Whenever someone finds out that I’m pregnant, they ask me if I’m still vegan or if it’s been harder to avoid eating meat with a baby in my belly. Since vegan pregnancy has been a hot topic in my life over the past seven months, I thought I’d share my vegan pregnancy experience.
I’ve heard stories – always about a friend of a friend’s cousin’s roommate – of vegan women who just couldn’t resist eating steaks while they were pregnant. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in my pregnancy cravings! I haven’t wanted pickles and ice cream once, and when my omnivore husband orders a steak for supper on the nights that I don’t cook, it never smells appealing.
Yep! I’m married to an omnivore. He eats vegan when I cook supper, but when we order in or eat out, he usually branches out. But that’s a story for another day. Today, let’s talk about eating your way through a vegan pregnancy!
Vegan Pregnancy: Nutrients to Look Out For
Just like any other pregnant woman, I’m taking a prenatal vitamin. I get lots of nutrition from my diet, but I’d rather overcompensate where this baby is concerned! This is the vegan prenatal vitamin I’ve been taking. On top of the prenatal, though, I’m now taking a few extra supplements:
- Again, like many women – vegan or not – my iron started to dip when I got into my third trimester, and my doctor now has me on a prescription iron supplement. Fun fact: they make my burps taste like rubber! After a few weeks of supplementing, my iron levels are looking good.
- My vitamin D levels were a little low, so I am also taking a vegan vitamin D supplement. Since starting those, I’ve been testing normal for D, so everything is cool. Like with iron, it’s not just vegans that tend to get a D deficiency in pregnancy.
- I’m also taking a vegan B12 supplement. B12 is the one nutrient that’s a little trickier for vegans, since most (but not all) B12 sources are animal-based. I eat tons of nutritional yeast and B12-fortified foods, but since baby needs lots of B12 I asked my doctor to test me. My numbers were within normal limits but on the low side of normal, so they have me supplementing, just to be safe. Since starting the supplement, they said my numbers are now looking good.
Vegan Pregnancy: What about protein?
The other thing I struggled with a bit at first was getting enough protein. Yes, there are plenty of vegan protein sources, but holy moly! When you’re pregnant, they want you to get way more protein than the average woman. When you’re pregnant, your protein requirements go up from the normal ~46 grams a day to just over 70 grams per day. That’s for all women, not just vegan women.
I was able to bridge that protein gap by swapping out the almond milk I’d been drinking with organic soy milk and snacking on nuts instead of crackers and making a conscious effort to eat protein-rich vegan foods with every meal.
Vegan Pregnancy Diet
What you eat during your vegan pregnancy really depends on how you’re feeling. In the first trimester, a lot of women have trouble eating…anything. That’s OK! Eat what appeals to you, and don’t forget that prenatal vitamin. When the nausea dies down, you can make up for your all-saltines diet by eating plenty of healthy food!
Here’s a bit of what I’ve been eating in my pregnancy to make sure this baby gets enough of what he needs:
- Tofu, beans, and nuts – protein, protein, protein, you guys!
- Dark, leafy greens – kale, collard greens, bok choy, etc. These are packed with nutrients, including that precious iron. If you need some dark and leafy inspiration, check out this list of healthy kale recipes!
- Soup – In my first trimester, I lived on soups, and I still crave them a lot more than I did pre-pregnancy. Pack your soup with healthy beans, veggies, and tofu! If you can, go for low-sodium broths, because less salt in your diet means less swelling in your feet. Trust me: swollen feet are not fun.
- Green smoothies – I’ve been having green smoothies as a snack instead of breakfast lately to satisfy my sweet tooth without the refined sugar.
- Bananas – In the second half of pregnancy, you might start getting leg cramps out of nowhere. It only took one horrifying Charlie-horse wakeup to convince me to load up on potassium. I eat a banana with almond butter every morning and have a second banana in my green smoothie in the afternoon or evening. So far, my leg cramps have subsided!
- Citrus – If you’re dealing with reflux, citrus is not for you, but ever since my third trimester started I’ve been eating an orange or tangerine every evening. The vitamin C is great for the baby and helps boost your immune system.
- Unsweetened cranberry juice or cranberries – Pregnancy makes you more prone to UTIs, so I mix about 1/4 cup unsweetened cranberry juice into my morning glass of water or tossing 1/2 cup unsweetened frozen cranberries into my green smoothies. YUM!
- Mother to Be Tea – This Yogi tea is my new favorite! It’s got lots of herbs that are great for pregnancy, and it’s a nice way to unwind in the evening, since you can’t have a glass of wine at the end of the day.
- Vegan yogurt – If you’re looking to vegan yogurt for protein, soy is the way to go, but yogurt’s probiotics are also very beneficial in pregnancy. As your baby grows and puts pressure on your digestive tract, you’re more likely to suffer constipation. A whole foods vegan diet gives you plenty of fiber, which helps a lot, but the probiotics in yogurt can also help get things…er…moving along.
- Water – All day long, ladies! Water helps prevent swelling, and your baby needs lots of water to develop. Just keep a glass by your side at all times, and sip all day long. If plain water isn’t your thing, try adding some lemon juice, a splash of unsweetened cranberry juice, or drinking unsweet, caffeine-free tea. You can also drink fizzy water – not the sweet stuff, just plain seltzer – to keep hydrated. You want to avoid sugary drinks like soda, juice, and Vitaminwater, because too much sugar is bad for your baby.
If you’re concerned about getting enough nutrients for your baby, I’d recommend using a program to track everything. The app I’ve been using is called My Fitness Pal. It’s available online and for smartphones, so I can even plug in my meals when I’m out and about.
When you set it up, you can even tell it how much weight you’d like to gain. You’re supposed to gain 1/2-1 pound per week in your second and third trimesters, and the app tells you how many calories you need to eat and keeps track of your nutrient breakdowns. You can also enter your workouts, so it will account for that as well.
I think it’s important for all pregnant ladies to keep track of nutrients, but for vegan women you get the added bonus of being able to quantitatively tell folks that you’re getting enough protein, fat, vitamins, etc.
Any other pregnant, vegan ladies out there? What has your experience been like? Pregnancy can be so different for different people!
Image Credit: Vegan Pregnancy photo via Shutterstock