How to Have a Healthy Plant Based Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN

Plant based and pregnant? When it comes to a plant based pregnancy or a vegan pregnancy, there’s a lot to know. Read this primer on having a plant based diet pregnancy.

woman holding pregnant belly from the waist down

Wondering what to eat during a plant-based pregnancy? And how to get all the nutrients you need during a vegan or vegetarian pregnancy?

Here are all the answers you need, from which vegan prenatal to take to how much DHA you need during pregnancy.

Read on to find everything you need to know about a vegetarian pregnancy. Is there a such thing as the perfect pregnancy diet?

Is a plant-based pregnancy safe?

A plant-based pregnancy can definitely be safe and provide all the nutrients you and your baby need during this important time!

When you’re pregnant, it can feel like everyone else is an expert on the subject, bombarding you with advice and suggestions. Much of this talk will make you question your decision to stay vegetarian or vegan and avoid animal products during pregnancy.

In truth, there’s plenty of evidence to show that vegetarians can have perfectly healthy pregnancies. So go ahead and cast any doubts aside.

Case in point: A recent review study in Nutrients found that plant-based diets during pregnancy can be safe, so long as you take certain precautions.

The authors state that “well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets may be considered safe during pregnancy and lactation.” They add that plant-pregnancy diets “require a strong awareness for a balanced intake of key nutrients.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at what this means and what you should know about key pregnancy nutrients, especially ones you’ll need while following a plant-based diet.

A close up of nuts in a glass jar

What to eat on a plant-based pregnancy diet

While it’s true that eating meat-based foods can make it easier to get certain essential pregnancy nutrients, plant-based foods––whether you’re on a plant-forward diet or not––form the bulk of any pregnancy diet.

These plant-based foods can provide you with adequate nutrition and calories during a plant-based pregnancy, so long as you keep your diet varied and balanced.

Make sure to to choose plenty of foods that are high in complex carbs and fiber, such as whole-grain cereal, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice. Also choose other whole foods, such as fresh fruits and veggies.

You may need to make some adjustments to your meal plan, depending on the type of vegetarian diet that you follow.

During the first trimester, pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and constipation can lead to appetite loss. This threatens food intake.

Eating cold foods such as pasta, cold soups, and salads may help your appetite. Eating smaller and more frequent meals may also help.

Woman reaching for a croissant on a plate

Extra calories during pregnancy

During the first trimester of pregnancy, your body doesn’t require any extra calories.

Most pregnant women will want to eat an additional 340 calories per day during the second trimester and an extra 450 calories a day during the third trimester, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

To support these requirements during a plant-based pregnancy, you’ll want to incorporate plant-based foods with higher nutrient density such as nuts, seeds, and avocado. 

A woman eating a bowl of cereal looking at the camera

Nutrition to pay attention to during a plant-based pregnancy

Protein

Protein-rich foods should be a part of every big meal because of the role that the nutrient plays during pregnancy. Protein is essential for healthy fetal growth and development, as well as to support many changes in your body.

During pregnancy, you need about 75 to 100 grams of protein daily. While plant-based eating excludes some of the richest sources of protein, there are plenty of good alternatives.

Curious about the best protein for vegetarians? Some of the best plant-based sources of protein include:

  • soy
  • plant milks such as soy milk
  • tofu
  • legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and dried peas
  • quinoa
  • nuts
  • nut butters such as peanut butter
  • seeds
A pregnant woman drinking from a mug in a house coat

Iron

During pregnancy, your body will experience a significant increase in blood volume. This is to support the supply of nutrients to the fetus via the placenta.

Iron is an essential nutrient for blood formation, and iron deficiency can result in anemia.

This can threaten pregnancy, as anemia is associated with a higher risk of low birth weight, as well as preterm labor and delivery.

Since iron-deficiency anemia tends to have a higher prevalence among vegetarian populations, you should be more cautious about increasing your intake of this nutrient.

During pregnancy, you need 27 milligrams daily of iron.

To meet this increased requirement of iron, you’ll need to up your intake of iron-rich foods. These include leafy greens such as spinach as well as dried beans, peas, lentils, and iron-fortified cereals. You can also consider an iron supplement.

Keep in mind that iron content from plant-based food isn’t absorbed as easily as iron from meat. To help increase absorption during a plant-based pregnancy, pair plant sources of iron with vitamin C-offering foods, such as tomatoes and oranges.

A pregnant mom standing next to her daughter

B Vitamins

B vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and folic acid, are essential for a healthy plant-based pregnancy. Deficiencies in these plant-based vitamins have been linked with neural tube defects that affect the spine and brain.

Both folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies have a higher prevalence among strictly vegetarian populations, which is why you need to safeguard against the risk if you are a plant-based eater.

Although most plant-based foods aren’t known to be sources of vitamin B12, it can be obtained from tofu, soy milk, certain cereals, and nutritional yeast.

Folate deficiency is also associated with low intake of leafy greens and legumes, making the problem easy to counter if you’re aware of the risks. During pregnancy, you need 2.6 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s also help boost immunity and may help prevent respiratory problems such as maternal pneumonia.

During a plant-based pregnancy, you may want to take a vegan algae-based omega-3 supplement and also eat walnuts, canola oil, and flaxseed oil as additional vegetarian sources of omega-3s.

Pregnant women need up to 700 to 1,000 milligrams of DHA and EPA daily. In addition to these nutrients, you should know about choline for prenatal health.

A pregnant woman in her under garments sitting on a bed and cupping her belly

Calcium

Calcium plays a vital role in fetal development of the bones, heart, muscles, and nerves, with the requirement being higher in the final trimester.

Although dairy products may be the best-known source of calcium, they aren’t the only source.

Calcium-providing foods like dark leafy veggies, tofu, beans, almond butter, and calcium-fortified foods can help boost your intake.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in skeletal development, including the teeth and bones. Healthy fats like the omega-3s DHA and EPA are needed for development of the fetal brain and nervous system.

Vitamin D can only be obtained through increased sunlight exposure and by eating a small list of foods that contain the vitamin.

When it comes to omega-3s and other healthy fats, fatty fish may be the best source. But good plant-based alternatives exist, such as mushrooms grown with UV light, fortified orange juice, and fortified breakfast cereals.

woman cupping pregnant belly, wearing a green dress

Pregnancy supplements for a prenatal diet

If you’re having a plant-based pregnancy, you’ll want to take a prenatal vitamin.

You may also want to consider taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement. Here are some over-the-counter prenatal vitamins to consider:

Bottom line

Despite your best efforts, nutritional deficiencies can develop during pregnancy, whether you follow a plant-based diet during pregnancy or not.

Therefore, it’s important that you speak with your healthcare provider and get your nutrient levels tested regularly.

For more personalized and specific recommendations, make sure to consult a registered dietitian with expertise in pregnancy nutrition. You can find one at eatright.org.

Sources

Disclosure: Although I write for Everyday Health and Nature’s Way is a current client, this is not a sponsored post.

Plant based and pregnant? When it comes to a plant based pregnancy or a vegan pregnancy, there\'s a lot to know. Read this primer on having a plant based diet pregnancy.

I’d love to hear from you! Are you having a plant-forward pregnancy? What are your top vegetarian pregnancy tips? What’s your go-to vegan prenatal vitamin?

Plant-Based Eating | Supplements |

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