Tips On Staying Healthy When You Are A Vegetarian And Pregnant

Expectant moms need a variety of nutrients to have a healthy pregnancy. If you’re a vegetarian here are some tips from Elizabeth Somer, MA, R.D., author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy for making sure you stay as healthy as possible and give your growing baby everything she needs.
Ami Burns

“Vegetarian diets can be a safe and healthful alternative to typical Western diets when you're pregnant. The vegetarian diet is a good thing for your health,” says Somers. “But, even with a good thing, you must do it right. With careful planning, both a lacto vegetarian --who eats milk products -- and a lacto-ova vegetarian --who eats milk products and eggs -- diet can supply all the necessary vitamins, mineral, protein, and other nutrients essential to health.”

Getting enough protein is especially important during pregnancy – it helps the placenta function and effects baby’s growth and brain function. There are plenty of great meat-free options to choose from. “Several servings daily of cooked dried beans and peas combined with whole grains and pasta, as well as tofu, soymilk, and nuts will help ensure adequate protein intake,” says Somers.

Special considerations for vegans
Vegans don’t eat any animal products including eggs or dairy and need to be vigilant about getting enough nutrients.

“The more foods you eliminate from the diet, the greater the risk for deficiencies. A vegan woman can eat well, but it takes of planning and know-how,” says Somers. “Women who consume only whole grains, fruits, vegetables, cooked dried beans and peas, and nuts and seeds have greater nutritional challenges. These women must consume adequate calories to ensure optimal weight and to spare protein from being used for energy. They also must choose several servings of high-quality protein by combining grains and legumes. Without milk, these women must look for other sources of vitamin D, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, and calcium.”

According to Somers, a vegan diet should include at least:

  • 7 servings of vegetables
  • 3 servings of fruits
  • 6 to 11 servings of whole grains
  • 4 servings of cooked dried beans and peas, nuts, and seeds.
  • 4 servings of calcium-rich foods
  • A source of vitamin B12

Be sure to check with your personal healthcare provider before following a specific diet before and during pregnancy.

Vegetarian mom and baby
Somers doesn’t recommend a vegan diet for babies. “Their stomachs are too small to handle the quantity of plant foods they would need to meet all of their nutritional requirements.” But a lacto or lacto-ova vegetarian diet is fine for babies. “It should include colorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc, and DHA-fortified baby foods or supplements. Toddlers can get all of their nutritional needs met with a carefully planned diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, milk products, and soy.”

Choosing a pediatrician or family practitioner for your baby who is knowledgeable about and supportive of vegetarian diets for babies can help ease any anxiety you may have about raising your little one “veggie.”

Jacque Shannon-McNulty, a mom from Grayslake, Illinois has been a vegetarian for 17 years – including while pregnant and nursing her three daughters. She found it easy to raise her babies vegetarian.“ I sought out a doctor who was well informed about breastfeeding and nutrition. He was supportive of breastfeeding and was confident that our children’s nutritional needs were being well met through breastfeeding and feeding our children well balanced vegetarian diets,” she explains. “As they weaned, he was impressed with how healthy they all were, even saying, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.’ I started them all on homemade fruit and vegetable purees when we began solid foods. When they moved beyond pureed foods, they ate what we ate- organic whole grains, vegetables, fruits, tofu and eggs.”

As your baby grows, she will be able to decide whether to remain a vegetarian or incorporate eggs, dairy or meat into her diet.

When Shannon-McNulty’s children were old enough, they made their decision about eating meat. “I am a vegetarian but my husband is not. We have three children --one of them is vegetarian and the other two eat fish and fowl, but not red meat.”

Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, good nutrition and a healthy diet will help you and your children long after they’re babies.

Read more about a vegetarian diet while pregnant:

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