At the time that I became pregnant my husband was completely vegan and I was following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. I’m always confused whether I should list the things I eat or the things I don’t. I was aspiring to cut out dairy and eggs, but I was worried that I would not be able to get enough protein. It was one thing if I was playing with my personal daily protein intake and quite another to be playing with the levels going to my unborn child. I had also just heard of a vegan friend who ate fish during the latter part of her pregnancy because her iron levels had dropped to dangerously low levels. Out of fear, I chose a routine of breakfast (egg) sandwiches and a yogurt snack in addition to my regular diet.
I lost a major protein source in my first trimester – tempeh – because I simply could not stand the smell of it. I have heard fellow vegan and vegetarian moms say that they also bended their diets during pregnancy to ensure that they had adequate nutrients and protein. But how can a pregnant vegan woman balance her dietary preferences with her need for balanced nutrition?
First, she should consult her primary care provider. I live in Seattle and there are enough vegans here for mainstream medical professionals to know how to alter dietary recommendations. If a doctor insists on meat products, consult with another doctor or find a naturopath that specializes in nutrition. There are naturopathic midwives to consider too.
Second, build your tribe of vegan parents. There are times when I feel bored with the rotation of meals in my diet – vegan or not – and having friends to contribute snack and meal ideas is a valuable resource. When I haven’t found people who understood me in my community, I look online. The Mothering.Com forums are an amazing resource with everyday people offering opinions and ideas on any parenting issue. The MDC forum for Vegan and Vegetarian Living can be found at http://www.mothering.com/community/f/366/vegetarian-vegan-living
If I were to become pregnant again, I would like to maintain a vegan diet. I choose a vegan diet for ethical reasons, but mainly for health reasons. Both of my children have had immediate physical reactions to dairy: cradle cap, eczema behind the ears, and irregular stools. My children have always been in the higher percentile and were born at a healthy birth weight. I am confident I could make up for the missing eggs and dairy through other means.
Let it be said that in the U.S., government-sponsored programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) offer food coupons that don’t always support a vegan lifestyle. The nutritionists will not necessarily be accommodating of a vegan diet. The nationally promoted Food Guide Pyramid still promotes dairy, and doesn’t reflect research on varying dairy (in)tolerance – especially for people of African American and Asian descent. If you are considering pursuing a vegan pregnancy, research the best ways to create a balanced diet with nuts, seeds, grains, fortified cereals/milks/juices, vegetables, and legumes.
More on Vegan Pregnancy
- “Should You Give Up Being Vegan While Pregnant?”, thescavenger.net
- Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet, Vegetarian Resource Group
- Your Healthy Vegan Pregnancy, Happy Cow Veggie Blog