By Louise Palmer-Masterton:
There is plenty of advice on offer on veganism, from well-meaning family to so-called ‘experts’ on the subject – and there has been for a long time. Throw vegan pregnancy into the mix, and suddenly it becomes about moral choices. Veganism is ok it seems when it’s our own choice, but can be questioned when we are dealing with an unborn child.
My own experience with being vegan during pregnancy is that it was completely normal but, writing this article got me wondering if my experience was an isolated one, or if in fact many vegan women experience completely problem-free pregnancies like I did. So I spoke to seven women who had been vegan through pregnancy (sometimes multiple pregnancies), and here is what they told me:
Do vegan mums-to-be feel healthy?
None of the women I spoke to had any issues with energy levels, and outside of complications unrelated to the vegan diet (morning sickness and gestational diabetes), without exception all the women felt healthy during pregnancy. Those concerned felt gestational diabetes was easier to manage on a vegan diet.
Emma said she continued to be vegan whilst breastfeeding and had a wonderful pregnancy with no issues whatsoever: “I wasn’t sick once, I had no cravings, I felt great the whole time, had energy, my skin was the best it’s ever been and I continued to work-out throughout the entire pregnancy. Postpartum I was told I had great colostrum, since my baby only lost 70g initially and I had a plentiful supply of milk, the health visitor actually said I had too much!”
Danielle: “I am very strong and the muscle of the household, even when pregnant if something needs lifting, I’m your girl”. I echo this and was practising and teaching ashtanga yoga until days before I had my first child, and full of energy throughout both pregnancies.
How to ensure you get the right nutrition
It is recommended in pregnancy for all mothers to take folic acid. In a vegan pregnancy, it’s also recommended to take B12 and vitamin D. Half of the women I spoke to did take supplements, but half didn’t, only taking the folic acid.
Angie, who was pregnant twice 33 and 40 years ago, and has raised four vegan children, says she “just ate sensibly, mainly fruit and veg. I’d been vegan for 13 years before I became pregnant and had never been unwell so assumed all was ok”
This was echoed by Lee who has been through two pregnancies; “Didn’t even think about nutrition, I just followed what my body craved and had zero nutritional issues”
Helen, who has been vegan for many years, said: I always try to follow a balanced diet. Supplements are recommended to pregnant people of all persuasions. I took vegan vitamins and iron before, during and after my pregnancy.
All the vegan women I spoke to were very well researched on the subject of vegan nutrition. They were all aware of the need to increase protein intake in pregnancy by 10-20%, and did so with greater attention to eating balanced meals. Not all of them ate protein-rich foods such as tofu, with many preferring natural, pulses, grains and vegetables. One of the women had a pre-existing iron deficiency which was managed through pregnancy, but none of the others developed an iron deficiency.
What kinds of food to eat
All the women I spoke to followed a natural wholefood diet while pregnant and none experienced cravings!
Stews and soups were often mentioned as ‘go to’ meals. Also frequently mentioned were tofu, tempeh, brown rice, aduki beans, fresh organic veg, nuts, miso soup, Marmite, peppermint tea and ginger.
Helen opted for bland but healthy; When I had morning (all day) sickness I ate a lot of baked potatoes, as I didn’t fancy much else. Luckily potatoes have vitamins in the skin, and so I felt they were better than other bland things. I supplemented potatoes with vitamins and iron. I also remember eating dried mangoes, cucumber, and miso at some points, and drinking orange juice. When I recovered from the morning sickness, I ate a lot of everything.
For Holly who was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes in her second trimester, nut butters were a life saver due to their high fat/protein and low carb content.
Danielle developed choleastasis in her second trimester which meant she could only eat low fat foods “so the vegan diet was great for this”.
Tracey who had severe morning sickness treated it with “lots of miso soup, peppermint tea, fennel seeds & crystallised ginger”.
What do the health professionals say?
I was pleasantly surprised that every single one of the women I spoke to remarked on how helpful and understanding their health care team were of their vegan diet. Not one of them, including those with gestational diabetes, was advised to eat animal products.
Says Che; “in my first pregnancy one of my Midwives was vegan herself and brought vegan biscuits to the antenatal classes. Second time, the midwife was very supportive and unfazed by the veganism. If anything, my GP and Midwives said ‘well, you don’t eat any of the stuff you have to avoid anyway so that’s good’”
Emma: “I didn’t tell the midwives that I was vegan because I expected a negative response that I didn’t want to have to deal with at that time. However, in hospital after the birth the team were very supportive in providing me with decent vegan food.”
Two out of the seven women I spoke to however remarked on how terrible the vegan options were whilst they were in hospital!
After all this, I concluded that vegan women are far less likely to have nutritional issues in pregnancy as they are already so focussed on good, balanced nutrition. Vegans are more likely to eat natural whole foods by default, and without exception all the women I spoke to had a very good understanding of their bodies’ needs both before and during pregnancy.
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory
Disclaimer: this is a submitted article which is shared but not in any way endorsed by Bude & Beyond.