Planning or experiencing a pregnancy doesn’t mean you have to give up a vegetarian lifestyle but it does require a closer examination of your food intake.
By including plenty of protein, iron, vitamin B12 and calcium-rich foods, a vegetarian diet can meet the needs of both you and your developing baby.
Healthy vegetarian eating
Nuts, eggs, seeds and legumes (dried beans and lentils) are good sources of protein. During pregnancy, you will need to include one to two serves each day. Although these foods also contain iron, your body does not absorb it as easily as it absorbs the iron found in meat, so vegetarians need to eat other iron-enriched foods, such as green leafy vegetables (bok choy or spinach), iron-enriched cereals or wholemeal bread. Ask your doctor to test your iron levels and advise whether a supplement may be needed.
Vitamin C-rich foods, such as berries, oranges, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, mango, capsicum, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, will enable your body to absorb more iron so combining these two types of foods at each meal will ensure your body is getting the best from the food you give it.
Calcium found in dairy foods is important for your growing baby and also for your own bone health after your pregnancy. During pregnancy, your developing baby will need plenty of calcium to grow their own bones. If you do not have enough calcium in your diet, your baby will still obtain the calcium they need, but they will do this by taking calcium stored in their mother’s bones. Calcium-fortified soy milk or a calcium supplement is a healthy alternative to dairy.
As it is only found in foods of animal origin, long-term vegetarians and vegans can be lacking in vitamin B12 – needed for the healthy formation of blood cells and nerve function and vital for normal mental development of your baby. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and planning a pregnancy, taking vitamin B12 supplements can help build your body’s stores. While your body usually only needs small amounts of B12 to maintain good health, pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete these stores rapidly. Babies who are breast-fed from a vegan mother are especially at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency, which may affect healthy neurological development.
Always consult with your doctor or lead maternity carer before beginning any supplements or altering your diet during pregnancy.