Perhaps you or someone you know wants to purse a plant based pregnancy.
If you said “me,” don’t skip over this post!
What you are about to read is an real and heart felt account of my plant based pregnancy.
As a dietitian, I’ll also go over important things about nutrition to keep on the radar.
So whether you are on a vegan, vegetarian diet, or just want to focus on plant based foods during pregnancy, this post is for you. Lets dive in!
Disclaimer: This article is not providing personal medical or dietary advice. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your health, before adding a supplement, or making major dietary changes, etc. The author discusses her own personal experience. Talk to your doctor about what is best for your unique situation. See our Disclaimers for more details.
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This post was originally published on 6/8/22. The updated date is listed above.
Vegan Pregnancy Supplements
First things first, lets talk about supplements!
I started taking a vegan prenatal supplement even before my husband and I started trying for a our second child (FYI: talk to your doctor if this is appropriate for you or not).
As a vegan, finding a vegan prenatal supplement was important to me. I did a lot of searching for commonly available brands (in the US, where I live), and went with Mama Bird AM/PM From Best Nest Wellness (affiliate link*).
What I found different about this prenatal as opposed to several other popular vegan options was:
- This one had higher amounts of choline – a very important nutrient for fetal brain development. I personally had a hard time getting enough choline with all the nausea I had, so this was important for me!
- I appreciate that they use third party testing, and even disintegration tests! Learn more about their standards here.
- Transparency: Check out their lab results here.
I also had other questions (yes, I emailed supplement companies when I was searching for a prenatal 🙂 ), and in my experience, they responded quite well.
Talk to your doctor about this prenatal if you are interested!
You can find it here Mama Bird AM/PM from Best Nest Wellness (affiliate link*)
Other supplements I took included: a vegan DHA/EPA supplement, some extra vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, and probiotics.
I used the magnesium supplement for both constipation, and to help meet my needs (again, I must repeat that this is what I did and you really should talk with your doctor about what is best for you)
The extra magnesium may have helped my nagging constipation (along with prunes, adequate fiber, and water)!
Here’s the vegan friendly ones I used (affiliate link*):
Eventually I got tired of the powder and switched to gummies! These are very tasty in my opinion. (affiliate link*):
Important Nutrients for Pregnant Women on Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
Before we dive into my story, lets discus a very important topic, nutrition for pregnant vegan and vegetarian women.
Ideally, you would:
- Meet with a doctor, and Registered Dietitian who is well versed in vegan or vegetarian nutrition nutrition,
- get certain nutrient levels checked,
- and supplement as appropriate per your doctors guidance.
It’s not just about increasing calories!
Pregnant women cutting out all or most animal products should also know what nutrients may be harder to consume enough of without dairy, meat, fish, or eggs.
Lets go over some of those next!
As an FYI: This is not a comprehensive list and does not cover every single nutrient. Talk to your doctor about a diet/supplement routine that is appropriate for you to promote a healthy pregnancy. This is important no matter what plant rich diet you follow.
If you are a vegan, you probably already know how important vitamin B12 is. After all, it’s only found in animal products and vitamin B12 fortified foods/supplements!
Likewise, this essential nutrient is also important for the developing baby. In fact, not getting enough could cause neurological damage and other adverse outcomes in infants(1).
And vegans are not the only ones who should pay attention to vitamin B12. Deficiency can even occur in vegetarian and omnivores eating patterns as well(2)!
What’s more? Your prenatal might not contain enough for a variety of reasons. Reasons could include reduced absorption, current deficiency, not enough vitamin B12 in a single pill, etc.
Veganhealth.org has an in depth resource about vitamin B12 you can check out here. Don’t forget to discuss your supplements with your doctor. He/she can also order a lab tests.
Iodine needs increase in pregnancy (220 micrograms for pregnant persons per the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)(3). This helps support healthy brain development of the baby. Physical and thyroid problems (to name a few) could occur if requirement are not met.
Some, but not all prenatal supplements contain iodine (and even if they do, they might not cover the RDA).
Unfortunately, vegan food sources high in iodine are few (with the most notable being iodized salt and certain sea vegetables), and have their own limitations (read all about it in our article here).
Dairy and seafood are good sources of iodine, but if you are plant based, you might not consume a lot from those categories.
So it’s especially important to talk to your doctor about what you can do to ensure you are meeting your iodine needs! He/she may suggest lab tests, extra supplementation, other food sources etc.
