- Women's Health
A Vegetarian Pregnancy
For many vegetarians who either are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, the question of whether or not a baby can derive all that they need from the mother’s diet is an often asked one.
I know, from personal experience, that for the majority of carnivores the opinion is well and truly on the side of under nourishment and unhealthiness. So what’s the truth behind it all? Is a vegetarian pregnancy safe? And moreover for those who choose a vegetarian diet throughout pregnancy what considerations should be given in specific relation to the foods and drinks that they consume?
Is a vegetarian pregnancy safe?
In a word, yes. In a sentence, only if the woman takes the time to consistently ensure that she receives all that she should in terms of nutrients, protein and all of the other dietary considerations that any pregnant woman should receive, vegetarian or otherwise.
What is a vegetarian pregnancy lacking in that carnivorous diets aren't?
The main dietary factor that vegetarians struggle for when pregnant, or at any other time for that matter, is protein. Ideally pregnant women should be aiming for 70 grams of protein during pregnancy as opposed to 50 grams as advised as standard.
Vegetarians... Would you consider compromising on your vegetarian diet if it meant gaining the nutrients you needed during pregnancy?
Protein rich vegetarian foods
Eggs make for a good source of protein with one large egg providing approximately 6g of protein (2.7g within the yolk and 3.6g within the white).
Dairy Products - Milk and Yogurt
Dairy products are seriously protein rich. One cup will provide around 8g of protein, while soy milk can range between 3g and 11g. Yogurt is just as rich, providing between 8g and 13g of protein per cup. Finally cheese can help boost your protein intake further, providing between 17g and 20g of protein per half cup of grated or diced cheese.
The health of a baby is notably affected not only by what is consumed during pregnancy, but also before pregnancy. However whilst considering our diet when trying for a baby allows for proper preparation of your baby’s future nutrient sources, finding that you are pregnant without preparation is by no means going to mean any harm for your baby.
However if you can start eating a well balanced diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables (particularly green vegetables) and whole grain cereals prior to conception then all the better. It may also be advisable to try to limit fatty and sugary foods as well as trying to cut back on your alcohol intake and cigarette consumption if you drink and/or smoke.
Is it okay to eat a vegetarian diet during pregnancy?
During pregnancy: The Vegetarian Eatwell Plate
Whilst the need for more nourishing food and higher levels of protein may be vital throughout pregnancy, the old adage of “eating for two” holds little medical weight. In fact, pregnant women only need around 200 additional calories over and above the usual recommended level of 2000 calories; 200 calories would equate to only two slices of bread and margarine or a jacket potato with baked beans. That said however if you feel particularly hungry during pregnancy then you should eat food as according to appetite, the important factor to ensure is that they are gaining weight as according to what they should be rather than putting on excess weight.
Vitamins and Advice for all pregnant women
There are some things that regardless of diet all women are advised to consider...
As a starting point this begins with Folic acid and in actual fact this supplement is advised from 3 months even before conception.
Folic acid is taken as it is known to reduce the chances of babies suffering from the serious condition that is Spina Bifida. Generally speaking this condition has already formed by three months into the pregnancy, although there is no harm in continuing in taking folic acid supplements after this time.
In the UK we struggle to get enough vitamin D from the sun and so pregnant women are advised to take Vitamin D supplements (this is official advice from the NHS).
The body’s need for iron is increased throughout pregnancy and whilst this isn’t a recommended supplement, it is officially recommended as something that should be increased through the intake of foods such as wholegrain cereals, pulses, leafy green vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and fortified breakfast cereals. What’s more the absorption of iron from each of these foods can be optimised by ensuring that Vitamin C intake is also achieved through fruit, vegetables and orange juice.
Whilst calcium can be gained through dairy products such as milk, egg and cheese some women struggle to consume enough to meet the ideal requirements. For this reason some women choose to take a calcium supplement to ensure that they’re receiving the right levels.
What to Eat During Pregnancy: Healthy Vegetarian Meals
Foods to avoid when pregnant
As well as confusion surrounding what should and shouldn't be eaten to receive the nutrients that a pregnant woman needs, there is also often confusion in relation to the foods that they should avoid. Here we list the foods that are recognised as potentially dangerous for consumption by pregnant women as advised by the NHS.
Soft cheese with white rinds (e.g. mould ripened soft cheeses)
Raw or part cooked eggs
Raw or undercooked meats
Cold cured meats
Fish oil supplements
Shark, swordfish or marlin
Drinking and Smoking prior to knowing about a pregnancy
I personally both drank and smoked before I realised that I was pregnant. This is far from preferable and whilst common sense and full awareness of period dates should at least limit the time between conception and smoking and drinking cessation in reality it may be months before the mother realises she is carrying.
In either case the important consideration is stopping smoking and/or drinking immediately.
In relation to alcohol, research has consistently found that fetal alcohol syndrome is far more often caused by drinking that is both prolonged and sustained over the course of the pregnancy. If you yourself have found yourself in this situation then you should try your best not to worry and discuss your specific circumstances over in detail with a doctor; you should also take heed in the fact that many, many mothers experience the same each year with few to none known to have problems that affect their baby.