Our nutritional needs increase during pregnancy, some of which can be met through an increased consumption of food. Other nutrients should be supplemented to ensure adequate intake. Vegan sources and appropriate doses are discussed for each one.
Let’s start from the beginning. Most women wonder if they can have a healthy vegan pregnancy. The answer is yes, absolutely. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that an adequately planned plant-based diet (vegan and vegetarian) is “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes” .
But what does an “adequately planned plant-based diet” mean? This refers to eating a wide range of whole foods, being aware of specific nutrients that the typical vegan diet may be low in, and supplementing where needed.
During pregnancy, many nutrient needs are increased to support healthy growth and development of the baby. Some of this is satisfied through the larger amount of food that you eat. However, some nutrients should be added from a prenatal, especially given the research showing common deficiencies in vegan diets .
For a healthy pregnancy, the following should be supplemented:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
These nutrients are a must for all vegans who are pregnant and can be readily found in many
1. Vitamin B12
Vegans should supplement with vitamin B12 in all stages of life. This is especially critical during pregnancy to support proper development of the baby’s nervous system.
The recommended intake of B12 is about 4-7 micrograms (mg) per day . This comes out to be 250 mcg daily or 2,500 mcg weekly of vitamin B12 from a supplement.
Folate is a critical nutrient in preventing neural tube defects in the early days of pregnancy. However, many women may not be planning to become pregnant or don’t know that they are in the first few weeks. Supplementing with at least 400 mcg of folate before conception and 600 mcg during pregnancy is the simplest insurance policy. Vegans should also consume a folate-rich diet with foods like edamame and dark leafy greens.
Methylfolate is the active form which is preferred over folic acid, the synthetic form. This is because people with the MTHFR mutation are unable to utilize folic acid in their bodies. It’s likely you may not be aware if you have this mutation, but experts believe that 40% – 60% of the population does .
3. Vitamin D
In pregnancy, vitamin D plays a critical role in transferring calcium to the developing baby, which is necessary for skeletal development. Vitamin D needs can be met through proper and adequate sun exposure. However, most pregnant women are still deficient .
Supplementing with the 2,000 IU of the D3 form (known as cholecalciferol) is recommended for pregnancy. Look for vegan sources from lichen or Vitashine on the label.
Iodine is important in the production of thyroid hormones. During pregnancy, those hormones play a critical role in the brain and bone development of the baby.
It is readily available in fortified table salt (also called iodized salt) and some types of seaweed. Despite this, studies show that pregnant women tend to be deficient in this critical nutrient . So a supplement of 150 mcg of iodine per day is recommended.
DHA, EPA, and ALA are all types of essential fatty acids known as omega-3s. DHA and EPA, in particular, are critical in pregnancy for proper brain development in babies. While vegan diets provide a good source of ALA through nuts and seeds, they do not provide a reliable source of DHA and EPA.
Most experts and organizations agree that 300 mg of DHA and EPA should be supplemented during pregnancy. Look for vegan sources derived from algae.
Now that you’re familiar with the 5 nutrients that must be supplemented during pregnancy, you may be wondering how to select the best prenatal vitamin. There are many, many vegan supplements on the market. You’ll have to read labels, do your research, and make an informed decision.
- Ensure that your prenatal supplement contains vitamin B12, folate, vitamin D, iodine, and omega-3 s in the recommended amounts.
- Read labels and do your research to select a prenatal vitamin that you’re comfortable with.