The Vegan pregnancy diaries
Louise Palmer Masterton from Stem & Glory talks to different women about their experiences of following a vegan diet during pregnancy
When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I was almost 40. My diet at that time consisted of mainly vegetables, small amounts of (mainly) wholegrains, lots of tofu, lentils, nuts, seeds and beans, and I continued eating in exactly the same way throughout my pregnancy. I had no morning sickness, no cravings, no complications, no deficiencies and delivered both my children safely at home.
I began to wonder if my experience was an isolated one, or if in fact many vegan women experience completely problem free pregnancies like I did. So I spoke to other women who had been vegan through pregnancy and here are my discoveries:
Can you get the nutrients you and the baby need?
All the vegan women I spoke to were very well researched on vegan nutrition. They were all aware of the need to increase protein intake in pregnancy by 10-20 per cent, and did so with greater attention to eating balanced meals. Not all of them ate protein-rich foods such as tofu, with many preferring natural pulses, grains and vegetables.
It’s recommended in pregnancy for all mothers to take folic acid. With vegan pregnancy it’s also recommended to take B12 and vitamin D. Half the women I spoke to did take supplements, but half did not, only taking the recommended folic acid.
Angie, who was pregnant twice and has raised four vegan children, says she “Just ate sensibly, mainly fruit and veg. I’d been vegan for 13 years before I became pregnant and had never been unwell so assumed all was ok.”
This was echoed by Lee who has been through two pregnancies – “Didn’t even think about nutrition, I just followed what my body craved and had zero nutritional issues”
Neither I or any of the women I spoke to reported any nutritional issues during their pregnancies.
Vegan go-to foods in pregnancy?
Every woman I spoke to followed a wholefood natural diet during pregnancy. None experienced cravings. Two of the seven experienced severe morning sickness and lived on toast for the first trimester. Two were diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the second trimester which they managed successfully on a wholefood vegan diet.
Soups and stews were frequently mentioned as ‘go to’ meals. Often mentioned were Marmite, tofu, tempeh, brown rice, aduki beans, lots of fresh organic veg, nuts, miso soup, peppermint tea and ginger.
For Holly, who was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in her second trimester, nut butters were a lifesaver due to their high-fat/protein and low-carb content.
Danielle developed cholestasis in her second trimester which meant she could only eat low-fat foods “So the vegan diet was great for this”.
Do pregnant vegans feel well?
Outside of the complications already mentioned, without exception all the women felt healthy during pregnancy. They felt the gestational diabetes was easier to manage on a vegan diet.
Emma said she continued to be vegan whilst breastfeeding and had a wonderful pregnancy with no issues whatsoever: “I wasn’t sick once, I had no cravings, I felt great the whole time, had energy, my skin was the best it’s ever been and I continued to work-out throughout the entire pregnancy. Postpartum I was told I had great colostrum, since my baby only lost 70g initially and I had a plentiful supply of milk, the health visitor actually said I had too much!”
What did the health professionals think of pregnant women following a vegan diet?
Remarkably, every woman I spoke to remarked on how helpful and understanding their health care team were of their vegan diet. Not one of them, was advised to eat animal products, including those with gestational diabetes.
Emma: “I didn’t tell the midwives that I was vegan because I expected a negative response that I didn’t want to have to deal with at that time. However, in hospital after the birth the team were very supportive in providing me with decent vegan food.”
Says Che; “in my first pregnancy one of my Midwives was vegan herself and brought vegan biscuits to the antenatal classes. Second time the midwife was very supportive and unphased by the veganism. If anything, my GP and Midwives said ‘well, you don’t eat any of the stuff you have to avoid anyway so that’s good’.”
If you are vegan or vegetarian, don’t let the myth that we need animal products put you off sticking to your plant-based diet. Eating a healthy vegan diet during your pregnancy can be good for you and your baby – and as there aren’t any vegan foods that are on the ‘no go’ list during pregnancy, you won’t have to give anything up either.
By Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory.
Stem & Glory is a hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100 per cent made on site. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge, stemandglory.uk, @stemandglory, seedrs.com/stemglory.