Veganism is safe during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy! Pregnancy is an exciting time of change and growth. And with that comes increased energy, nutrient and hydration demands. Continue reading for vegan-specific strategies for nourishing your pregnancy!
As a registered dietitian and mother, I know how important nutrition is during pregnancy. And, I understand if you feel external pressure to ensure proper nourishment as a vegan in an effort to avoid criticism from friends, family and healthcare providers.
Getting enough nourishment as a pregnant vegan isn’t that different from pregnancy nutrition strategies for pregnant non-vegans!
General strategies for pregnancy nutrition
- Be intentional about nutrition when you can, but don’t worry too much about it!
- Take appropriate dietary supplements.
- Eat frequently and consistently.
- Eat types and amounts of foods that feel good in your belly and satisfy any cravings you may have.
- Prioritize hydration and get creative with beverage options if you’re bored with plain water.
Pregnancy Nausea and Food Aversions
Please note for all of these nutrients and strategies, especially early in pregnancy, if you’re feeling nauseous, struggling with food aversions or vomiting, please cut yourself some slack and do not stress about nutrition.
Your job is to eat what you can, stay hydrated, and get rest. Once you’re feeling better you will begin to eat a greater variety and quantity of food. Yes, nutrition is important. But it’s not worth stressing over and you will be fine if you aren’t able to follow these strategies to a tee. Human bodies are incredibly resilient and billions of people have been birthing babies for centuries!
Pregnancy can bring a lot of emotions and extra stress, and nutrition shouldn’t add to that load!
How to Meet Nutrient Requirements as a Pregnant Vegan
Are you feeling stressed about nutrition? Let’s pause right here and take a deep breath and find a little calm before continuing.
Stressing about nutrition doesn’t help us nourish ourselves. Stress is actually self-sabotaging, even if we convince ourselves that we’re just being diligent and trying to mind our health.
But, we also need to consider our mental health. If the amount of attention and effort you need to exert in order to maintain your physical health is negatively impacting your mental health, that is a sign that something isn’t working.
I’d love for you to go back and read the five general recommendations listed above and keep those top of mind rather than getting lost in the weeds about individual nutrients.
Your pregnancy provider will likely order blood work to assess the status of some nutrients, such as iron and vitamin D. Markers of other nutrients, like calcium and omega-3s, are much more difficult to assess. If you are concerned about a specific nutrient, consider reaching out to a registered dietitian to discuss.
Protein needs increase significantly during pregnancy, which makes sense when you consider all of the new tissues the body is creating! In order to meet increased protein demands, pregnant vegans can:
- Increase portion sizes of plant-based protein foods (such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, vegan meats, seitan, soy milk, soy yogurt)
- Add additional servings of plant-based protein foods to meals
- Add plant-based protein foods to snacks
If you already incorporate plant-based protein foods at most meals and snacks, you’re doing great! You could just try to bump up portion sizes of what you’re already eating to give yourself an extra boost, especially in the second and third trimesters.
Protein-rich vegan snacks food ideas for pregnancy:
- Roasted chickpeas
- Nuts & seeds
- Soy yogurt
- Chocolate pudding made with silken tofu
- Soy- or pea-protein-based vegan jerky
- Bean-based dips
- Protein bars & cookies
Vegan protein-rich mini meal ideas for pregnancy:
- Nut butter + jelly sandwich
- Quesadilla stuffed with refried beans
- Soy yogurt + chia seeds + chopped fruit
- Whole-grain waffle + nut butter + maple syrup, washed down with a glass of soy milk
- Smoothies made with soy milk + plant-based protein powder
- Whole-grain wrap + hummus + beans + veggies
- Ramen noodles + tofu + frozen veggies
Iron needs soar during pregnancy (27 milligrams per day for pregnant people vs. 18 milligrams per day for non-pregnant menstruating people), due to the extra blood we’re creating.
Luckily, iron isn’t hard to come by in plant foods. Absorbing iron from plant foods can be limited, so using strategies to boost absorption is helpful. And, taking a prenatal supplement that contains iron helps close any gaps and gives us peace of mind.
To get plentiful iron from food, aim to incorporate several servings of iron-rich plant foods throughout the day.
Iron-rich plant foods include:
- Baked potato
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Swiss chard
The major way to help our bodies absorb iron in plant foods is to consume a rich source of vitamin C with the iron-containing food.
