Eating vegetarian during pregnancy

Mother and Baby
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Vegetarian pregnancy. Image: Getty
Brought to you by Pregnancy and Birth magazine.

Are you a vegetarian or just can't stomach meat now you're pregnant? Don't worry you can still be healthy.

If you are a vegetarian mum-to-be, you can rest assured that you will not be putting your unborn baby at any risk if you don't eat meat or dairy products during your pregnancy. With a little planning, a wholly plant based diet is healthy, nutritious, balanced and most importantly, safe for you and your baby whilst pregnant. And so is a vegan diet!

Human dietary needs as infants, children and even when pregnant, can be supplied completely through a meatless, plant-based diet. In addition, the health benefits of a vegetarian diet include a reduced risk of many chronic degenerative diseases and conditions such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

'A vegetarian pregnancy is completely safe, provided that mother's eat pulses, legumes and tofu to replace meat,' says dietician Kate di Prima. 'Vegetarians mustn't just cut out meat and not replace it. Replace like for like balance is the key,' says Kate.

There are different types of vegetarians. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat but they do eat animal derived products such as dairy (milk, cheese, cream, ice cream, yoghurt and butter) and eggs. Vegans are strict vegetarians as they do not eat any animal products or animal derived products (no meat, dairy or eggs).

Many pregnant women who may be vegetarian, vegan or just can't look at meat during their first trimester panic that without meat in their diet they and their baby will be lacking in essential nutrients.

There are certain essentials we need in our diet, and these things can be found in many non-animal foods.

Meat alternatives
Vegetarians need to plan their diet to make sure it includes all the essential nutrients they need. The wider the variety of foods you eat, the easier it will be to meet your nutritional requirements. Mum's need protein, folate, minerals (iron, calcium and zinc) and vitamins D and B12.

Protein: legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grain cereals, broad beans, corn, brussel sprouts, soy products and cheese Folate: broccoli, spinach, salad greens, orange juice, chickpeas and nuts

Iron: legumes, tofu, hommus, nuts, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, wholegrains, dried fruit, enriched cereals and breads

Calcium: dairy, tahini, legumes, almonds, brazil nuts, leafy dark green vegetables (especially Asian greens), spinach, figs, sunflower and sesame seeds, oranges, broccoli, fortified cereals and fruits juices, fortified soymilk and some tofu brands

Zinc: nuts, tofu, miso, legumes, wheat germ, wholegrains, brown rice, seeds, mushrooms and dairy

Vitamin D: vitamin D fortified foods such as margarine and sunlight (10 to 20 minutes per day)!

Vitamin B12: enriched soy milk and soy products, dairy and eggs

Kate says that there are some essentials that pregnant mums must have every day. 'These include three serves of calcium rich foods, two serves of iron rich proteins such as hommus, tofu or refried beans and one serve of fortified cereal,' she says.

'A multivitamin supplement is a also essential to gain adequate vitamins and minerals, particularly B12, folate and calcium,' says Kate. GPs recommend that all pregnant women take a folate supplement.

Vego babies
With careful planning, your vegetarian baby can get all the nutrients necessary to grow up healthy and strong. Kate says that vegetarian mum's should ideally breast feed up to six months. 'Vegan mother's should be encouraged to breastfeed until their baby is 12 months,' she says.

At six to nine months, rice cereals with ingredients such as pumpkin and potatoes can be introduced to your babies diet, as well as hommus, refried beans and tofu. From the age of 12 months, toddlers will need extra iron and protein. To meet the iron needs of toddlers and children over 12 months, feed them foods such as raisins, almonds, dried apricots, blackstrap molasses and fortified grain cereals. Formula-fed babies can be fed a soy-based formula fortified with iron. To cater for their growing energy needs, Kate also says that good oils can be mixed into foods, such as olive oil. Seeds and avocado are also a good source of much needed calories. 'Nuts and nut butters are also great for energy, but nuts shouldn't be consumed before the age of two years and peanut butter only after 12 months,' she says.

For more great stories on pregnancy and motherhood go to Pregnancy and Birth magazine.

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