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Vegan Pregnancy, Healthy Conception and Healthy Babies

Being Pregnant as a Vegan: Increasing your chances of healthy conception and healthy babies

Being pregnant or preparing for pregnancy, whether you are vegan or omnivorous, is a time where a mother requires a nutritious diet and a healthy lifestyle. There are many simple changes you can make to improve your chances of healthy conception and optimum health throughout your pregnancy, which are listed below for your convenience. As with any pregnancy, careful monitoring of your nutrient intake and lifestyle choices are essential to provide a healthy environment for your baby to thrive.

Pregnancy

Pre-pregnancy and Pregnancy Lifestyle Advice

To prepare your body for pregnancy, it is of utmost importance to eat a well-balanced, whole foods based, nutritious diet and to decrease your toxic load as much as possible. This will help to prevent health problems during your pregnancy, and ensure a healthy baby. As pregnancy if often not detected for a few weeks, following the advice below both before and during pregnancy will prevent health problems for yourself and your baby. Please be aware that a healthy baby is the responsibility of both partners, and that males should follow the same recommendations advised below (excluding advice on hormonal contraceptives and advice during pregnancy!)

  • Eat organic where possible (see this link of the produce you MUST buy organic) http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/dirty-dozen-foods#fbIndex2
  • Eliminate toxic products from your life- chemical hair dyes, cosmetics, skincare and household cleaning products and choose natural alternatives instead (*see bottom of article)
  • Eliminate alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and/or drugs
  • When planning a pregnancy, consult a health practitioner for a general health check-up and pre-conception detoxification program if necessary, as well as resolving any existing health conditions
  • If you have ceased hormonal contraceptives recently, you may need to get advice on regaining hormonal balance for a healthy pregnancy
  • During pregnancy, make sure to have regular health check-ups to monitor your iron levels, blood sugar and blood pressure
  • Start taking a pre-natal supplement before you fall pregnant to reduce your risk of nutrient deficiencies
  • When you are pregnant, avoid risk of contracting infections by washing fruits and vegetables, storing foods at correct temperatures, washing hands before eating, avoiding pre-made food when eating out (choose fresh), wearing gloves when gardening and changing pet litter trays, keeping pets away from kitchen surfaces and in general keeping food preparation areas clean1
  • Incorporate techniques such as yoga, meditation and moderate exercise to manage stress and maintain a healthy body
  • If overweight, consider losing weight before you become pregnant. The reverse applies for those who are underweight before pregnancy.
  • Avoid medications and supplements unless recommended by your health practitioner. Certain drugs, herbs, nutrients and essential oils are not recommended during pregnancy.
  • Aim for 2 L of filtered water daily
 

Whole foodsDietary Advice

There are certain nutrients that are of particular importance during a vegan pregnancy (and any pregnancy), including Folate, Iron, Calcium, Iodine, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3, DHA1, Zinc2 and Vitamin E4. Increased protein and a slightly higher calorie intake is also advised2, to support the growth and development of your baby. The emphasis of your food choices should be based around whole foods, which include whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruits.

 

Calories versus Nutrients

Nutrient needs during pregnancy increase far more than actual calorie needs, and it is advised to avoid excess fat, sugar and salt to gain maximum nutrient intake1. Nutrient needs in fact increase by up to 50% more than normal while calorie intake increases only by around 15%2. This is approximately 300 calories (depending on your weight and energy output), which is equivalent to around ½ a cup of oats or 1 cup of cooked adzuki beans5. Make sure to choose your increased calorie needs from nutrient dense foods, other than filling up on white flour products, sweets and deep-fried foods.

 {Note-This is based on the average recommended calorie intake of 2200 kcal per day for women aged 14-505.}

Protein

Protein needs are increased to around 60 grams per day, again based on the above values5. Make sure to eat a variety of different sources to obtain adequate needs.

Folate

Low folate status has been associated with neural tube defects in babies3. It is essential that adequate folate intake be reached during the early stages of pregnancy, as the neural tube closes as early as day 232. The recommended daily intake is 600 mcg2, some of which can be obtained from supplements. Healthy food sources include but are not limited to barley, beans, lentils and green leafy vegetables4, such as kale and spinach5.

Iron

Increased blood volume of the mother as well as the blood formed for the foetus leads to higher iron requirements during pregnancy. Supplementation of 30mg daily^ during the second and third trimesters is commonly recommended2.

Healthy food choices of iron include but are not limited to almonds, apricots, avocado, parsley, pine nuts, soy beans, sunflower and pumpkin seeds4 as well as whole grains, beans and green leafy vegetables3. Please remember to combine these foods with Vitamin C rich foods for maximum absorption2.

{^ This excludes those with Haemochromatosis, iron excess disease}

Calcium

Calcium is important for the development of the foetal bones and teeth2. Calcium intakes for pregnant women are as follows-

-1300 mg daily for women 18 years old and under

-1000 mg daily for women aged 19 to 50

Current research shows that as long as calcium intake is sufficient prior to pregnancy, intake does not need to be any higher than what is recommended above. These recommendations are mainly intended to prevent the loss of bone density in the mother. If your diet is not adequate in calcium, supplementation is recommended2 (as an addition to a pre-natal vitamin). Healthy food choices include but are not limited to almonds, broccoli, buckwheat, green leafy vegetables, blackstrap molasses, soybeans and turnips4.

Iodine

Iodine is an important trace nutrient and can protect against miscarriage, premature labour and brain damage to the fetus1. Healthy food sources include but are not limited to asparagus, garlic, lima beans, mushrooms and sunflower seeds4 (amounts vary depending on nutrient quality of soil). Eating small amounts of sea vegetables provides a more concentrated source5.

