When I found out I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, two of my friends were both about to have their first babies as well, both having girls. These two friends didn’t know each other – they met for the first time at my baby shower, when their daughters were about 6 months old – but when I think about pregnancy diets, food cravings and aversions, they are always the first people I think of.
Friend A had always been a meat and potatoes sort of person. Friend B was a strict vegetarian. When each became pregnant, however, things changed. Friend A became meat averse. Friend B began craving meat. To this day, nearly five years later, and both having had more children, they have maintained the dietary changes they made during that first pregnancy.
A recent study on “Vegetarianism in America” found that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults – roughly 7.3 million people – identify as vegetarians and, of those, 1 million identify as vegan. I wondered what moms-to-be might need to know about a vegan or vegetarian diet during pregnancy.
I asked Heather Lesmes, MD, a Banner Medical Group OB-GYN. She said the most important thing is for any expectant mother to discuss her diet with her obstetrician. Whether the diet includes fish, eggs or dairy could determine the substitutions or supplements a woman might need to support healthy child development.
All pregnant women – herbivore, omnivore or otherwise – are advised to take a prenatal vitamin, or at least folic acid, prior to and throughout pregnancy to help with early development in the baby.
An increase in calcium and protein intake is also encouraged during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters, but there are many alternatives to meat and dairy sources of these.
Beans, for instance, offer protein, iron and calcium. Tofu, nuts and nut butters are also good sources of protein.
Alternative milks, such as almond, soy or coconut, are fortified with calcium and can be a good non-dairy substitution. Broccoli and kale also offer calcium and, while calcium from these items isn’t absorbed as well as the dairy products, women tend to absorb more calcium during pregnancy.
“The bottom line is to make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients your body needs, regardless of the source,” Dr. Lesmes said.
She also said to pay attention to cravings.
“I’m not saying that if you have a craving for ice cream to sit down and eat a whole pint,” Dr. Lesmes said. “But it is possible that, if your body is craving something, it could be a sign of a deficiency.”