Dietary concerns are a natural part of pregnancy. It’s not uncommon for women to have specific dietary preferences before pregnancy and have them interrupted by the pregnancy. But it’s not impossible to maintain a diet, close to your pre-pregnancy diet. Specifically, many women ask, “Can I still be a vegetarian during pregnancy?” The short answer is yes, but an expecting mother must pay attention to specific nutrients that may be lacking in her diet due to be a vegetarian.
Can a Pregnant Woman Deliver a Healthy Baby If She Is a Vegetarian?
There are many good reasons to be a vegetarian. Vegetarians have lower levels of the bad cholesterol linked to heart disease and tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI). Therefore they less likely to be overweight and develop diabetes. Vegetarians also have a lower incidence of cancer and their dietary habits result in less pollution and carbon dioxide production, good things for our planet.
Vegetarians also have a higher intake of dietary magnesium which is believed to be very beneficial during pregnancy. Magnesium helps control blood pressure. A diet high in magnesium may reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia or toxemia of pregnancy, a pregnancy complication affecting 6% of woman. Toxemia can result in a preterm delivery so anything that reduces it is beneficial.
What Are The Dietary Risks With Being A Vegetarian During Pregnancy?
Vegetarians are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since B12 is present only in meat. Surprisingly, many vegetarians either do not know this or assume they are somehow still getting it. A recent study showed 62% of pregnant vegetarians were vitamin B12 deficient. Low levels of B12 can seriously hinder nervous system growth in your unborn baby. This can result in delays in achieving motor skill milestones like sitting up and rolling over, it can contribute to reduced intellectual capacity and physical growth after delivery. The recommended RDA for B12 is 2.6 micrograms a day during pregnancy. This amount is probably in your prenatal, but since so many pregnant vegetarians are low they may need more than the RDA. Vitamin B12 is water soluble and if you take 10 micrograms you will eliminate any excess in your urine. This is certainly a case where a little too much is probably better than too little.
Can Pregnant Vegetarians Get Enough DHA Needed For Baby’s Brain Growth?
Another nutrient vegetarians may lack during pregnancy is DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid essential for brain growth. There are four essential fatty acids. Think of them as vitamins. Without them, fetal and childhood development is impaired. They are ARA, ALA, EPA, and DHA. These three letter abbreviations all stand for long chemical names that are not important for this discussion. ARA is in corn and usually widely available to vegetarians. ALA is in many grains and is not a problem either. ALA gets converted into EPA and from EPA we get DHA. However animals make the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA much better than humans so we tend to get EPA and DHA from meat, specifically seafood.
Strict vegetarians may be lacking in DHA and will need to supplement during pregnancy to support baby’s rapid brain growth. Because DHA is so critical, most prenatal vitamins have it in their formulation. If your prenatal vitamin does not contain it, take 200 mg a day during your second trimester and 400 mg a day during your third. Mothers who breast feed also need to take it so there are appropriate levels in their breast milk needed for the newborn’s nervous system.
Is Calcium Deficiency a Possibility During Pregnancy On a Vegetarian Diet?
The last nutrient that pregnant vegetarians may need to supplement is calcium because it is so plentiful in dairy foods. Fortunately, calcium is also found in high amounts in broccoli, spinach and tofu so if you eat these foods regularly calcium should not be an issue. However, if those foods are not appealing and you consume no dairy, consider taking a calcium supplement while pregnant for your baby’s bone growth. Also make sure you take adequate vitamin D which helps the body absorb the calcium you eat. We recommend 2000 units a day of Vitamin D while pregnant.
A woman’s diet is important during her pregnancy. But we all have different food preferences. It’s ok to eat a diet entirely of vegetables, but just be sure to supplement your diet with the proper vitamins to ensure your growing baby has all the essential nutrients he/she needs.
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