Yes, it is possible to get an adequate amount of iron on a plant based or vegan diet, however, it’s important to note that the iron from plant based sources (non heme iron) is less absorbable than iron from meat (heme iron).
This is one more reason why we stress it is so important to let your doctor know the type of plant based diets you are following!
Iron is especially important in pregnancy, a time when blood volume expansion occurs(4). While many parental supplements contain iron, here are some other strategies to promote iron absorption as a vegan:
- Know the sources of iron on a plant based diet. They include: beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy (such as tofu, edamame, etc), iron fortified foods, etc.
- Consume vitamin C rich foods with your vegan source of iron. Some research suggests this may help improve iron absorption(5).
- If you are consuming plant based milks fortified with large amounts of calcium, consume it separately from your prenatal if it contains iron. Some research suggests calcium supplements may interfere with iron absorption when taken together(6).
Choline is very important for the fetal brain development. Yet, one study suggests that a diverse sample of pregnant US based women are not meeting the Adequate Intake (AI) for pregnancy(7).
Animal based products – like meat and eggs are often listed as the highest sources. Still, soy based foods, and certain other plant based sources, like quinoa also contain a decent amount of choline.
Here’s an example for comparison: 100 grams of frozen prepared edamame contains about 56 milligrams (mg) of choline, while 100 grams of cooked ground beef (85% lean meat) contains about 82 mg of choline.
If you are a vegetarian who consumes eggs, know that eggs do contain a significant amount of choline. One large (50 gram) serving of hard boiled egg contains about 147 mg of choline.
So, depending on what your eating pattern looks like, it may still be difficult to meet your choline needs (AI for choline is a whopping 450 mg/day of choline for pregnant women). So talk to your doctor about whether or not a prenatal with choline added or a separate supplement is right for you.
I know. You are probably tired of others asking where protein comes from with a plant based pregnancy! So many of us think of meat, but plant based sources, like legumes and soy contain a decent amount!
If you are a vegetarian who consumes dairy, some dairy sources higher in protein include greek yogurt and cottage cheese (be aware that the later is often high in sodium)!
Be sure to speak with your doctor about how much protein is appropriate for you, as needs may vary depending on any conditions you have, your activity, etc.
And if you are struggling with trying to fit in protein on a fully plant based diet (I’ve been there, hello 1st trimester nausea 😉 ) check out vegan Dietitian Maya Bach’s article here!
You are probably aware that dairy products tend to contain a good amount of calcium. But calcium is not exclusive to dairy products!
On the contrary, there are several vegan options for calcium including (FYI: not a comprehensive list):
- Calcium fortified plant based “milks”
- Calcium set tofu
- Green vegetables that are low in oxalates (such as broccoli, and kale)
Of note, some of these calcium sources are less bioavailable than others. Check out the Academy’s Position Paper on Vegetarian diets to learn more.
With careful planning, it is possible to meet the RDA for calcium – 1000 mg of calcium per day for pregnant mama’s!
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
Do you automatically think of fish when you hear about these omega 3 fatty acids? And you would be right! Certain types of fish can provide these fats that are important for babies brain development.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a type of essential omega 3 fatty acids found in plant based sources can be converted to EPA and than DHA, but this conversion process is thought of to be poor(8).
So if you are vegan or vegetarian and don’t eat fish, make sure you talk to your doctor about how you can meet your needs during pregnancy. He/she might recommend an algae based vegan DHA/EPA supplement.
It certainly is possible to meet the zinc RDA on a vegan or vegetarian diet. However, keep this in mind: some sources suggest those following vegetarian diets may sometimes need up to 50% more zinc because of some compounds found in plant foods that might inhibit absorption (9).
Check your prenatal vitamin, talk to your doctor and know your zinc rich sources. You can learn more about zinc rich plant foods and strategies that may help increase absorption in our article here.
Some studies suggest vegetarian pregnant women are at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency(9).
With the exception of vitamin D fortified foods, UV ray treated mushrooms, you will likely be hard pressed to find vitamin D on a vegetarian or vegan diets. Even so, it may be hard to meet your needs.
Supplements are available though! And no, they are not all derived from sheep’s wool (something a a vegan might avoid)! So talk to your doctor about supplementing as appropriate.
A Note About Folate vs Folic Acid
Technically “vitamin B9,” folate is the type found naturally in food, such certain veggies- like leafy greens.
The other type of vitamin B9 is folic acid the man-made version added to fortified foods and sometimes supplements as well.
You may have heard that folic acid is very important for many reasons, including reducing the risk of neural tube defects and possibly even low birth weight(10).
