When you’re supporting the growth of your little one, making sure your body is nourished and taken care of is more important than ever.
But with Veganuary and the popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets on the rise, it can be hard to know what impact adopting or continuing with a vegan or vegetarian diet will have on your pregnancy.
That’s why we at the Parents Class wanted to demystify some of the rumours around maintaining plant-based and vegetarian diets in pregnancy and also provide you with some important information you can use to make informed decisions when it comes to keeping you and baby happy and healthy.
A vegan diet is one that usually consists of foods derived from plants, like beans, vegetables and legumes, rather than foods derived from animals, like meat, eggs and dairy.
The most important thing to know about maintaining a vegan diet during pregnancy is that you’ll probably need to be more vigilant about making sure you get all of the essential nutrients you and your baby need.
Protein, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and iodine can usually be found in meat and fish and are essential for healthy development. If you’re vegan or considering adopting a vegan diet, you’ll still be able to obtain these vitamins and minerals as long as you ensure your diet is varied and balanced.
Foods like soy and pulses are great for protein while nuts and dark green vegetables are ideal sources of iron. Cereals enriched with B12 and yeast extract (Marmite) will provide adequate levels of vitamin B12, but you may want to take supplements to help.
Calcium is an essential during pregnancy and is usually found in dairy products. But for vegans, eating dried fruit, leafy vegetables and drinking fortified, unsweetened soya, oat and pea drinks will help you to get the calcium you need.
Throughout the spring and summer months, being in the sun should be enough by itself to provide you with enough vitamin D. During the autumn and winter months, however, vegans benefit from taking vitamin D supplements to ensure they get the right amount.
In fact, the government advises that everyone, whether they’re pregnant or not, consider taking a daily supplement of 10mg of vitamin D during winter.
Similarly, it may be harder for vegans to make sure they are getting enough iodine, as the level of iodine found in plant-based foods usually depends on the iodine level of the soil in which the plants, fruits and vegetables have been grown.
Taking iodine supplements is a simple way to combat any deficiencies but you can also find iodine in fortified plant-based drinks.
Be sure to check with your midwife or GP before taking supplements during your pregnancy.
A vegetarian diet is usually one consisting of all foods apart from meat and fish. As with a vegan diet, not eating meat and fish during pregnancy can mean that some vital vitamins and minerals are at risk of being missed out on.
However, adopting a diverse and balanced diet means getting access to all the essential nutrients for pregnancy doesn’t have to be a struggle.
Unlike a vegan diet, a vegetarian diet includes dairy products and eggs, which are fantastic sources of vitamin B12, calcium and iodine. Egg yolk can even supplement vitamin D intake during the winter months.
On the other hand, and similarly to a vegan diet, adopting or continuing with a vegetarian diet during pregnancy may mean lower levels of iron, which is usually found in meat. Vegetarians can supplement iron intake by also eating more pulses, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables.
You may also have dietary requirements that don’t necessarily correspond to the labels ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’. This may be because of a medical condition or an inability to eat certain foods.
We advise you to talk to your GP or midwife before making any drastic decisions about your diet during pregnancy. They’ll be able to refer you to a nutritionist who will help guide you through everything you need to know about what you do or don’t need to eat and drink during pregnancy.
Want more information for your pregnancy journey? Join The Parents Class!
Our Full Antenatal Course provides evidence-based information on diet, nutrition and exercise, to help you feel confident making healthy, informed choices about your pregnancy.
Find out about our classes here.