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Vegetarians and vegans in pregnancy

Many vegetarians and vegans are probably more nutrition-aware than most other people, but are there specific pregnancy demands?

Posted: 1 August 2009
by Sarah Lawson

If you are vegetarian or vegan, the chances are that you already think more about what you are putting on your plate than a lot of other people, and that nutritional balance is part of your life. However, as pregnancy can produce unusual cravings and a higher sensitivity to strong-tasting foods due to morning sickness, it is possible that your body's ability to take in what it needs from what you are eating, has become more challenged.
Pregnancy is a time when any woman should assess what she is eating because the nutrients needed to help the baby grow drain many of a woman's own resources, leaving stocks of calcium etc potentially depleted in the years to come. But what are the key issues for vegetarians and vegans?

Pregnancy for a vegetarian
Iron can be an issue, as iron is not always easily taken in by the body (having vitamin C at the same time helps) and the process of pregnancy and birth can deplete iron levels. However, iron levels can be gauged through pregnancy and often doctors will check levels in women who do not eat meat on a more regular basis. If you eat good sources of iron or have a pregnancy-suitable multivitamin with iron (not soley iron tablets), then it is unlikely to be a major problem.
It is important that you get a good mix of vitamins and minerals from a mixed range of sources at any time during your life, and when you are pregnant, if you have a balanced diet you do not need to neccessarily be concerned about taking in extra nutrients.
The demand for protein will increase, and good sources of this include nuts, peas, beans and lentils. Some women avoid peanuts during pregnancy in case they have an allergy implication for their baby. Though nothing has proved conclusively that this is the case (a mother's own peanut sensitivity would be more of an indicator, in which case she wouldn't eat nuts anyway), peanuts are not the best nuts to eat anyway. Instead, brazils, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts offer great sources of nutrition.

Pregnancy for vegans
Much more so than vegetarians, vegans need to be aware of getting a good balance of nutrients from as many sources as possible.
Some doctors worry that B12 is not present in an animal-free diet, but it can be derived from supplements or yeast extract.
It is also important to ensure a good amount of calcium is taken in, as there are long-term issues such as an increased risk from osteoporosis if you do not take in enough calcium during pregnancy. That applies to all women, but can be especially important for vegans.
Vitamin D and riboflavin are also important. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you may not be getting enough of these in your diet.

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Discuss this story

I am a vegetarian, when I was pregnant before I made sure I ate as much fruit and veg as I could. I even started to eat breakfast cereals for extra vitamins etc. I was underweight when I got pregnant so I am really trying hard to keep to a sensible weigh now we are TTC again. I now weight 9.5 stone where as I was 8.12 before an I'm 5'8". I have worked out my BMI and it is now within the ideal weight range.

I did actually consider eating meat whilst I was pregnant as I didn't want my baby to miss out on anything, but the Dr said that as long as I ate sensibly it was fine.

Meema xx 

Posted: 17/02/2009 at 11:41

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