Its important to talk to your doctor about which form is best for you. Some women have a gene that may make conversion of (in particular the synthetic form) more difficult (11). You can read more about this here.
Wow! That was a lot of nutrients to cover!
Want to learn more? Nourish The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide For Families is a awesome resource for plant based mama’s to be or parents wanting to raise their kids on a plant rich diet patterns.
It goes in into more details about nutrients to keep in mind during pregnancy.
Check it out here (affiliate link*)-as a reminder, this means that if you click on the link and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you:
Now I’ll get to my plant based pregnancy story! I’ve broken it down by trimester to keep it more organized.
The First Trimester
I would like to tell you that I was that glowing, fit, and feeling FINE pregnant lady throughout the entire thing, but… spoiler alert! It went a bit differently.
In fact, my second pregnancy was a 180 flip from my first, relatively easy one.
The first month of TTC (trying to conceive) was met with disappointment (FYI: i realize most couples do not conceive the first month… I had unrealistic expectations as it happened right away with my first!).
Yet, in the second month of trying, we were overjoyed to see the digital pregnancy test display: “Pregnant.”
We told our parents right away! I personally have no qualms about letting family and friends know because if something were to happen, I would appreciate support from them. However, this is different for everyone! You. do. you.
And then, an unexpected twist happened. I started bleeding around 7 weeks – more than the spotting I had with my first child.
Fortunately, we were ok and the bleeding did stop! An ultrasound showed it was a very small sub chronic hematoma. I was instructed to take it easy physically (including no running until potentially the other 20 week ultrasound) .
First Trimester Symptoms
Again, this plant based pregnancy was way different than my first one!
For my first, I had virtually no nausea. I would describe it as just having a stronger preference for certain foods.
Not this one. Nope, not even close!
While I never threw up, I had strong aversions to certain foods, and even smells. My diet centered around white products, such as chips, and white bread. Thankfully, I was able to keep my supplements down!
I tried strategies to combat my nausea, such as using using ginger (I tried ginger ale and ginger candy), and nothing seemed to really help.
While I did eat, I also lost some weight (albeit, not enough for my healthcare providers to be concerned!). Plus, I gained it back in no time during my second trimester.
My second annoying symptom was the dreaded first trimester fatigue.
It was so bad that I started taking naps- even though I got a fair amount of sleep during the night!
The Second Trimester
It wasn’t until well into my second trimester that I started feeling less nauseous and adding in more healthy foods (before, I didn’t even want to look at foods such as green leafy vegetables)!
My fatigue improved greatly until I came up with a new problem towards the end of my second trimester- trouble getting comfortable while sleeping!
This unfortunately lasted till the end of my pregnancy. But I finally found something that helped (a little bit)! More on this in the third trimester section.
Is it Gestational Diabetes?
I took a Glucose Tolerance Test during this trimester. It involved me drinking a sugary liquid. Then, one hour after the drink, labs were drawn to measure the rise in blood sugar.
This is test to help determine the risk of gestational diabetes in my situation. Little did I know that they accidently gave me double the dose I was suppose to receive! (100 grams of sugar instead of the 50 grams I should have received).
When my numbers came back higher, I was thinking, maybe that’s why my stomach is so big, but in disbelief- could I really have gestational diabetes?
Then I decided to look at the empty bottle that I still had and breathed a sigh of relief – they had given me the incorrect dose!
My providers reordered the test – this time with the correct dose, and I “passed” (as in my blood sugar levels suggested a low risk of gestational diabetes- no further testing needed).
I was very relieved! Gestational diabetes does contain other risk factors to baby such as an increased risk of preterm birth. You can learn more about it here.
The Third Trimester
This picture pretty much summed up how I was feeling at this point!
The lack of sleep from how uncomfortable I was at night really got to me.
My stomach was so much bigger than my first pregnant belly! I was measuring larger than the week of pregnancy I was in a lot – where as I measured behind typically for my first child.
I finally decided to use a support pillow, which was a game changer! Some one I knew just happened to have one for acid reflux, that looked similar to what I was looking for in a pillow:
- Support for both sides
- Doesn’t wrap all the way around
This is the one I used (affiliate link* as a reminder, this means that if you click on the link and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you)):
Although I did elevate my head, I used blankets instead of the wedge.
By about 39 weeks pregnant, I had a total net weight gain of 25 pounds. This is considered the bottom of the recommended weight gain range (carrying one baby) for my pre pregnancy BMI (body mass index), which was in the ” healthy range”.