Vitamin C-rich foods include:
- Orange juice
- Red & yellow bell peppers
It’s also wise to get iron through a supplement, since iron needs are so high during pregnancy.
There is no shame in meeting some or even all of some nutrient requirements through a supplement. If it helps you meet your nourishment needs and stress less about food, that’s great!
Choline is a necessary nutrient for fetal brain development, and helps prevent neural tube defects. Choline needs increase during pregnancy (450 milligrams per day), and even more when lactating (550 milligrams per day). Pregnant vegans can meet their choline needs by eating key plant foods and taking a choline supplement.
Soy is the richest plant-based source of choline. Incorporating a few servings of soy foods daily can help you meet your choline needs. Other plant foods contain smaller amounts of choline.
Plant-based sources of choline:
- Soy milk
- Kidney beans
- Navy beans
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
- Brussels sprouts
Regardless of food intake, I recommend a choline supplement for pregnant vegans, because it’s such a critical nutrient during pregnancy and it takes quite a bit of effort to get enough through food alone. Most prenatal supplements contain little to no choline, so this is something you likely need to add to your supplement regimen.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, are important for fetal growth and development, especially the eyes and brain.
While our bodies can convert the plant-based omega-3 ALA into the other forms (EPA and DHA, notably found in fish), that conversion rate can be quite low and there’s no easy way to know just how well our bodies convert ALA into EPA and DHA.
The simplest way to ensure we’re getting enough DHA is to consume a direct source of it.
The only official omega-3 intake recommendations are for ALA, since our bodies can technically make DHA from ALA. However, some health organizations recommend specific amounts of DHA to consume while pregnant.
Veganhealth.org advises pregnant vegans to consume the recommended 1.4 grams of ALA per day as well as take 300 to 600 milligrams per day of DHA.
The richest sources of ALA are:
- Ground flaxseed
- Flaxseed oil
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
Vegans can get DHA from microalgae oil supplements.
Vitamin B12 needs increase slightly during pregnancy, and all vegans should take a vitamin B12 supplement regardless of pregnancy status.
Vegan supplementation strategy for vitamin B12 is slightly different during pregnancy. It’s best to take a daily B12 supplement when pregnant, rather than a larger dose less frequently, such as weekly. Taking a weekly dose is OK for non-pregnant vegans, but pregnant people need B12 every day.
So if you’re not already taking a vitamin B12 supplement, that’s a practice to start ASAP.
VeganHealth.org recommends a daily dose of 10 to 250 micrograms of cyanocobalamin (a form of vitamin B12) for pregnant vegans.
We all need iodine for thyroid health, and developing fetuses need iodine for the development of their skeletons and central nervous systems, especially their brains.
Iodine needs increase during pregnancy (220 micrograms per day) as thyroid hormone demand increases for the pregnant person and the fetus. Iodine requirements increase to 290 micrograms per day when lactating.
Inadequate iodine intake during pregnancy can significantly impact the baby’s brain function and cause intellectual disabilities.
The most reliable ways for vegans to get adequate iodine are through iodized salt and supplements.
Even if you consume iodized salt, you’re likely not getting all the iodine you need for pregnancy. It’s a good idea for pregnant vegans to supplement with iodine.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Thyroid Association recommend all pregnant people supplement with 150 micrograms of potassium iodide to ensure adequate iodine intake during pregnancy.
Calcium needs don’t increase during pregnancy, but I’m reminding you about it because I see many people with inadequate calcium intakes, including vegan and non-vegan people!
Nutrition nerd moment: We don’t need to eat more calcium when we’re pregnant, even though baby’s skeleton requires calcium to form, because our intestines absorb more calcium when we’re pregnant. Pretty neat, right?
An easy way to get plentiful calcium is to drink calcium-fortified plant milk. Make that calcium-fortified soy milk and you’re also getting protein and choline, which are extra important during pregnancy.
The key plant-based food sources of calcium are collard greens, kale, turnip greens and mustard greens. Other foods contribute smaller amounts of calcium as well. And of course, it’s totally fine to close any gaps with a modest calcium supplement.
Learn all about how to get enough calcium as a vegan in this detailed blog post.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that we don’t need more of during pregnancy, but I’m highlighting it because so many people don’t get enough!
