What I’ve Learned From Doctors and Nutritionists About Being Vegan and Pregnant

Less than six weeks to go until baby! The past seven months have flown by. This probably has to do with the fact that I’ve been feeling great: no nausea, swelling, unusual weight gain or other common pregnancy challenges besides a three-week stint of ​fatigue in the first trimester. My energy levels remain ​normal​ and I’ve consistently been able to hit my goal of five work-outs a week. I realize I’ve been lucky.

Post Tight Club work-out with my main four-legged squeeze, Effie, at 5 months pregnant

What has become a bit frustrating are the conversations that ​sometimes ​follow the question, ”How are you feeling?” When I respond, “No complaints,” I receive a wide range of reactions. Surprisingly, a couple of times I’ve been told I should keep my positivity to myself,​ out of respect to the many women who’ve had difficult pregnancies. I get it and ​appreciate this 9-month adventure is a different experience for every woman, but I also feel that yet-to-be-moms need to hear optimistic stories from those who enjoyed the journey, too, to offset the exasperating pregnancy picture painted by so many movies and TV shows.

My main message to future moms is that pregnancy can be wonderful in every way. I’ve loved every minute of it and want you to know that it can be an amazing time of life! Don’t be afraid of pregnancy—instead, envision the best. Envision maintaining, with perhaps some modifications, your work-out routine. Envision waking up feeling great! I’m sure an ​optimistic outlook ​has had an impact on​ my​ pregnancy experience.

I believe that my nutrient-dense, plant-based diet has fuelled an enjoyable pregnancy.

I​’m​ convinced that a plant-based diet has ​been​ a factor in ​my​ experiencing few pregnancy challenges​. I started ​making this connection after hearing ​so many ​food-related warnings ​for pregnant women; for example, avoid deli meats, soft cheese and raw fish. Not once did a doctor tell me to limit my intake of fruits and vegetables or any other vegan foods. And when I asked my healthcare providers if they saw any concern​s​ with my vegan diet while pregnant, not one ​of them raised an eyebrow. The only ​direction I was given was ​to take my prenatal vitamins, like every other pregnant woman. ​In recent weeks, after speaking to several other vegan moms, I’m even more convinced ​our nutrient-dense, plant-based diets ​have ​played a positive role. ​Each woman​ shared similar stories of enjoyable, symptom-free or low-symptom pregnancies.

Regarding pregnancy-related food cravings and aversions, I’ve heard many women say they were turned off meat during their pregnancies. I’ve heard from an equal number of women who say they’ve increased their intake of animal-based foods while pregnant for what they’ve heard is good for the health of a growing mom and baby. It’s this ‘old wives tale’ that ​has ​motivated much of this post. I wanted to better understand if there was any truth to this claim and if there were any nutritional shortcomings of being vegan and pregnant.

The last couple of months I’ve​ been​ on a mission to learn from those who know ​so much​ more on the topic than I do. I started my research by reaching out to doctors and nutritionists for their thoughts on vegan pregnancy. Here’s what they had to say:

“A well balanced and nutrient dense diet is the foundation for a healthy pregnancy. A vegan/vegetarian diet can provide all of the support mom needs to be the best vessel before, during and after her pregnancy and to ensure both she and baby are properly nourished during this important time,” – Dr. Katie Leah, Naturopathic Physician

“A properly balanced plant-based diet provides all the essential nutrients that pregnant moms require for a developing child. We see many moms from many different cultures that are purely vegetarian/vegan and have perfect pregnancies and healthy babies,” – Dr. Avtar Jassal, Prenatal Chiropractor

“I have worked with many clients who have chosen to maintain their vegan lifestyle throughout their pregnancy. It’s never a surprise that they deliver healthy vibrant babies. The interesting part for me is when the Moms report back that the pregnancy and delivery was much easier on them and they credit their vegan diet,” – Deb Gleason, Certified Holistic Nutritionist