During this trimester, I also filled out a birth plan. I delivered my first child pain medication free, and hoped to do the same. Some of what was on my birth plan:
- As few dilation checks as medically appropriate
- I will ask for pain intervention if I want it
- If medically appropriate, I would like to push in a position of my choosing
- Delayed cord clamping if infant is healthy enough to do so.
Lastly, I started eating dates regularly in the weeks close to birth. Check out this video by NutritionFacts.org to find out why!
I was just a few days over 40 weeks when I noticed some mucous and fluid leak at around 4 am.
Sure enough, I kept leaking, and started to feel mild tightening every now and then. I called my OB’s office, who instructed me to go to the local hospitals labor and delivery unit for a check of the leaked fluid ( was it just urine or a had my water broke?).
My husband and I packed up like I was not going to be sent home. Sure enough, my water broke, and I was about 4 cm dilatated.
I was feeling so relieved because my I was hoping I could avoid induction (was induced with my first). However, the midwife said that since my water had broken a while ago, the risk of infection does go up with time.
She was amazing, and familiar with my birth plan, so I asked about other options, and decided to try nipple stimulation.
Unfortunately, I did not appear to be making progress with contractions or dilation with trying that for a good amount of time. So I decided to use Pitocin after nipple stimulation, using the exercise ball, and trying various movements.
It may have been around 6 pm when we started Pitocin. In the mean time, I was hydrating myself with lots of coconut water (I added my own iodized salt for more electrolytes), and snacked on dates and a Larabar.
At some point I ordered supper, which was half a veggie burger and possibly some fruit (some details we just can’t remember)? 😉
I was so hoping that the lowest dose of Pitocin would get me going. Unfortunately, the next several hours would consist of me walking around while the Pitocin was regularly cranked up!
Around midnight, we used a peanut ball, which seemed to help my contractions get stronger. After using that for a while, I think I had progressed a centimeter or two. And this is about the time when the contractions started coming much stronger and I had to focus on some coping strategies.
Ever hear that labor is like running a marathon? Well, I’ve never run a marathon, but I would consider myself to be a runner -have placed first female in two 5K races, and ran for an hour regularly back in the day!
With my first, I was shocked to find out that coping with the pain (for me) had a huge mental component, much like running a race or long distance. I had always considered myself to not be good with pain until I had her.
Likewise with this labor, I was a bit set back because we were using a different induction method, and wow was it different! The contracts were so strong, and at this point, I was strongly encouraged to stay in my hospital chair because the continuous monitor kept slipping and the nurse had to readjust, etc.
My instincts might have been telling me to get up and move around, which helped me cope with the first. I was able to stand and dance with my husband at one point, but actually decided the chair was the better place.
I had to quickly change gears as movement was difficult with this labor, so I focused on deep breaths during the contractions, affirmations, and (admittingly) clawing at my labor partner (sorry hubby 🙁 ).
Some mindset affirmations on my list:
- This pressure is progress towards baby.
- I have done this before.
- We are making progress.
- I am doing a good job.
- I’d rather not have want to pay the extra for a anesthesia intervention if I can help it (ok, maybe this isn’t an affirmation 😉 )
Eventually, I got to the point where I felt like my body was really wanting push on its own, and finally, the nurse got the midwife, who checked me and encouraged a few more contractions. Then I could push in position of my choosing.
I choose hands and knees and pushed a few times. Baby got stuck (mild shoulder dystocia), and a team had to come in and preform a maneuver to help get her out.
My hand got stuck as the hospital bed was adjusted, and a nurse quickly pulled it out before I got injured. It all happened so fast, but in only 10 minutes of pushing, our baby was out!
Baby was placed on me quickly, and she took to breastfeeding like a champ. At 9 pounds 2 ounces, we may have solved part of mystery as to why I felt so much bigger and had more difficulties being uncomfortable this pregnancy!
Overall, the experience was empowering. While the pain was definitely more intense, I also did not get to the point where I thought I needed pain medication, or an epidural.
I was so lucky to be able to walk very shortly after birth, and not need any stiches at all! But most of all a healthy baby and me was the ultimate win.
Did you enjoy reading about my plant based pregnancy? Learn anything new about vegan pregnancy supplements?
Let me know in the comments below!
And while you’re here, why not explore the blog?
I go over other topics like:
–How I became a Plant Based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
–Dietitian Selected Plant Based Diet Books
–The Ultimate Gift Guide for Vegan Cooks
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