IS IT HEALTHY TO BE VEGAN DURING PREGNANCY?
Do you want to get to the bottom of the misconceptions? I found this interesting and refreshing – Award winning vegan restaurant owner Louise Palmer-Masterton addresses the common questions and misconceptions about veganism during pregnancy.
Since becoming vegan, I have been thinking about what could be affected, if anything. One topic in particular that has a lot of controversy, is being vegan during pregnancy. There are so many opinions surrounding protein and vitamin levels of vegans in general, that to be honest, the thought of looking into vegan pregnancies scared me. I thought there would be a lot of loud opinions hiding the information, so opening the door to this research was something I was going to put off, until I reached the point where it became something I was going to go through.
Fortunately, Louise has written the following article sharing her experience, along with other women’s – from how they felt, to their nutrient levels, to health professionals thoughts and what their staple foods were. It is not only interesting, but reassuring. Knowing the experiences from other women and being written by Louise, who really knows veganism, it spreads light and positivity on the subject.
BY LOUISE PALMER MASTERTON, STEM & GLORY
Having experienced first-hand advice from family and so-called ‘experts’ on the subject of veganism, I found that 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’re dealing with an unborn child. The idea that we’re omnivorous and therefore a vegan diet cannot be safe in pregnancy is a fairly widely held view.
Personally, my experience with being vegan during pregnancy is that it was completely normal. I had no morning sickness, no cravings, no complications, no deficiencies and delivered both my children safely at home. For both pregnancies, I did take a pregnancy multivitamin, and the recommended folic acid. I said to myself when I first became pregnant that if I craved something in pregnancy, then I would eat it. Fortunately, I didn’t have any cravings.
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.
I spoke to seven women who had been vegan through pregnancy (sometimes multiple pregnancies), and here is what they told me:
DO EXPECTANT VEGAN MUMS FEEL HEALTHY?
None of the women I spoke to had any issues with energy levels (outside of complications which I will go into later) and without exception all the women felt healthy during pregnancy.
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.
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!”
GETTING THE RIGHT NUTRITION
During pregnancy, it’s recommended for all mothers to take folic acid. With regard to vegan pregnancy it’s also recommended to take B12 and vitamin D. Half of the women I spoke to did take supplements, but half did not, only taking the recommended folic acid.
Emma, who had been vegan for five years and continued to be vegan throughout her pregnancy said: “My iron levels were tested as standard and I was told the results were fantastic (without supplementation). I only supplemented folic acid, an algal oil omega 3, spirulina (for B12) and a probiotic, all of which would be useful to supplement in any pregnancy, whatever the diet. The omega 3 was a ‘top up’ since I was already consuming foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds etc. Throughout my pregnancy I ensured I was receiving the correct nutrition in the same way anybody would, I consumed a healthy diet. I don’t like the way people like to make out that vegans are thinking at every meal about where they are going to get certain nutrients from, it’s nonsense, no one does that.”
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; “I just followed what my body craved and had zero nutritional issues”
All the 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 like 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 developed an iron deficiency. One of the women not taking supplements increased her iron levels during pregnancy.
WHAT ARE GOOD STAPLES?
All the women I spoke to followed a wholefood natural diet during pregnancy. None experienced cravings. Two of the seven experienced severe morning sickness and lived on toast for the first trimester. Two were diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the second trimester which they managed successfully on a wholefood vegan diet.
Soups and stews were frequently mentioned as ‘go to’ meals. Often mentioned were Marmite, tofu, tempeh, brown rice, aduki beans, lots of fresh organic veg, nuts, miso soup, peppermint tea and ginger.
Tracey who had severe morning sickness treated it with “lots of miso soup, peppermint tea, fennel seeds & crystallised ginger”.
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 cholestasis in her second trimester which meant she could only eat low fat foods “so the vegan diet was great for this”.
Atma was vegetarian when she became pregnant, but took the decision to go vegan. “Now I was carrying my own child it brought the ethics of the dairy trade to the forefront of my mind, I was unable to ignore it any more.” Atma had previously studied macrobiotics, and when diagnosed with gestational diabetes in her second trimester was able to control the diabetes by applying macrobiotic principles. Not only did her bloods stabilise, but she felt happier, healthier and more clear headed than ever before.
ANY NUTRITIONAL PROBLEMS WITH YOUR PREGNANCY?
Neither myself nor any of the women I spoke to reported any nutritional issues during their pregnancies. Gestational diabetes affects just under 10% of the pregnant population and is not thought to be attributed to a vegan diet. Both the women I spoke to that developed gestational diabetes felt that the vegan diet helped them to manage the condition, aside from not being able to eat fruit.
DOES A LACK OF INFORMATION PUT WOMEN OFF A VEGAN PREGNANCY?
I’ve always found information on vegan pregnancy and vegan nutrition to be widely available but, as with anything, we need to discover for ourselves what’s right, and not rely on the views of others. There is a lot of misinformation out there about nutrition generally, not just within the plant-based space. Many vegans, like me, are very well researched on the subject of vegan nutrition. If that doesn’t sound like you, I would recommend reading up on this during your pregnancy. It’s also a great time to develop a love of cooking, as home cooked fresh food is by far the best diet to follow during pregnancy.
One of the main issues with being vegan in pregnancy is other people’s attitudes towards it. Particularly other parents! I think that impacts a woman’s decision more than anything. For committed vegans, like me, there would be no way of turning me, and it’s just a question of following a healthy diet, with a few tweaks for pregnancy.
WHAT DO HEALTH PROFESSIONALS THINK OF VEGAN PREGNANCY?
Every single one of the women I spoke to remarked on how helpful and understanding their health care team were of their vegan diet, which did surprise me. Not one of them, including those with gestational diabetes, was advised to eat animal products.
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.”
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 unphased 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’”
Helen’s experience was also positive: “Two health professionals guessed I was vegan and were highly supportive. My first midwife appointment went something like this: ‘Have you read the list of things you need to stop?’ ‘Yes. I don’t smoke or drink or eat those things anyway.’ ‘Are you a vegan then?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Excellent, I won’t need to persuade you to eat more fruit and vegetables.’ The second was a health visitor at my child’s one-year review. The conversation went something like this: ‘What is your child’s favourite food?’ ‘Tofu.’ ‘Are you a vegan then?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Please tell me which cheese to buy. What is the best milk? Where do you eat out?’”
So, if you are vegan or vegetarian, don’t let the myth that we need animal products put you off sticking to your plant-based diet. Eating a healthy, vegan diet during your pregnancy can be good for you and your baby – and as there aren’t any vegan foods that are on the ‘no go’ list during pregnancy, you won’t have to give anything up either.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100% made on site. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge. www.stemandglory.uk