A Guide To Pregnancy and Vegetarianism: By N. Steele RN, BSN,MPH


Vegetarian Nutrients During Pregnancy

Being a vegetarian can have its challenges especially if pregnant. Careful consideration should be taken so adequate nutritional intake is maintained especially for the growth and development of your unborn child. 
Whether you are already a vegetarian and have learned you were pregnant or you are adopting the vegetarian lifestyle along with your pregnancy, it’s important to be aware of the special needs of your body and the body of that infant inside you, so you supplement your diet appropriately for a healthy pregnancy. 
A vegetarian diet usually includes plant-based foods such as beans, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Basically excluding meat as part of the diet. A common misconception is that pregnant mothers and babies cannot thrive on a plant-based diet. However, studies have shown that through careful planning of the mother's daily intake of essential food both mother and child can be healthy. 

What Should Vegetarians Eat While Pregnant 

For obvious reasons, calcium is one of the biggest concerns for your diet if you are taking meat out of your meal planning. If you have not already eliminated milk and cheese from your diet but are at the level of vegetarian meal planning of just eliminating meat, it might be wise to leave those other items in your diet for the course of your pregnancy so you have a natural and abundant source of calcium and protein in those dairy products. But there are other sources of calcium you can draw on from your diet including tofu, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, and others.
Next to Calcium, Vitamin D is a big need for the development of your pregnancy. Rather than resort to pills, there is a natural source of plenty of vitamin D - sunlight. By getting about twenty minutes of good sunshine each day, you will naturally absorb the vitamin D you need. But be sure you go out in weak sunlight without sunblock so you get the right amount of sunlight without sunburn. If you cannot get direct sunlight one day due to weather or other hindrances, you can get some Vitamin D from natural cereals and fortified nut milk if that is allowed in your diet.
B12 can be a problem on a vegetarian diet because it is not abundant just in plants. You can get B12 from soy milk or using vitamin-enhanced cereals that will give you the levels you need. Just remember when reading the vitamin ingredient panel on cereals that the minimum daily requirements listed there are not for pregnant women. You will have to dig a bit deeper to know what the actual values of B12 requirements are and how much you need to supplement your diet to continue a healthy pregnancy. So consult with your doctor to know exactly what to do to keep your nutrition levels up. Your doctor can also help you modify your vegetarian diet plan to accommodate the extra vitamin needs of a growing baby inside you.
Iron is a big requirement for women in any stage of life because of the increased demand during menstruation. But during pregnancy, that need is even more critical and the levels of iron your body needs are much greater, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. Good sources of iron include beans, molasses, seeds, leafy vegetables, and nuts. Some cereals and bread are also iron supplemented but as before, make sure the levels are what you need nutritionally. And if you are not getting a full complement of iron each day, don’t be shy about turning to vitamin supplements.

Is Protein Importatant

Any vegetarian diet must be balanced so you get enough protein in your system because, for most people meat, cheese and milk are their primary sources of protein. But because that little one is growing rapidly inside you, your need for protein is even more important. You can get plenty of protein if your vegetarian meal plans are well-rounded and include soy milk and other natural sources of protein. But be aware of the need and organize your daily diet accordingly.

What Happens When You Don't Eat Enough Protein While Pregnant 

Protein is essential for growth and development. Deficiency can lead to a decrease in amino acids for the baby, which may affect its growth in the womb. Although vegetarian pregnant mothers usually get enough protein from beans and legumes it is recommended that they increase it by 10%. (Baroni et al 2018)  

How Do Vegans Get Zinc

Zinc is another vitamin that often gets overlooked and the need for it in a vegetarian diet supporting pregnancy is great. So put some thought into making sure you get your Zinc from whole grains and other forms of natural foods.

 You may become a bit of a nutritional expert during your pregnancy but if you do, that’s a worthwhile area of knowledge. Early in your pregnancy, consult your doctor about vitamin supplements to keep on hand. While it is preferable to get your nutrition from your foods and you want to enjoy as natural a pregnancy as possible, don’t hesitate to turn to these supplements if the need comes up. Zinc-rich foods and vitamin C work hand in hand to provide adequate absorption. While eating food that contains zinc adding fruit or citrus food will be beneficial. (Baroni et al 2018) 

Is A Vegan Diet Safe For Pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a vulnerable time during a woman’s life and nourishing the body with the right essential nutrients can have some challenges, especially as a vegetarian. Studies have shown that a vegan diet can have a direct effect on a baby’s growth and development. Although a plant-based diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes a well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet is considered safe during pregnancy and lactation. However, it is important to note that well-organized or structured monitoring of key nutrients is essential.  There are various reasons for a pregnant woman to choose the vegan diet, one being medical reasons. According to (Sebastiani et al 2019 ) Women of childbearing age affected by kidney disease may benefit from a low-protein vegetarian diet. 

Can Being a Vegan Affect My Pregnancy?

A major problem that some pregnant women may have is pre-eclampsia. This is defined as high blood pressure during or after pregnancy. It usually occurs during 20 weeks of pregnancy. However, it could occur much earlier. Studies show that a vegetarian diet and physical activity can reduce the risk. Pregnant women who did not usually consume adequate amounts of vegetables showed an increased risk for pre-eclampsia than those who ate three or more servings. Foods also that are high in calcium, and potassium, and high in fiber are also beneficial.  
In summary, being vegetarian requires careful planning of food intake to ensure adequate nutrition is being met. It is doubly important especially if pregnant as the baby’s growth and development are dependent on the mother’s intake. It is recommended that you carefully monitor your dietary intake as a vegetarian mom, visiting a dietician who specializes in plant-based meals can be helpful.