Pregnancy is regarded as the period of growth and development which requires extra care for nutrition and health in a woman’s life. It is of utmost importance to eat a varied and balanced diet during this time as it provides enough nutrients for your own health and the optimal development and growth of your baby during pregnancy.
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There is an increased demand for nutrients like iron, folic acid, Vitamin B12, zinc, protein and calcium, in order to support adequate growth of the baby. These nutrients are widely found in foods of animal origin, such as milk and milk products, meat, eggs and so on.
Being a vegan is definitely more of a lifestyle choice and a philosophy than a diet. A vegan does not eat anything that is of animal origin, including dairy products and eggs. A vegan diet contains only plants, such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, and foods made solely from plants.
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Vegan diets can be safe if and only if you are careful to get enough baby-friendly nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 through your daily diet. These are sometimes hard to get from vegan diets. There has not been profound research on Veganism and its effect on pregnancy, but a few studies found that when you eat a really strict vegan diet, you don’t get enough of vitamin B12 and you may be low on folate and iron, all of which are easily found in animal products.
As vegans do not consume any product from the animal sources, there is a high risk of developing nutrient deficiencies during pregnancy. The first consequence of these deficiencies would be that you could become anaemic because your body might not be able to make enough red blood cells without those nutrients, namely iron and folic acid.
If you are anaemic, you are likely to have a harder time-fighting infection, and you may have an increased risk of excessive bleeding / post-partum haemorrhage after you give birth. If you are deficient in vitamin B12, you can develop a neuropathic condition that causes muscle weakness and nerve damage. As for folate, we know that folic acid supplementation before pregnancy and in the first weeks of pregnancy will decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the baby. Absence of folate-rich foods in an expectant woman’s diet is a loophole.
When you look at a vegan diet compared to a traditional vegetarian diet most people find huge gaps, such as: “Without milk where do you get your calcium? Without meat where do you get your protein? How in the world too, do you ever feel full?” To someone who is not vegan or for first time pregnant vegan mothers, the road to a vegan pregnancy seems unsafe, unhealthy, and full of “rabbit food” as most people like to call it. But if you are a vegan, you might want to consult your obstetrician to take supplements of vitamin B12, iron, folic acid and calcium in the prescribed doses, in order to have a safe and sound pregnancy!
Are all vegan diets bad? Mostly yes. The vegan diet should be recommended as nothing more than a temporary “system-cleanser”, as following a vegan diet long term will likely lead to life-altering health problems down the road. Our body needs certain nutrients for optimal health and development, and with a vegan diet, there are just too many bases being missed. In conclusion, vegan diets can work well temporarily, but definitely not advised for a long-term, especially during pregnancy.
Contributor: Ms Sana Khalid ( Nutritionist, Jayanagar, Cloudnine Hospital )