Zinc

Zinc has many different functions in the body, such as brain development, growth, immune function and wound healing4. Needs for this mineral during pregnancy can increase by as much as 50%, and deficiency may result in complications during labour and delivery2. Healthy food sources of zinc include but are not limited to pumpkin and sunflower seeds, capsicum and whole grains4.

 Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is vital for the development of the foetuses brain and nervous system1. Daily supplementation of 2.6 mcg is recommended, as it appears that maternal stores of B12 may not be available to the fetus2.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, alongside Calcium, supports the development of your baby’s bones and teeth3. It is unlikely that supplementation is needed if you have regular sun exposure {30 to 60 minutes 2-3 times weekly, with exposure to arms and legs  (enough to turn the skin slightly pink). Note that this varies according the country you are in7}.

Also be aware that the darker your skin colour is, the more sun exposure you need to obtain sufficient amounts, and the reverse applies to those with a fairer skin colour7. If you are not someone who goes in the sun regularly or you suspect you may be deficient, supplementing with a vegan source is recommended3 (the amount will vary depending on the level of deficiency).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is important for fertility and gestation, and deficiency may result in babies with a low birth weight. Healthy food sources include but ate not limited to almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds4.

Omega 3 and DHA

Omega 3 essential fatty acids and DHA are important for brain and eye development1 and function4. Some health experts recommend extra supplementation of DHA1, as even though alpha-linoleic-acid (omega 3) is converted to DHA in the body, certain factors can affect this.

It is advised to avoid trans-fats such as margarine, fried foods and baked good to enhance conversion to DHA3. Due to the various factors that can affect conversion, it is highly advisable to supplement with an algae source of DHA (such as Deva Vegan Omega-3 DHA products or Opti3 Omega-3 EPA and DHA).

Even if choosing to supplement, dietary sources of omega 3 are still needed. One tablespoon of freshly ground linseed/flaxseed (in a coffee grinder or Vitamix) is recommended daily for omega 3 needs1. You could sprinkle this over a fruit salad; add to muesli, porridge or a smoothie. Since chia seeds are slightly higher in omega 3, you could also take roughly 1 dessertspoon daily to meet these needs6. Walnuts are another healthy source of omega 34.

Pregnancy problems

Problems during Pregnancy

There are certain problems that may arise during your pregnancy if a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle are not followed both during pregnancy and while preparing for pregnancy. These could include iron deficiency anaemia and preeclampsia (defined at high blood pressure with protein present in the urine). Preeclampsia is generally unlikely among vegans2, however regular medical check-ups will help to manage and prevent both of these conditions.

One of the more common complaints during pregnancy is morning sickness, which may occur during the first trimester only, or could extend throughout the whole pregnancy for some people. The following recommendations will help to manage this situation, but please see a health practitioner if it persists and you are unable to eat and drink fluids normally.

  • Eat regular meals every couple of hours
  • Have a small snack (such as nut butter or tahini on a wholegrain cracker) before getting out of bed if you are prone to low blood sugar during your pregnancy
  • Avoid where possible smells that make you feel ill
  • If you are dehydrated, keep your fluids up. Coconut water contains natural electrolytes which may prove useful
  • Drinking ginger tea made from dried ginger (fresh ginger does not have the anti-nausea qualities). Limit this to 3 cups maximum per day. Chamomile and Peppermint tea may also be useful.
Stretchmarks can physically prove to be a problem throughout pregnancy, so as well as following a healthy, nutritious diet (as recommended above), applying an essential oil such as mandarin in an apricot kernal base 2 times daily will help to prevent these (please consult an aromatherapy book for recommendations on dilution in pregnancy). 

Always remember to trust your instincts throughout pregnancy, and to see a health practitioner if you believe there may be a problem with your health or your baby’s while you are pregnant. Please contact me if you have any further questions, queries or feedback regarding this article. For a personalised pregnancy dietary plan, individual supplementation advice or a pre-conception health program please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

*Some natural, cruelty-free companies for cosmetics, skincare and cleaning products include Pure and Green Organics, Musq, Herbon, Ecologic and Biologika

Note- I have no affiliation with any of these companies, other than the fact that I love and use their products regularly!

Corinne

Corinne Leach has recently completed her Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy, Herbal Medicine and Nutritional Medicine receiving the Outstanding Academic Achievement award for 2011 upon graduation. Corinne is a vegan with a passion for healthy living, organic food and animal rights and is available for email consultations. Please find Corinne on her FaceBook Page or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

References

1. Benham, A (2011) Human Herbivore, ‘Herbivorous Diet during Pregnancy’

http://www.humanherbivore.com/pregnancy.html

Accessed January 2012

2. Mangels, R (2012) American Dietetic Association, ‘Vegetarian Diets during Pregnancy’

http://www.vndpg.org/articles/Vegetarian-Diets-During-Pregnancy.php

Accessed January 2012

3. Mangels, R (2006) The Vegetarian Resource Group, ‘Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet’

http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/veganpregnancy.htm

Accessed January 2012

4. Osiecki, H. The Nutrient Bible 7th Ed. AG Publishing, Australia.

5. Kirschmann, D. John (2007) Nutrition Almanac 6th Ed. McGraw-Hill, USA

6. Monarch, M. 2009. Natural News. ‘Chia seeds benefit health’

http://www.naturalnews.com/025459_chia_seeds_chia_seeds.html

Accessed February 2012

7. Brom, B (2009) Creating Health, ‘Vitamin D’

http://www.creatinghealth.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=74:vitamin-d&catid=47:herbs-and-nutrients&Itemid=5

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