While you’re pregnant, it is important to follow a healthy diet and choose a variety of foods that will provide you with all the nutrients you and your baby need. This is certainly possible if you’re a vegetarian, but you’ll have to be mindful of the foods you eat because vegetarians are at greater risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Depending on the type of vegetarian meal plan you follow, you may need to adjust your eating habits.
- Vitamin B 12—Vitamin B 12 is found in animal products including fish and shellfish, eggs, and dairy products. If you are a vegan, you may be advised by your physician to take a supplement containing the synthetic form of vitamin B 12. Getting enough vitamin B 12 will help prevent anemia.
- Iron—While you’re pregnant, you need more iron than normal to assist in the development of the fetus and placenta and to help your body produce enough blood. Vegetarians often have even greater iron needs because iron from plant sources isn’t absorbed as easily as iron from meat sources. Plant-based iron sources include whole and enriched grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, dried fruit, and blackstrap molasses. If necessary, iron supplementation may be prescribed by your physician.
- Calcium—Getting enough calcium is essential to building strong teeth and bones. If you do not consume enough calcium to sustain the needs of your developing baby, your body will start to take calcium from your bones, which increases your risk of osteoporosis later in life. Try to eat or drink at least four servings of calcium-rich foods a day to help ensure that you’re getting 1,300 mg of calcium in your daily diet. Sources of calcium include dairy products, seafood, leafy green vegetables, dried beans or peas, and tofu.
- Vitamin D—Vitamin D will help your body use calcium. Adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to the sun and in fortified milk, eggs, and fish. However, if you do not eat calcium-rich foods, it is recommended that you receive 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight three times per week or take a supplement.
- Protein—Protein aides in muscle growth and repair, but protein is also essential for your baby’s brain development. If you do not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy products, you will require other sources of protein in your daily diet. Nuts, peanut butter, legumes, quinoa, tofu, or soy products are also good sources of protein.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2019
- Following a nutritious diet during pregnancy is even more important if you are a vegetarian.
- Vegetarians may be at risk for vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and protein deficiencies.
- You need more iron in pregnancy to assist in the development of the fetus and placenta and to maintain increased maternal blood volume.
- Nuts, peanut butter, legumes, quinoa, tofu or soy products are also good sources of protein.
Thanks for the encouragement for vegetarian mothers! I can say from experience that I is a difficult to be a mother and a vegetarian. The diet part is easy, it is the constant nagging from other people that drives you crazy! Maybe it is because I live in the south, but almost everyone I know felt that I was hurting my child by not eating meat during my pregnancy, and not feeding my child meat. The negativity from others has finally stopped now the my healthy boy is 2. He was 9lbs. 1 oz. at birth, and has consistently stayed in the 85-90th % for height and weight. He rarely gets sick, has tons of energy, and he loves to eat. The only food my son does not like is potatoes. He eats a huge variety of fruits and veggies, as well as healthy grains, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. I am proud of the way my son eats, and I hope all of you other vegetarian moms out there find encouragement from this article as I did!
There are two books I would recommend to veggie moms. The first is a great resource during pregnancy, and the second is one of my very favorite cookbooks. I would recommend it for any mother, not just vegetarians. It is full of easy and nutritious recipes that are great for pregnant women and their families. It even has recipes categorized by specific nutrient needs during each trimester of your pregnancy.
Your Vegetarian Pregnancy: A Month-by-Month Guide to Health and Nutrition by Holly Roberts
The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook: Whole Foods To Nourish Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women – And Their Families by Cathe Olson