Pregnancy and vegetarian—do they go together? Breastfeeding and vegetarianism—is that okay? Absolutely! It is just a matter of knowing where in the vegetarian food the nutrition is.
It is always important to know this, but extra important for pregnant or breastfeeding women because the baby gets its nutrition from you.
Important on the Vegan Menu
To ensure you get everything you and your baby needs, it is crucial that you replace food from the animal kingdom with nutritious food available from the plant kingdom. You may also need some supplements or fortified products.
To get all the nutrition you need, the following food needs to be on the menu, preferably every day:
- Beans, lentils or other legumes in any form, such as chickpeas, hummus, falafel, soy sausage or tofu. Legumes contain essential nutrients, such as iron, zinc, fiber and protein.
- Whole grain varieties of bread, cereals and pasta, or oatmeal. Whole grains contain more iron and folate/folic acid than “white” flour.
Iron is needed for blood formation, both for the mother and for the fetus. Many pregnant women need supplements during pregnancy, and therefore the blood value at the maternity care center is monitored.
For those who are breastfeeding, it is vital to replenish iron stores again by eating iron-rich foods.
- Half to a pint of milk, yogurt or equivalent vego alternative a day. Choose vego options enriched with vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin and B12. Read the packaging to be sure.
Note: Organic vegan drinks are only enriched with vitamin D. Anyone who chooses organic varieties or makes their own drinks needs to get B12, vitamin D and calcium from other foods, such as cheese or supplements.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Vitamin D and calcium are needed mainly for the skeleton and teeth. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for pregnant and breastfeeding women is 10 micrograms. Anyone who does not eat fish or vitamin D-enriched products needs to take 10 micrograms of vitamin D supplement a day instead.
Anyone who does not eat fish, vitamin D-fortified foods or is unexposed to sunlight is recommended 20 micrograms of vitamin D supplementation per day.
The recommended daily intake of calcium for both pregnant and breastfeeding women is 900 milligrams. Foods other than dairy products and fortified vegetable beverages also contain calcium, such as cabbage, oranges, sesame seeds, and green leafy vegetables. This means that you do not have to cover your entire need with milk or a fortified vegetable drink, half a pint to a pint a day is enough.
- Rapeseed oil and cooking fats made from rapeseed oil – contribute omega-3 fats that are only found in a few foods from the plant kingdom.
- If you can eat fatty fish when you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is good, because
Ideally, those who do not normally eat fish should consider doing so during pregnancy and breastfeeding to cover the need for the special omega-3 fat DHA.
DHA is needed for the development of the baby’s vision and brain. Fish also contains many other essential nutrients, such as vitamin D, iodine and selenium. Fatty fish are, for example, farmed salmon, pickled herring or mackerel.
For pregnant and breastfeeding women who do not eat fish, supplementation with algal oil with 200 milligrams of DHA per day may be an option. Some vegetarian foods contain the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid, which, to some extent, can be converted to DHA in the body.
However, it may not fully compensate for the need for DHA during pregnancy and lactation. Alpha-linolenic acid is found in rapeseed oil and rapeseed oil-based cooking fats, flaxseed oil and walnuts. Eggs also contribute omega-3 fats.
- Vegetables and root vegetables – contributes fiber and nutrition, including vitamin C, which facilitates the absorption of iron and zinc in vegetarian food.
- Fruit or berries – also contribute fiber and nutrition, including vitamin C.
- If you exclude all foods from the animal kingdom, you must eat foods that are fortified with B12, such as fortified vegan drinks, and take B12 supplements. B12 is not found at all in foods from the plant kingdom.
The advice to use iodized salt applies to everyone, but it is extra important for those who are vegetarian and pregnant or breastfeeding. This is partly because there is no iodine in many foods from the plant kingdom and partly because pregnancy and breastfeeding are periods when the need for iodine is greater than normal.
But do not add extra salt – no large amounts are needed. 3-4 grams of iodinated salt corresponds to the recommended daily intake of iodine. Many mineral, herbal and flake salts are not iodine enriched. Read the packaging to make sure the salt you are using is iodinated.
Dairy products and fish also contribute iodine, for those who eat them. On the other hand, iodized salt is rarely used in ready-made food and semi-finished products.
B12 Important for Vegans
Vitamin B12 is needed to form blood cells and for the normal development of the child’s nervous system. Therefore, B12 is especially important during pregnancy and lactation. The content of vitamin B12 in breast milk depends on the mother’s B12 levels.
The recommended daily intake for pregnant women is 2 micrograms per day, and for breastfeeding, 2.6 micrograms.
Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products but is entirely absent in foods from the plant kingdom. Therefore, the vegan must eat fortified products or take supplements with B12.
Some products are enriched with B12, for example, fortified vegan drinks. However, the amount of B12 varies in different products—read the packaging. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians also need to think about getting enough B12.
Do You Exclude Many Foods?
Tell your midwife or nurse if you are vegan. A dietitian may need to review your nutritional intake and give advice that is right for you. This is especially true if you are also allergic to any food or for other reasons exclude more foods than those that come from the animal kingdom.