It’s also always a good idea to keep a food diary with you for the first trimester to beat the effects of “pregnancy brain” and keep track of everything you’ve consumed.
This way, you’ll have a better idea of how to add or delete foods/calories as you progress with your pregnancy. And, it’s a great record keeper to take to your doctor’s visits if they have concerns with your weight gain.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snack Ideas
A vegan lifestyle can get a little redundant with what you can and cannot eat.
When pregnant, it’s important to mix all kinds of healthy, vegan approved foods up so you don’t fall victim to food aversion. My friend ate so much kale, she couldn’t look at it by her delivery date!
So, here are some no fail breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas that are packed with tons of vitamins and minerals (and enough calories) that help satisfy your daily required intake, but also keep your meals fresh (and fun!)
For breakfast, try a gluten free English muffin with a slice of veggie sausage patty. Each patty has about 7 grams of good for you protein!
You can add a little bit of organic maple syrup for some sweetness and gulp down a delicious glass of orange juice enriched with calcium and vitamin D.
You may also enjoy a smoothie. Since vegans don’t drink milk, you don’t always have to rely on almond or soy milk. Rice milk is an amazing alternative.
Fill your blender with that, strawberries, a frozen banana, hemp seeds, chia seeds, spinach, and raw cacao powder. This is a must for a breakfast on the go.
The smoothie is perfect for breakfast because it has about 3 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber alone (this is super important to keep things moving since hormones really slow things down).
Hempseed provides 10 grams of protein, and plenty of magnesium, omega 3 and 6, magnesium, and iron. Talk about a great way to start your day!
Organic and gluten free bagels served up with organic raspberry jam, or vegan pancakes are also a great way to start your morning.
You can find vegan approved box pancake mix at basically any health and whole food store. And the best thing about pancakes is that they can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge or frozen for future use.
My vegan friend loved starting her morning with a breakfast of broccoli and quinoa patties. They are easy to make and are loaded with vitamins and nutrients.
For lunchtime, consider designating every Sunday as your meal prep day. You can make protein bowls or various soups or chilis that will last you through the work week.
Consider lentil and vegetable soup, or a vegetable stir fry filled with broccoli, rice, carrots, red peppers, and tomatoes.
Tofu casseroles loaded with veggies is also a great lunch, and so are sweet potato burritos filled with avocado.
A green smoothie is also a wonderful, power packed drink that will enhance any vegan lunch. Load it up with kale and spinach, apple, celery, ginger, and pineapple.
If you work all day, the last thing you probably feel like doing is cooking dinner, but in order to gain enough weight and meet your vitamin and nutrient intake requirements, it’s a must!
Some ideas for vegan dinners include veggie nuggets with a side of steamed vegetables, rice noodle stir fry with tofu and broccoli, and tofu mushroom stroganoff.
Mushrooms are filling and “meaty” so they create the illusion of consuming a meat meal (which is great if you’re craving chicken or steak).
Some snacks can include a plate of hummus and pita chips, pretzels and nut butter, and even a fruit bowl filled with tangerines, kiwi, and watermelon.
Smoothies are always a tasty snack to enjoy on the go, as are sweets. There are a number of desserts you can whip up to treat yourself “just because.”
Check out this recipe for Rolo Knock offs—yum!
And be sure to check out our ultimate guide of 51 healthy pregnancy snacks, some which are vegan!
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Being a vegan is rewarding, or a “must” in your book due to dietary restrictions.
But, it can be a tough pill to swallow when you’re pregnant.
You want to do what's best for you and your beliefs, but also for your baby.
So, as long as you gain plenty of weight and fil your body with a wide variety of proteins, fruits, and veggies, you can continue your vegan lifestyle with ease!