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Vegetarian, pregnant and healthy

by Cherie Pasion
Cherie Pasion
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on Sep 03 in Healthy Living 0 Comments

As I type this, I am 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant.  Playing the waiting game is proving to be a good time for reflection, as I have the time and space to sit back and think about the journey over the last 10 months.

A lot of my pregnancy has been spent forward thinking, occupying my thoughts on the most natural way to birth that suited us as a couple.  (We chose HypnoBirthing, and I’ll blog about it after the birth.)  I also spent a fair amount of time researching sustainable options for the baby.   

The pregnancy, itself, has been smooth sailing – probably the most blissful time of my life to date.  My daily green-living regime seemed to complement pregnancy very well. However, probably the biggest thing I was conscious about has been my vegetarian diet - as I wanted to ensure that I was giving my cherished baby boy the best start in life as I possibly could.  

What to look out for in a vegetarian diet while pregnant?

There are a number of minerals and nutrients that do require extra consideration for those of us who are pregnant (or breastfeeding) vegetarians:

Iron 

Pregnant women need 27 milligrams of iron each day (source).  This is compared to 18 mg that non-pregnant women need.  I tried very hard to try to get this amount from my food, doing the old absorb with Vitamin C trick.  Vegetarian food high in iron include chickpeas, raw pumpkin seeds, kale, spirulina and quinoa (to name only a few).  In the end, however, I had to take supplements, as a blood test revealed my iron levels were low.  I’m not sure how much of this was diet based, as my meat-eating sister was pregnant at the same time and required iron supplements, as did many of her friends.  So possibly there were other factors that led to my iron deficiency.

Protein

This isn’t really dissimilar to any other time of life.  All balanced diets require protein, but it’s important to keep up protein intake during pregnancy.  This proved to be a challenge during the first trimester – as, like so many other women, all I wanted to eat was carbs. Luckily, however, cheese goes so well with crackers and bread! I was happy to find that quinoa was high in protein – so throughout the pregnancy I have been eating quinoa as a replacement to pasta and rice.  I also made sure I added superfoods such as chia to my daily yoghurt and had a container of nuts on my desk at work.

Vitamin B12

Again, this is always a concern for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet.  My pregnancy multi-vitamins contain B12, as do my daily dose of chia seeds, spirulina (see image to the right), which incidentally is also high in protein and iron.  I never seemed to have an issue with Vitamin B12. 

Calcium

In the last few years, I have tended to shy away from drinking milk - for various reasons.  However, during my pregnancy I have found myself drinking glasses of milk – my body seemed to ask for it.  When I didn’t drink much milk or eat a lot of yoghurt, I would wake in the middle of the night with painful cramps in my calf-muscles.  My midwives, along with internet research, suggested this was calcium deficiency.  I started drinking more milk and yep, goodbye cramps! You may be interested to know that dairy isn't necessarily the best way to consume calcium - green leafy vegetables also contain a high amount of calcium, as do chia seeds.

Omega-3

OK, this is where I must admit, I do not comply to a strict vegetarian diet.  Omega-3s are good to help the brain and nervous tissue development of the baby.  The best vegetarian source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (according to Gabriel Cousens in Conscious Eating) is flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.  Unfortunately, early on in my pregnancy it became apparent that I couldn’t stomach either.  So I have been taking fish oil supplements, ensuring that the oil is of the highest quality, sustainably-produced and mercury free.  I figured that I didn’t need to be put in a box, and if it was best for the baby – then I’d take the supplement, simple as that. 

If you are vegetarian or you want to be vegetarian and contemplating pregnancy – the best advice I can give is to trust yourself and your body – you will know what you need.  When I first became pregnant, I got a bit excited and ordered a book from Amazon about vegetarian recipes for pregnancy.  I have not tried a single recipe – the food in the book isn’t really for my palate.  I should have just trusted myself, as my inner wisdom has been enough.

Disclaimer:  the above information is just based on my experience and research only, I am not a dietician or medical practitioner.  If you have particular questions or concerns about your vegetarian diet while pregnant, I suggest you talk to your care provider.

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