Eating For Two
Recommendations for many vitamins and minerals are higher during pregnancy, but as a physiological response to pregnancy, the absorption of many nutrients is increased. The majority of pregnant women (including vegans) can meet these increased needs by consuming a varied diet: just follow your appetite and avoid excesses of under or overeating.
Recommended Weight Gain
Whilst recommendations for many vitamins and minerals are higher during pregnancy, the increase in energy (calorie) requirements is relatively small.
General guidelines include a little weight gain of approximately 1-2 kg (2-4 lb.) during the first trimester, and in the second and third trimesters, a weight gain of 0.5 kg (1 lb.) per week is common. There is little, if any, increase in calorific needs during the first and second trimesters. However, in order to support the recommended weight gain during the third trimester an extra 200 calories per day will be required.
200 calories is a fairly small increase, but it is important to consume these extra calories wisely. You should, for example, increase the intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and/or whole-meal bread and humus, instead of drinking a can of Coke and eating a bar of chocolate! The Coke and chocolate will provide the calories, but not the vital nutrients required for the health of the woman and her growing baby.
Three meals a day should be eaten, starting with breakfast. Although breakfast may not be terribly appealing if you are suffering from morning sickness, it is an important meal as it comes after a long period without food. It is important to provide a regular supply of nutrients to the growing fetus. Babies do not do well if they fast for hours on end.
Problems with Weight Gain
If weight gain is slow or non-existent, more food is required. Food should be eaten more often. The types of food eaten should be higher in calories and lower in fiber. If weight gain is high, then sweet or fatty foods should be replaced with fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses, and grains (whole meal bread and pasta). If the diet is already fairly healthy, then more exercise should be taken on a daily basis, e.g. walking, swimming, etc.
If you are suffering from nausea during the early stages of pregnancy you may find that your appetite is reduced, in which case weight gain can initially be quite slow. However, this should not be of concern and an increase in appetite later on in pregnancy will more than make up for any lapses.
Key Nutrients for Pregnancy
Ensure adequate folic acid, folate, or folacin consumption to protect against neural tube defects such as spine bifida. Studies suggest this is plentiful in the diets of vegan adults. The Department of Health advises women considering having a baby and those who are pregnant to take a folate supplement as well as consuming foods rich in vitamins.
All women wishing to conceive should take 400 mcg (0.4 mg) per day and continue this during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Pregnant women should take 300 mg per day.
Pregnant women do not require more than the average 3ug per day from fortified foods (or 10ug/day if relying on supplements). During pregnancy, your own lay-down body stores of B12 are not readily available to the fetus, which builds up its own supply from your daily intake of the vitamins. If B12 intake is low during pregnancy, the fetus will not have adequate stores of the vitamin and this may lead to a deficiency sometime after birth, even though you may have no clinical symptoms. A supplement should be taken if fortified foods are not consumed on a regular basis.
Your body will need more calcium during pregnancy. Vegan diets being rich in fruit and vegetables and free of animal protein help conserve calcium. If you struggle to get enough calcium from green leafy vegetables and fortified foods (e.g. fortified milk, yogurts, etc.), take a supplement to ensure calcium requirements are met. Additionally, it is possible to purchase calcium carbonate powder which can be mixed into food or added to homemade bread.
There is an extra demand for iron for the developing baby and to form hemoglobin. Women who had heavy periods or were slimming before pregnancy may start their pregnancy with low iron stores and can end up tired and anemic. An adequate intake of iron-rich foods should be consumed, and foods that contain a lot of vitamin C should be eaten with the meal, such as a glass of fruit juice or a piece of fruit, as this aids the absorption of iron. Tea can reduce the absorption of iron, so either intake should be reduced, and tea drunk only between meals. It is not wise to take iron tablets unless prescribed, because too much iron can interfere with the absorption of other minerals and can cause constipation.
There is evidence from the general population that malformations occurring in some infants may be linked to zinc insufficiency in their mothers. Human milk is not a rich source of this mineral, and during breastfeeding, infants draw on their body reserves laid down during the last three months of pregnancy. Thus premature babies may be at risk of zinc deficiency. Intakes of zinc by adult vegans are similar to those of omnivores, and there is no recommended increase during pregnancy. Ensure a mixture of zinc-rich food such as nuts, seeds, beans, and cereals, or sprouting zinc-rich beans and seeds.
Drink plenty of fluids during pregnancy. The state of pregnancy is a “watery” one and you will require extra water for making additional blood for yourself, your baby, and the 6 to 12 pints of amniotic fluid in her uterus. At least six to eight (200 ml) glasses per day should be consumed, preferably in the form of water, fruit juice, or vegetable juice. The balance of water needed can be obtained from the watery fruits, vegetables, soups, and salads which are abundant in the vegan diet.