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Veganuary: Is It Safe To Be Vegan Whilst Pregnant?

Veganuary: Is It Safe To Be Vegan Whilst Pregnant?

There’s no denying that veganism has become increasingly popular in recent years. A survey by The Vegan Society revealed that, in 2016, there were over half a million vegans in Britain – that’s around three and a half times as many as there were in 2006. You may be vegan already, or you might be thinking about going vegan during your pregnancy, but it’s vital to know all the facts before trying for a baby.

Is It Safe To Eat A Vegan Diet During Pregnancy?

Yes, as long as you ensure that you’re getting all the right nutrients in the right quantities and your doctor has checked that you are healthy enough to pursue a vegan diet during this time.

If you’re pregnant, you’ve probably heard that you should eat a varied and balanced diet to ensure that you are able grow a healthy baby. So where does veganism fit into that? A vegan diet cuts out meat, slaughter by-products and animal by-products, many of which are rich in iron, calcium and vitamin B12, so you’ll need to make up whatever you lose from cutting these out. However, as a pregnant woman, you need to consume more than the average person’s daily requirement for these nutrients in order to nourish your growing baby.

Healthline recommends consuming an additional 1200 milligrams of calcium, 600-800 micrograms of vitamin B12 and 27 milligrams of iron if you’re pregnant.

Which Foods Should You Eat Whilst Vegan And Pregnant?

As we mentioned above, it’s important to consume enough iron, calcium and vitamin B12 whilst pregnant on a vegan diet. Foods rich in these nutrients include:

Iron

  • Pulses
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Dried fruit

Calcium

  • Fortified soya, rice, nut and oat drinks
  • Sesame seeds
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Pulses
  • Dried fruit
  • Calcium-set tofu

Vitamin B12

  • Yeast extract (Marmite is a great example)
  • Fortified soya drinks
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

What Are The Risks Involved?

If the recommended guidelines of the above nutrients are not met, you could put yourself at an increased risk of anaemia, brittle bones and even heart disease.

There is also the possibility of affecting the development of your unborn baby – and this goes for both vegans and non-vegans. Nutrition plays a huge part in the development of a baby, and according to The Urban Child Institute, shortages in the right nutrients can impair cognitive and motor development and hinder the production of synapses.

Otherwise, as long as you are in good health, you are consuming the correct nutrients, and you have received the go-ahead from your doctor, you should be safe to undertake a vegan diet whilst pregnant.

I’m Thinking About Becoming Vegan – How Long Should I Wait For My Body To Adjust Before Getting Pregnant?

That all depends on your health and diet prior to becoming vegan. You should consult your doctor before cutting out any foods to ensure that you are healthy enough to pursue a vegan diet.

The famous plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz asserted that it takes a minimum of 21 days for something to become a habit; however, a recent study by University College London’s Phillippa Lalley found that habits are formed after 66 days, on average. If it still feels unnatural to be on a vegan diet after this amount of time, it’s likely that your body has not yet adjusted and therefore it may not be wise to try for a baby.

Is Veganism More Expensive?

Some vegan foods are among the most affordable on the planet. Think about how cheap rice, beans and legumes are – not to mention fruits and vegetables. For the average price of a single steak, you could easily achieve a breakfast, lunch and dinner of fresh vegan produce.

However, when you hear people say that a vegan diet is expensive, that could be because they’re thinking of the locally sourced, organic variety that many vegans opt into. This type of food is often more expensive due to limited supply in comparison to demand, greater labour inputs per unit of output, and the cost of segregating organic and non-organic foods post-harvest.

Whether veganism is more expensive is a subjective debate. It’s really up to you to decide just how vegan you want to be!

Are There Any Foods Which You Should Avoid Whilst Vegan And Pregnant?

There are a list of foods which you should avoid if you are pregnant; however, the great thing is that none of them (bar one) are vegan! This is a huge weight off your already over-stressed back, as you can continue your vegan diet without having to worry too much about what could possibly harm you or your baby.

For clarity’s sake, here is a list of foods which you should avoid if pregnant:

  • Soft cheese
  • Unpasteurised milk
  • Cold cured or smoked meats
  • Raw eggs
  • Paté
  • Fish with a high mercury content
  • Shellfish
  • Unwashed vegetables (this is the only vegan item on this list!)

Is It Safe To Bring A Baby Up On A Vegan Diet?

There are many different opinions about raising a child to eat a vegan diet. Just one search on Google will display a list of news stories about malnourished children and their links with veganism. However, The Vegan Society states that ‘well-planned vegan diets can meet the nutritional needs of every family member. You can give your child a great start in life by introducing them to a wide variety of plant foods.’

Remember, a child can experience health issues even on a non-vegan diet if they are not receiving the correct nutrients – after all, meat and dairy are not the only food groups we need in our diets. Vegetables are essential. However, it must also be noted that a vegan diet for babies and a vegan diet for children and adults differs; as babies are growing rapidly, they require a higher amount of calories per kilogram in weight, as well as a higher level of macronutrients and vitamins. So choosing the right foods for their diet should be a carefully thought out process, which may require specialist advice.

If your baby has started eating solids (usually around six months old), some excellent foods to begin with are beans, chickpeas, lentils and tofu for iron; unsweetened fortified soya milk and plain fortified soya yoghurt for vitamin B12; and round chia seeds, ground linseed, ground hemp seeds or ground walnuts for omega-3 fat. As for any baby, breastfeeding is recommended exclusively for the first six months, and then as part of a varied diet for the next two years.

Is Breast Milk Considered Vegan?

Some vegan mothers may be worried that breast milk is not vegan, as it comes from humans (and we are animals!). However, one of the main principles in veganism is consent – in other words, people who follow veganism do not consume animal products because animals cannot physically consent to their bodies being used for human consumption. As it is your choice to breastfeed your baby, you are therefore able to give your consent. So, from a consent perspective, breast milk is vegan!

If you have been taking vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements as part of your vegan diet, continue taking it while you are breastfeeding.

Related article: Vitamin A And Pregnancy 

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