Another nutrition nerd moment: Thanks to some hormonal changes during pregnancy, our vitamin D levels (vitamin D is a hormone) increase which helps us absorb more calcium. Even though we don’t need to consume more vitamin D! So cool.
Almost everyone needs to take a vitamin D supplement. That’s because there are very few food sources of vitamin D, vegan or non-vegan. And while technically we can make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, there are several variables that prevent many of us from making enough vitamin D.
If you’re not already taking a vitamin D supplement, hop to it! Many prenatal supplements contain vitamin D; however, it might not be enough for you. It’s a good idea to have your provider test your vitamin D so you can understand your vitamin D status and determine if you need to adjust your supplement dose.
Ask your physician or registered dietitian for personalized guidance on vitamin D dosage!
Vegan Prenatal Supplements
If you’ve been reading along trying to tease out the supplements I recommend taking while pregnant, I’ve created a nice summary for you here!
Disclaimer: This is a general guide to vegan prenatal supplements and is not a personalized dietary supplement list. Please work with your providers to determine your unique dietary supplement needs!
I do not have ties to any supplement brands. I recommend what I find to be affordable & accessible and those that provide the amounts and forms of target nutrients.
I cannot emphasize enough to work with your providers for individualized dietary supplement recommendations!
Vegan prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplement
I like the brand DEVA because it contains adequate vitamin B12 for vegans, plenty of folic acid (it’s recommended that all pregnant people get 400 micrograms a day in addition to folate from food), a good amount of iron, as well as the full requirement for iodine, and a little choline. And, Consumer Lab ranked it as their top pick prenatal supplement! It’s also one of the most affordable prenatals.
Additional vegan supplements for pregnancy
If you’re taking the DEVA prenatal, you will want to consider adding a handful of additional supplements.
It’s recommended that pregnant vegans take 300 to 600 milligrams of supplemental DHA. You can do this through two capsules of DEVA’s DHA or one capsule of Naturelo’s DHA. There are other brands of vegan DHA as well. This is one of the priciest supplements, so it’s worth it to shop around.
The DEVA prenatal only delivers 50 micrograms of choline. If you eat soy foods regularly, you’re likely getting a couple hundred micrograms of choline through food without even trying, but unless you know that you’re eating enough to meet your needs (450 milligrams), it’s a good idea to add in some supplemental choline.
I have not come across a phosphatidylcholine supplement in a vegan capsule. If you can find one, let me know! There are some liquid phosphatidylcholine supplements, but you’d need several servings to get a significant amount of choline and they are quite pricey. In the absence of an affordable and accessible vegan phosphatidylcholine supplement, I use Solgar’s choline bitartrate.
Nutrition nerd info: There is some concern about the correlation between choline bitartrate and increased TMAO levels. I am not convinced that this is harmful and I believe it is more beneficial to meet choline needs during pregnancy using some choline bitartrate than to consume inadequate choline due to fears about what potentially increased TMAO levels could do. If you want to nerd out, here is some info on choline and TMAO.
If you aren’t getting enough from food and fortified food, consider adding a modest calcium supplement, around 300 milligrams.
There are plentiful affordable calcium supplements on the market. If folks also want a little extra vitamin D, zinc and magnesium, DEVA’s Cal-Mag Plus is an option.
You may need more vitamin D than what is in the DEVA prenatal (20 micrograms / 800 IU) to keep your blood levels in the recommended range. This is why it’s helpful to have your provider order a blood test to see if you need to add on extra vitamin D.
I like Nordic Naturals vegan D3 dropper so you can customize the dose.
Note that vitamin D3 is not vegan unless it says so on the label. Most D3 is sourced from animals.
Soy is Safe for Pregnancy and Beyond
I’ve heard from numerous people that their friends, family and even healthcare providers have warned them not to consume soy while pregnant, especially if they’re pregnant with a boy. This is flat out false information!
As long as you’re not allergic to soy, it is perfectly safe to consume during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation and infancy.
As you’ve read, soy foods are a great source of several nutrients that we require more of during pregnancy: protein, iron and choline. And calcium-set tofu can give us a boost in calcium, too!
So not only are soy foods not harmful during pregnancy, they’re incredibly healthful and help us meet increased nutrient demands of growing humans.
Please enjoy your soy foods and ignore the misinformation!
For personalized pregnancy nutrition guidance and dietary supplement recommendations, apply for one-on-one nutrition counseling!
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