Vegan and Expecting. Is a Plant-Based Diet Right for My Baby?
How the Right Nutritional Game Plan Can Pave the Way to a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
So. Let's keep it real here. You're vegan (or on your way to a healthy plant-powered you). You're damn proud of your choices. You feel pretty darn good. You've told people how awesome being vegan is and how easy it can be to make the lifestyle change. You've rolled your eyes at the "where do you get your protein" question and the "I just like meat" statements. You know it's possible to thrive eating good ol' plants and that meat just isn't a necessary dietary requirement. You know these facts and you stand by them.
Then, just as you're writing next weeks grocery list with the ingredients for an epic recipe you just found, you find out you're pregnant (or more realistically after holding a tell-tale stick or getting the call from the clinic about your blood work results). After all the emotions you go through and after you put your favourite wine glass into hibernation (9 months...seriously?!), you find your thoughts veering off to places that just don't make sense...
Can I have a healthy baby with a vegan pregnancy?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is, yes, but with a carefully planned nutritional routine.
This is the time for expectant parents to become savvy about nutrition. Just as you, a healthy person enjoying a plant-based lifestyle, asked yourself the question, others will come out of the woodwork asking the same thing. No one needs to justify their lifestyle, but if you have the answers for them, it means you have the answers for yourself...and that's a very good sign and a great way to get the ball rolling for giving your baby the best possible start.
The nutrients a baby needs for growth come entirely from its mother. For this reason, it's extremely important for your body to be well nourished. If you're not pregnant yet, but are considering the idea, now is the time to start making changes to your diet to support top notch health.
Here are a few tips to ensure your pregnancy is headed in the right direction.
The First Trimester:
First off, the recommended weight gain during the first trimester is around 3.5 pounds (for those that may be underweight, it's slightly more at 5 pounds; if overweight, 2 pounds). Though the recommended protein intake doesn't increase, foods rich in protein and iron are needed to build an increased blood supply. Legumes are a great choice as they provide protein, iron and fiber.
If and when the dreaded morning sickness knocks on your queasy tummy, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is your go-to vitamin. It has been shown to safely and effectively alleviate nausea for many women. Even though you might not feel like eating when you feel nauseous , it's important to.
Crackers, crunchy veggies and hummus is an easy way to get some nutrition down the hatch. A supplement or variety of supplements can also help ensure the needed nutrients and minerals are making their way into your system (read on for vitamin/mineral suggestions).
Second and Third Trimesters:
The need for additional calories increases during these final trimesters. Pregnant women should be looking at consuming 340 extra calories a day during the second trimester and about 450 during the third. This amount of course can vary based on metabolism and activity level. The recommended weight gain during this time is 1 pound per week (if underweight, 1.1 and if overweight, 0.6).
Developing a calorie driven menu that checks off the essential vitamins and minerals will make life a lot easier and allow for baby brain to officially set in.
Crucial Vitamins and Minerals for Pregnancy:
Folate: Doctors will tell you to bulk up on folate and take a supplement with 1000 mcg. This is excessive, especially in synthetic compound form, folic acid. The upper limit of folic acid is 1100 mcg, at which point the risk of colon cancer and other cancers increase. When pregnant, an mcg intake of 600 is most appropriate and is crucial for building a fetus's genetic material and for other aspects of fetal growth, including early evolution of the neural tube, which develops into the brain and spinal cord.
Luckily, most vegans consume a healthy amount of folate simply with their diet. To achieve the recommended intake, a combination of any of these would be suitable - 1 cup of cooked black beans or chickpeas (256/282 mcg respectively), 1 cup of edamame beans (454 mcg), 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds (159 mcg), 2 cups of cooked quinoa (155 mcg) or 100 g of tofu (27 mcg). If you're not confident in meeting your folate needs through diet, a supplement may still be required.
Iodine: This mineral is vital for normal development of the infant's brain and central nervous system. The scary part is that vegans generally consume little to no iodine. If you're shaking on the table salt, you're likely ok, but if you prefer sea salt or Himalayan salt, you're out of luck. The recommended intake during pregnancy is 220 mcg which is best taken in supplement form. Iodine comes in an easy drop form and is typically derived from seaweed, in particular kelp. Note that the upper limit of iodine is 1,100 mcg and completely unnecessary, so keep it to a minimum.
Vitamin B12: Not only pregnant vegan women need to show B12 the love, but all vegans do. B12 is vital in its consumption to help bring a healthy baby to term. As this vitamin is in relatively short supply in a vegan diet (with the exception of nutritional yeast, vegan meat substitutes and fortified breakfast cereals), a supplement should be considered. An intake of 2.6 mcg or more is ideal during pregnancy. Without an adequate source of B12, a baby has increased risk of being pre-term, suffer from neural tube defects and developing other serious complications.
Iron: A pregnant woman's daily intake of iron increases 50% over pre-pregnancy requirements. The body's blood supply increases by 40-50 percent to deliver oxygen to the fetus and surrounding tissues. Iron supports the development of the brain and nervous system; a deficiency can have lifelong neurological and behavioural consequences. The recommended intake for pregnant women is 27 mg of iron per day. Consuming iron rich foods in combination with vitamin C rich foods maximize absorption.
Protein, Vitamin D, Zinc, Calcium, Choline and Omega 3 Fatty Acids (there are excellent plant-based supplement options in the form of DHA/EPA) should also be monitored to ensure sufficient intake and a healthy mom and baby.
If you're thinking about becoming pregnant, or have just been given the big news about your pregnancy and have some concerns about ensuring optimal health for you and your baby, know that help is close by. I work with clients one-on-one (phone, Skype or in-person) to come up with a worry free individual game plan to ensure all of your nutritional needs are met, as are your baby's. I can provide you with suggested supplements, vitamin/nutrient sufficient menu plans and grocery lists, and can be on your speed dial (remember that?!) for any questions or concerns. If you're local to Burlington or the Greater Toronto Area, I can even do the grocery shopping for you if time isn't on your side. My goal is to set you up for success, without the stress. Find out more here - Nutritional Coaching with Little by Little IC.
Good luck or congratulations, you're on your way to being a healthy, beautiful parent to a thriving new baby! xo
Click the link to contact me - Little by Little IC
*Any recommendations noted here are not to be considered medical advice or treatment. Recommendations are intended to help guide you towards a thriving plant-based diet/lifestyle.