Pregnancy and vegan nutrition

“My doctor says I should drink a liter of cow’s milk a day; my parents are convinced that I am doing something harmful, and I even begin to doubt that everything is in order with my nutrition. Even the most staunch and knowledgeable supporter of a plant-based diet can experience doubts during pregnancy. After all, the so-called experts all ask about her diet.

In fact, it’s easy enough to follow a vegan diet during pregnancy as long as there are foods that meet your and your baby’s needs. A series of studies conducted in a village community where vegan nutrition is part of a socially responsible lifestyle have shown that vegans can have healthy pregnancies and healthy children. Here are some things worth considering separately.

Weight gain

How many pounds you gain during pregnancy has a significant impact on the size and health of your baby at birth. If you were underweight before pregnancy, you should try to gain 28-40 pounds. An average weight woman should aim for 25-35 pounds of weight gain, and overweight women should aim to gain no more than 15-25 pounds. A young mother may need to put on 30-45 pounds.

Many vegan women are thin and gain weight very slowly at the beginning of pregnancy. If this is your case, then you need to eat more food. Perhaps frequent meals or high-calorie foods will help you get better. Many find it easier not to eat more, but to drink. For example, a soy smoothie — soy milk is mixed with fruit and tofu or soy yogurt — in the evening for several weeks when weight gain is slow.

Other concentrated sources of calories include nuts and nut butters, dried fruits, and legumes. You should aim to get about 340 extra calories per day in the second and 450 extra calories per day in the third trimester of pregnancy. If your weight gain seems too high for you and your doctor, reevaluate the types of food you eat. By simply replacing sweets and fatty foods with fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, you can achieve more moderate weight gain. Daily exercise recommended by your health care provider may also help.


You are likely to hear a lot of questions about whether you are getting enough protein. If your diet is varied enough and contains good protein sources such as soy products, beans, and grains, and you gain weight, you can relax and not worry about getting enough protein. Many women get extra protein by eating more of the foods they normally eat. As an example, you can add 25 grams of protein to your regular diet by eating 2 large bagels or 1-1/2 cups of lentils or tofu while drinking 3-1/2 cups of soy milk.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Vegans also get a lot of questions about calcium. Both calcium and vitamin D are essential for the development of a child’s bones and teeth. There is some evidence that pregnant women adapt to low dietary calcium and increased requirements by increasing calcium absorption and reducing calcium loss. This is certainly a separate study, but this principle can be extended to vegans whose diets may be low in calcium. However, the current recommendation is 1300 mg of calcium per day for women under 19 and 1000 mg for women aged 19 to 50. Pregnant vegan women should make special efforts to eat 8 or more servings of calcium-rich foods daily.

Pregnant women who receive regular exposure to sunlight do not need any additional vitamin D. However, if sunlight is insufficient, 15 micrograms of vitamin D per day should be taken. Vitamin D should only be used with the approval of your healthcare professional, as high doses of this vitamin can be toxic. Fortified foods are another way to meet your vitamin D needs.


Iron deficiency anemia is not uncommon during pregnancy in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian women. The need for iron is greatly increased during pregnancy due to the increase in the mother’s blood supply and because of the blood produced by the baby. Iron supplements in the second and third trimester are generally recommended along with iron-rich foods. Iron supplements may be needed in case of anemia. Iron supplements should not be taken with calcium supplements but should be taken between meals to maximize absorption. Even when iron supplements are used, pregnant vegan women should consume iron-rich foods such as whole grain breads, dried beans, tofu, and green leafy vegetables daily.

Vitamin V12

Regular intake of vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods is recommended for all pregnant vegans. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in fetal development.

Folic acid

Folic acid is known for its association with a birth defect called a neural tube defect. Studies have shown that women whose babies were born with this defect received little folic acid and had lower blood levels of folate than other women. Folic acid is essential in early pregnancy (before a woman knows she is pregnant) for normal neural tube development.

Many vegan foods, including fortified breads, pasta, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, and orange juice, are good sources of folic acid. A vegan diet is generally rich in folic acid, however, to keep their unborn baby safe, women who intend to become pregnant should take supplements or use fortified foods that provide 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

DHA is a fatty acid that is mostly found in oily fish. It plays an important role in the development of the brain and retina. Linolenic acid is found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, walnuts, and soybeans. Eat these foods regularly and avoid foods containing trans fats. Some women choose to use vegan microalgae-derived DHA supplements.


Pregnant vegans who use salt should use iodized salt at the table and when preparing food. The American Thyroid Association recommends that pregnant women living in the United States and Canada take vitamins containing 150 micrograms of iodine daily.

All of these plant-based diet optimization tips sound great for many pregnant women. What obstacles can arise in following a healthy vegetarian diet?

Nausea and vomiting

Morning sickness bothers many pregnant women, and vegan women are no exception. Many women are disgusted by foods that make up the bulk of their diet, such as salads, dried beans, and soy milk. This aversion is extremely common during early pregnancy and is thought to be related to a heightened sense of smell and hormonal changes.

In the second trimester, you need to consume approximately 340 more calories per day, and during the third trimester, 450 more calories per day than before pregnancy. These snacks can provide some of the extra calories that are needed during pregnancy: raisin muffin, apple juice, fresh vegetables and fruits, muffins and bagels, soy yogurt, gingerbread cookies, rice pudding, nuts and dried fruits, pizza, pea patties.

If it tastes good, eat it! Try to eat foods that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates. They digest faster and stay in the stomach for less time, causing less nausea.

Eat often. Sometimes nausea comes from hunger.

Avoid foods that have strong odors. Sometimes cold foods are better tolerated because they don’t smell as strong. There is someone cooking and you are not comfortable with the accompanying odors, if possible, leave the house while cooking. Be sure to drink juice, water, soy milk, or miso soup if you can’t eat solid foods. Keep trying to eat everything you can.

Contact your doctor if you are unable to drink any liquid within 24 hours.

Lack of time

Whether you work full-time out of the house or at home, the thought of preparing elaborate meals and snacks is likely to be tedious. Meals don’t have to be tiresome. Meals can be simple, such as porridge with fruit and soy milk, peanut butter with crackers, or a baked potato with salad.

Use convenience foods like canned beans, pre-cut vegetables, and frozen snacks to cut down on cooking time. Also use pressure cookers and vegetable cutters to make your life easier. Flip through vegetarian cookbooks for quick and easy recipes.

Your doctor

While doctors, midwives, and nurses may be quite knowledgeable about nutrition, many of them are not familiar with vegetarian and especially vegan ways of eating. Your health care provider may begin to ask a lot of questions about what you eat and whether you can really meet your needs. Look at this as an opportunity to teach someone the basics of vegetarianism. Try discussing certain aspects of nutrition with your doctor. Keep a record of what you eat for a few days, this will help reassure your doctor that you are doing everything right, or highlight areas that need improvement.

If you have specific concerns or questions, you may want to consult a nutritionist experienced with vegetarians. Remember, a variety of vegetarian foods can meet your and your child’s needs during this exciting time.

It is also important to think about the dangers of alcohol and smoking. Moderate, as well as constant, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can affect the mental and physical development of the child. Women should avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Smoking has been linked to low birth weight, which increases the chance of various health problems. Smoking should also be avoided during pregnancy.  


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