Whether you are a vegetarian (no meat) or strict vegan (no dairy products or eggs either), a well-balanced diet during pregnancy can provide all the nutrients necessary for both you and your baby -- along with the extra 300 calories per day that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends for all pregnant women.
The following tips can help you plan your meals. They are provided by Michael Klaper, MD, director of the Institute of Nutrition Education and Research in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and author of the book Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet, and Virginia Messina, a registered dietitian (RD) and co-author with Kenneth Burke, RD, of the 1997 American Dietetics Association position paper on vegetarian diets.
- Even if you don't eat protein-rich dairy products, you can still get that extra 10 grams of protein per day that is so important for building fetal bones and tissue by eating foods such as beans, peas, and lentils, peanut butter, and brown rice.
- Getting enough calcium used to be a problem for vegans, but now you can take advantage of a variety of calcium-fortified foods including juices, cereals, and even caramel- or chocolate-flavored calcium "candies." Adequate calcium in the diet is important for building bones in the developing baby. If the fetus cannot get enough calcium from the mother's diet, calcium will be leached from the mother's bones.
- Avoid soft cheese and raw seafood, which can be possible sources of a potentially harmful type of listeria bacterium. According to the FDA, this form of listeria can be passed on to the fetus, causing illness or even death.
- Wash all produce, even foods labeled "organic," with a vegetable rinse to remove pesticides, dirt, and bugs.
- Eat plenty of beans and legumes to increase your iron level, and eat root vegetables to boost trace minerals including iodine, magnesium, and copper. Green, leafy vegetables also are good sources of iron, such as kale, collard, and turnip greens.
- Eat fortified cereals that contain added vitamins and minerals including vitamins B-12 and D, both of which may be lacking in a meatless diet. Fresh, pasteurized milk can be an important source of vitamin B-12 in vegetarians.
- Folic acid (or folate) is one of the few nutrients known to prevent spina bifida, a neural tube birth defect, which affects one in every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that pregnant women and women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day to prevent neural tube defects. This vitamin can be found in green leafy vegetables, grains, orange juice, and fruits, and in fortified breads, cereals, and pastas. (Folic acid is most helpful in the first three months of pregnancy, and doctors recommend that you begin increasing your intake several months before conception to help reduce the risk of neural-tube defects.)