“It is absolutely safe to be on a vegan diet and pregnant. It will however require becoming aware of the nutritional demands in pregnancy and making sure that vitamins, minerals and protein sources remain adequate throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding and likely will require taking vitamin and mineral supplements,” – Dr. Annette McCall, MD, CCFP 

“In my practice I focus on peri-natal care. I always advocate for a plant-based diet during pregnancy and nursing, with a focus on dark, leafy greens, legumes, nuts and avocados. These foods are rich in folate and essential fatty acids, antioxidants and fibre. It’s the best for Mom and baby (and Dad too!),” – Dr. Genieve Burley, BSc, DC, E-RYT 500

“During pregnancy and lactation, a well-planned vegan diet can give baby the best possible start and set the stage for a lifetime of good health. Designing a nutritionally adequate vegan diet is both possible and less challenging than you might think. “ Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, RD MS, Co-authors of award-winning books ‘Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition’ and ‘Becoming Vegan: Express Edition

“Let’s break it down. During pregnancy, your body requires a little more TLC. It is especially important (vegan or not) to be sure you are consuming enough protein, calcium, iron, B12, and folate. Guess what? You can get all of those from plant sources like hemp hearts, sesame seeds, nutritional yeast, chlorella, spinach, dried apricots, broccoli, and lentils. Take care of yourself by eating a wide variety of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes and you won’t have a problem. It’s really that simple,” – Jennifer Trecartin, Holistic Nutritionist

“When it comes down to things like nutrition, protein, nutrients and fat- it has been proven in research, studies and real-life examples (think: vegan athletes) that humans thrive off of plants. It is not necessary, nor needed, to eat animals and their by-products. In fact, it has been shown to create harm in some circumstances (different body types, environments, histories). We can get all of the nutrients that we need from plants. Not only that, you feel better. And your baby will too,” – Chloe Elgar, Holistic Nutritionist

“Pregnancy is a time of such wonder and joy, so concerns about the ethical decision to maintain a plant-based diet should not cast a shadow during this magical period. What does matter is that the mother and little bun-in-the-oven get an increase in caloric intake and protein consumption, regardless of diet. Extra care must be taken to ensure high levels of calcium, iron, folic acid and iodine, as well as B12, vitamin D and DHA, which can all be found from plant sources and quality supplements. Nutrient dense sea vegetables are the new black,” – Robert Wilson-Smith, R.H.N. & CSNN Instructor (and father)

After all of these enlightening conversations (and so many more that haven’t been documented here), here is a summary of my thoughts for those considering a plant-based pregnancy​:

1. Understand that the vegan food pyramid is not simply the government food pyramid minus meat, dairy and eggs. The plant-based diet has its own, ultra nutrient-dense pyramid. Being vegan doesn’t means twizzlers and white bread.

2. Iron can be something to monitor (for all types of eaters), but if you’re taking your prenatal vitamins and eating plant-based sources of iron (quinoa, lentils, beans, nuts, oatmeal, brown rice etc.) you are at no greater risk for iron deficiency than the average meat-eater (for the record I’ve recently had my iron levels tested and they are totally normal).

3. Stay strong when grandma tells you to eat more meat during pregnancy! Older generations grew up with meat at the centre of their plates — we can’t blame them for believing it to be the right choice. Modern science, however, has proven that many health claims associated with animal-based foods are myths, and in fact, do more harm than good.

Stay tuned for my second plant-based and pregnant post, in which my go-to nutrition coach Colin Medhurst explains why the vegan diet is ideal for pregnancy. If you’re at all worried about your protein, calcium or iron intake during your nine-months, you must read this!!!

Hiking the ‘Japanese Alps’ in Kamikochi at 5 months pregnant
Enjoying the scenery during an overnight hike and camping trip to Goat Lake in Washintgon at 6 months pregnant
Kinesiology tape supporting the belly during a seven-hour hike in the Howe Sound hills at 6.5 months pregnant
Post-workout at Grandma’s house, 7.5 months pregnant