Top Five Questions In A Vegan Pregnancy

May 25, 2022

Exploring veganism and adapting a vegan lifestyle is often a gradual thing. There are many factors that need consideration.

Usually people start with the most obvious. They ditch animal products from their diets.

Transitioning to a plant based diet can be challenging in and of itself. You need to find ways to replace meats, cheeses, eggs, milks not only for the nutrition they provide, but also you need to find ways to replace your favourite non-vegan comfort foods. 

When you add pregnancy to the mix, many women become insecure about wether or not their diets are cutting it in the nutrition department.

Here are my top 5 most frequently asked questions answered:

1. How can I optimise my vegan nutrition for pregnancy?

To answer this question on an individual level, my clients fill in a food diary for at least three typical days. I help you tweak things for optimal protein and calorie intake.

On a general level, aim to replace all the calories you need to support your metabolism and your daily activities (Total Daily Energy Expenditure - TDEE) and add 300 kcal by your second and 500 by your third trimester. For most women eating at TDEE averages about 2000 kcal, however you can use an online calculator to individualise this.

If calorie tracking doesn't trigger you in any way or makes you nervous, you can use a tracking tool such as my FitnessPal for a couple of weeks to figure out the amount of food it takes to consume enough calories.

Protein:

Aim for 70g of protein and increase it gradually to around 100g by the last trimester. Again, you can use a tracking tool to ensure that you are meeting your protein needs.

I recommend you focus on protein first with each of your meals and try to get about 25g of protein with breakfast lunch and dinner. Check out my best vegan pregnancy meal plan here

2. Should I take any supplements?

Yes! In my opinion everyone benefits from taking a good pregnancy supplement and it is particularly important for vegan women because the following nutrients are not readily available in plant based foods. Choose a supplement that has 'activated' B vitamins. 

Look at your supplement as covering the basics and still eat wholesome, nutrient dense foods every day.

Vitamin B12 

Vitamin B12 plays a role in iron absorption, so a deficiency can leave you anaemic. B12 in its activated form occurs as methylcobalamin and/or adenosylcobalamin. 

B12 is also an important nutrient for your growing baby. It helps build a healthy central nervous system alongside folate and choline. Deficiencies are also associated with preterm birth. A good quality pregnancy vitamin usually contains the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin B12 (2.8mcg). It's still good to include fortified foods like nutritional yeast, plant milks and yeast extract (do you like Marmite?) on top of that.

Keep supplementing and including fortified foods after pregnancy particularly during breastfeeding so that your milk contains vitamin B12 for your baby.

Choline

Choline shares many benefits with folate and therefore its main role is to help your baby's central nervous system development. Like folate it is associated with helping to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. Like folate, it can be found in cruciferous vegetables and nuts, however, the RDA is 450mg and getting a daily dose of 450mg would be challenging. Choline is now often recommended by nutritionists as a pregnancy supplement. You can check your vegan pregnancy vitamin to see if it is already in there, if not it is easy to add in a separate supplement such as choline bitartrate or sunflower lecithin.

Folate

Women are routinely advised to take folic acid which is the synthetic form of folate (L-methylfolate, also called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate). Folate is an example of an activated B vitamin and is easier to absorb for anyone with a genetic mutation called MTHFR. People with MTHFR gene variation have poor absorption of synthetic folic acid.

Folate in its natural form is found in legumes, nuts, green leafy veg and avocados, so whichever supplement you take, continue to include those into your meal plans in generous amounts. 

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 can be hard to get from plants alone. It is essential in bone formation. It is mostly found in dairy and in certain fermented foods. Choose a pregnancy supplement that contains vitamin K2. 

DHA

DHA is responsible for brain and eye development in your baby. It is an Omega3 essential fatty acid and is found in seaweed. For anyone who does not eat oily fish regularly, and that includes us vegans, it is imperative to take a DHA supplement particularly in pregnancy and importantly whilst breastfeeding your baby, so that your milk provides your baby with the DHA needed for healthy brain development. Also include some nori into your diet on a regular basis.  

Iron

Iron is responsible for helping you make red blood cells (haemoglobin). Pregnancy is a time when you need to be supplied with sufficient red blood cells. This helps you feel good and full of energy and it prepares you for a blood loss at birth. Your ability to stop your postnatal bleed partially depends on your red blood cell count.

Vegan dietary iron comes from chia seeds, molasses, green leafy veg and pulses. Your iron levels are checked regularly during your pregnancy and wether you need to consider iron supplementation in addition to your pregnancy vitamin will depend on your red blood cell count.

Zinc

Plant based foods containing zinc are whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. I recommend that you choose a pregnancy supplement that contains zinc. It is also advisable to consume any zinc and iron containing foods alongside some vitamin C to aid absorption. The same goes for your pregnancy supplement. Take it alongside a meal with some orange juice for example.  

