Vegetarians and vegans in pregnancy

You don’t have to change back to eating meat or fish just because you’re pregnant, but what should you know about your diet while you're pregnant?

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If you are vegetarian and vegan the chances are that you’re already conscious of what you need to eat to stay healthy, but it’s worth just taking a look at key pregnancy nutrients in case there are essentials you need to top up with. Don’t worry, these don’t involving have to return to eating meat or fish!

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Pregnancy for a vegetarian

Iron can be an issue, as iron is not always easily taken in by the body (having vitamin C at the same time helps) and the process of pregnancy and birth can deplete iron levels.

However, iron levels can be gauged through pregnancy and often doctors will check levels in women who don’t eat meat on a more regular basis.

If you eat good sources of iron or have a pregnancy-suitable multivitamin with iron (not solely iron tablets), then it is unlikely to be a major problem.

It’s important that you get a good mix of vitamins and minerals from a mixed range of sources at any time during your life, and when you’re pregnant, if you have a balanced diet you don’t need to necessarily be concerned about taking in extra nutrients.

Pregnancy for vegans

Much more so than vegetarians, vegans need to be aware of getting a good balance of nutrients from as many sources as possible.

Some doctors worry that B12 is not present in an animal-free diet, but it can be derived from supplements or yeast extract.

It’s also important to ensure a good amount of calcium is taken in, as there are long-term issues such as an increased risk from osteoporosis if you don’t take in enough calcium during pregnancy. That applies to all women, but can be especially important for vegans.

Vitamin D and riboflavin are also important. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned that you may not be getting enough of these in your diet.

Cravings and morning sickness

As pregnancy can produce unusual cravings and a higher sensitivity to strong-tasting foods due to morning sickness, it’s possible that your body’s ability to take in what it needs from what you are eating has become more challenged.

Long-term benefits of eating well

Pregnancy is a time when all of us should assess what we’re eating because the nutrients needed to help our baby grow drain many of our own resources, leaving stocks of calcium and other nutrients potentially depleted in the years to come. 

Mum’s story

“The midwife kept a check on my iron levels”

“When I went for my midwife ‘booking in’ I told her I was vegetarian. I wasn’t too worried about nutrition because I am already aware of keeping a balanced diet going, and a quick conversation with her put her mind at rest that I wasn’t going to be eating unhealthily.

“However, my midwife did say that pregnancy can deplete your iron stocks and that can be of particular concern to vegetarians and vegans because of the way in which iron is most effectively absorbed by the body. I had a second round of blood tests at 28 weeks to keep an eye on my iron levels, and the results were fine, but I’m glad it was being monitored, just in case.”

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Beth, 29, 38 weeks pregnant

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