While carrying a child is possibly the most amazing thing a woman can do, pregnancy can be an anxious time – all of a sudden you’re in charge of another life; another human being completely dependent on you … and completely oblivious to this fact! Instinctively, every Mum wants the best for their unborn so it’s unsurprising that a common question we get asked is, “should vegans take prenatal vitamins?” … let’s find out!
Should Vegans Take Prenatal Vitamins?Yes, it’s a very good idea for vegans to take prenatal vitamins. While it is perfectly possible to get all the nutrients you need from a 100% plant based diet when pregnant, our lifestyles are such that it is just common sense to supplement your vegan pregnancy with all the nutrients you and your baby need to achieve optimal health.
Watch: Erin from Eat Move Rest on vegan pregnancy nutrition and supplements.
Is it Safe To Be Vegan During Pregnancy?
This is another very common question asked by those following a plant-based diet who discover they are pregnant. When you see those two little red lines on the pregnancy test, everything changes in a moment. All of a sudden you’re questioning your vegan choices …
- is this the right thing for my baby?
- am I being a bad mother by sticking to my vegan diet?
- how do I make sure my baby gets all the nutrients needed?
- why do some consider this child abuse? (extreme I know, but not an uncommon opinion)
… and a whole kaleidoscope of different questions!
In the dark ages before Veganism became so popular, it was the overwhelming belief that in order to have a healthy pregnancy, the consumption of animal products was a must. Without the meat and dairy there was no way you’d be getting all the nutrients essential for that little life inside of you to grow into a strong and vibrant human being!
That is what the media machines told you and they were very convincing. Marketing execs know how to push our buttons and it’s too easy to get inside the head of a mum to be … your guard is down because you put your baby first!
Fast forward to the present day and there is now a huge body of evidence to attest to the fact that a plant-based diet during pregnancy is not only adequate but can be superior to a meat and dairy laden offering. In reality, the majority of foods advised against consuming during pregnancy are non-vegan!
The NHS in the UK and the ACOG and ADA  in the US all conclude in their reviews of the subject that a well-planned vegan diet during pregnancy is perfectly healthy. It has been shown time and time again those following a plant-based diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables are at less risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart failure, hypertension … the list goes on and on!
By association, this is also good for your unborn baby!
The big takeaway here is to remember to plan your vegan diet well, especially during pregnancy. Every Mum to be should focus on being as healthy as they can be before, during and after pregnancy … this is just instinctive.
As with the advice to all pregnant women, vegan or not, it’s important to ensure you get enough of certain vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin B12. Keeping your iron levels up is especially important too … thankfully these days there is a huge choice of vegan supplements on the market. The hardest bit is choosing which brand to go for!
How To Have a Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
Whether your pregnancy was planned or not, you now have to provide your little bean with all the vitamins and nutrients needed for healthy growth and development. No pressure then!
Obviously, if you’re planning to bring a child into this world then you have a head start. You can focus on your diet now and give yourself the best chance of conceiving and nurturing a healthy baby, while following your vegan principles.
For vegans it’s no different. We still need to look at the foods we’re consuming every day and which nutrients we might be low in, taking supplements to make up for any shortfalls. A balanced vegan diet is important at all times but during pregnancy you will need to focus on the below list of the most important vitamins and nutrients to help ensure your child develops normally:
- Folic Acid (500 micrograms daily)
- Vitamin B12 (2.6 micrograms daily)
- Vitamin D (10 micrograms daily)
- Calcium (1000mg daily)
- Iron (27mg daily)
- Iodine (250 micrograms daily)
- DHA (200mg daily)
- Vitamin C (85mg daily)
Folic acid is at the top of the list because it’s particularly important for vegans and vegetarians to ensure the RDA is met (currently 400 micrograms pre-pregnancy and 600 micrograms during). The super-fast growing foetal cells need adequate supplies of folate for normal development.
Folate (folic acid) is found in leafy green vegetables such as Kale, spinach and Romaine lettuce, to name but a few. Beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains are also high in folate.
Vitamin B12 is more difficult to get, especially for vegans because it’s mainly found in meat and dairy products. So it’s definitely worth supplementing your vegan diet with B12 during pregnancy.
Most of the B vitamins are found in fortified products such as plant based milks and happily, in this form, it is more readily absorbed by the body. So look for fortified vegan products which will often contain calcium and other important nutrients as well.
That’s a very high level look at what you do need to ensure you get enough of during pregnancy, but what about foods you should avoid?
Vegans Avoid Most Harmful Foods by Default
Almost all foods to be avoided during pregnancy are animal based products. Mouldy cheeses like Stilton; cold, under cooked or raw meats, all pates and game meats, raw or under cooked eggs (salmonella risk), oily fish and raw shellfish (mainly because of pollutants caused by human activity).
So, as we can see, following a vegan diet means you will naturally exclude these potentially harmful foods from your meals. Happy days! However, you should avoid too much caffeine, exclude alcohol and don’t take high-dose multivitamins or any supplements with vitamin A in them.
Too much vitamin A during pregnancy can affect the development of the foetus and in extreme cases can lead to heart defects, down syndrome and other congenital birth abnormalities. Foods high in vitamin A include carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, leafy green veg and other red, yellow and orange veg.
A well balanced vegan diet will include plenty of vitamin A and since it’s fat soluble your body stores any excess. So for baby’s health, you do need to be especially vigilant when it comes to vitamin A.
The Best Vegan Pregnancy Foods & Supplements
Supplements are a great way to get your daily requirements of the important nutrients during pregnancy and in many cases provide a more bio-available form than plant sources. It is however recommended eating a good balanced diet when you’re eating for two!
Include into your meal plan legumes, tofu and other soy products like tempeh for the protein element. Then whole grains and cereals for vitamin B, zinc and iron. Some cereals are also high in protein. Fermented foods like kombucha contain important probiotics.
Not to mention a good varied dose of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Leafy green veg in particular is a great source of general nutrition for vegans. Combining supplements and fresh foods daily will ensure your vegan diet is perfectly healthy for you and your baby.
Last but by no means least, make sure you’re taking an omega 3 supplement with DHA and EPA during pregnancy especially as it’s not as easy to get these essential fatty acids from a vegan diet.
No Need To Worry About Your Vegan Choices!
I hope this article has dispelled some of the myths around pregnancy and following a vegan lifestyle. You just need to be rational and sensible. Obviously, a lot of junk food is not going to provide the nutrition your growing bump is looking for.
As with much of the advice on this website, focus on fresh, organic fruit and veg and pay attention to vegan specific requirements such as vitamin B12 and omega 3’s … you’ll be chasing after that healthy, bouncing baby before you know it!
Thank you for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Was it helpful for you? Did I miss something? Please leave your feedback in the comments below and share this with your friends. Knowledge is power!
Have a compassionate day 🙂
This post was first published on May 29th, 2021 at 11:14 and was updated with extra content, sources and video on September 4th, 2022 at 15:01.
Sources: – Craig WJ, Mangels AR; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.027. PMID: 19562864. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19562864/