Calcium 

Calcium absorption is improved in pregnancy. Green leafy vegetables, bok choy, broccoli, almonds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds are calcium rich foods, Make a point of including those into your meal plan regularly. 

It is important to know that calcium and iron containing supplements should not be taken together because they compete for absorption. So if you do have to take an extra iron supplement, take it at a different time to your pregnancy supplement if that one contains any calcium.

I like Cytoplan for UK based women. They offer a vegan omega-3 supplement for pregnancy. and a well formulated vegan pregnancy vitamin.

Finally, choose whole grains and sourdough rye breads where possible. They are made from fermented whole grains and those support mineral absorption. 

3. What vegan skin care products should I use?

Skin care is a very individual subject. Continue your pre-pregnancy regime.

I particularly like Lavera products. Lavera is a German company that has been cruelty free ever since it was founded many moons ago.

As a body oil, I like to make my own oil and my I offer my clients pregnancy aromatherapy recipes to try.

Here's a belly massage oil I really like, it is my nourishing stretch mark oil:
100 ml jojoba oil
20 ml evening primrose oil
6 drops cypress (cupressus sempervirens)
12 drops neroli (citrus aurantium)
6 drops juniper oil (juniperus communis)

4. What medicines are used for me or my baby and are they vegan?

The subject of using medicines often gets hotly debated in the vegan community. Those people who feel fine using any medicines if and when they are needed feel triggered by others who feel that they don't choose this for themselves.

My own stance has always been that, regardless of my lifestyle choices otherwise, it is important to me that any pharmaceutical medicines I use are definitely necessary. 

In maternity care there are some routinely used prophylactic medicines and not all of them are vegan. 

We've already talked about pregnancy supplements - any of those could contain gelatine, so check that you are buying vegan formulations.

In the UK health system, you will routinely be assessed for risk factors for developing a blood clot in pregnancy. Blood clots are a rare but serious complication and pregnancy in and of itself puts you at a higher risk of developing a clot relative to a non-pregnant woman. Therefore, if you have certain risk factors, you will be advised to use a medicine called Enoxaparin. This medicine isn't usually vegan (or even vegetarian).

You will also be offered a vitamin K injection for your baby at birth. This one also isn't usually vegan or vegetarian. Again it is given to prevent a possibly serious but rare complication in your newborn baby called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleed or Hemorrhagic  Disease of the Newborn. 

I have long conversations with all of the women I look after. As a midwife I work with women who have all kinds of lifestyle choices and the consideration is the same. What are the potential advantages of the intervention versus the potential disadvantages. There are many factors at play for all parents and they are very individual. For vegan parents there is the extra consideration of their vegan lifestyle versus the risk/benefit thought process. 

If you want a thorough consultation about any interventions offered to you in pregnancy, you can book a 1-to-1 zoom session with me here or enquire about my complete birth preparation program with vegan meal planning support here

5. Is there a vegan baby formula?

I get questions about vegan formula milks all the time. 

The short answer is NO. The soy milks available currently all have lanolin based vitamin D in them.

Again, this is a complex subject and your choice will depend on wether you fully breastfeed and just want a 'backup plan' or if you plan to fully formula feed your baby.

I generally don't recommend having formula in the house when you intend to establish breastfeeding but it is a little more complex for vegans. If you want a fully vegan first formula suited for a newborn baby, you will have to order it from another country.

There is a vegan first milk called Premiriz available in France that you can access across Europe. It is important to keep in mind that Premiriz is based on rice protein. Those types of milk are usually designed for infants who need to be put on a special diet for health reasons or food intolerances.

The European Commission stipulates that the protein source for formula feeds suitable for a newborn should be whey or soya. Special milks that have other sources of protein that are designed as 'special feeds' are usually given under close observation and are nutritionally inferior to newborn or first milks and I do not advise long term use of those milks.

If you wish to breast feed your baby, think about wether a 'last resort' milk that has animal based vitamin D would be okay for you. Supplementing is usually not necessary and if you just want peace of mind, find a store near you that stocks it. 

Breast feeding is an intricately designed natural process between you and your baby and there are things you can put in place for it to establish more easily. My program includes a module on breast feeding your baby, you can book a discovery call here if you are interested in working with me.

Whilst breastfeeding, make sure to eat a diet rich in good fats and calories. Continue your pregnancy supplement routine for the entire time you breastfeed your baby.

If you are planning to exclusively formula feed and you wish to use a milk that is not a recognised first milk, you might want to talk to an infant nutritionist to enquire about supplements that may be needed to meet your baby's nutritional needs fully.

A totally vegan special milk might be okay as a 'backup' if having one at hand is important to you,

I hope you found this list of topics interesting. Don't forget to join my mailing list so you never miss a blog post again.

 

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