A Vegan Diet During Pregnancy
A plant-based diet is a healthful choice at every stage of life, including pregnancy and breastfeeding.
A healthful, well-planned plant-based diet provides all the nutrients you and your developing baby need.
Calorie needs increase only modestly during pregnancy. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it works out to about 340 extra calories per day in the second trimester and about 450 extra calories per day during the third.
Maintain a steady rate of weight gain. How much weight should be gained depends on prepregnancy weight status. In general, aim for about 3 to 4 pounds total during the first trimester and then about 3 to 4 pounds each month during the second and third trimesters.
During pregnancy, your nutrient needs increase. For example, you will require more calcium, more protein, and more folic acid, even though your calorie needs increase only modestly. Limit empty calories found in highly processed foods and sweets.
Protein needs are slightly higher during pregnancy. An adult who is not pregnant and not physically active should get about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For an average woman this would be about 46 grams of protein per day. During pregnancy (especially the second and third trimester), women should eat an additional 25 grams, or around 70 grams of protein per day. This is usually an easy goal to meet by eating a variety of plant-based foods, including beans, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, tofu, whole grains, and vegetables.
A day’s menu could include oatmeal with fruit, walnuts, and chia seeds for breakfast; lentil soup and a hummus sandwich for lunch; a brown rice, almond, and chickpea bowl for dinner; and a slice of whole-wheat bread with peanut butter for a snack.
The recommended amount of calcium to consume is 1,000 milligrams per day. Calcium is important during pregnancy, but the amount you need does not increase. Include plenty of calcium-rich plant-based foods in your diet, like tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, figs, sunflower seeds, tahini, almond butter, and calcium-fortified soy milk, cereals, and juices.
The natural source of vitamin D is sunlight. If you do not get regular sunlight, vitamin D is also available in vitamins and in fortified foods. Many brands of cereal and plant milks are fortified with vitamin D.
The amount of vitamin B12 you need during pregnancy is 2.6 micrograms; this is a little higher than the 2.4 micrograms that nonpregnant people need. Vitamin B12 is not found in most plant foods, so to get enough, be certain to take a supplement regularly. Vitamin B12 is found in all standard multivitamins and in prenatal vitamins, but a dedicated B12 supplement may be a good idea to ensure you’re getting enough. We suggest getting 100 micrograms per day or 2,500 micrograms once a week.
During pregnancy, iron needs increase considerably, from 18 milligrams to 27 milligrams per day. Iron is abundant in plant-based diets. Beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, blackstrap molasses, nuts and seeds, and whole-grain or fortified breads and cereals all contain plenty of iron. However, women in the second half of pregnancy sometimes need to take a supplement regardless of the type of diet they follow. Your health care provider will discuss iron supplements with you based on your blood levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important to support a baby’s growth and development. Plant foods contain very little DHA and EPA, but your body can make them from ALA (a plant omega-3 source). The Adequate Intakes (AIs) or recommended amount of ALA per day is 1.4 milligrams during pregnancy. You can easily get this from chia seeds, ground flaxseed, or walnuts. Microalgae-based DHA and EPA supplements are also available.
Choline deficiency is rare, but pregnant people may be at higher risk. A well-balanced diet that is not deficient in other nutrients (like B12) usually provides enough choline. Certain vegetables and beans are a great source of choline, with grains, nuts, and seeds being reliable sources in general. In fact, soybeans have more choline than beef and chicken; potatoes and most beans have more than dairy and tuna. Check out our page on choline for more plant sources.
The guidelines for breastfeeding mothers are similar to those for pregnant women. Milk production requires even more calories than pregnancy, so you will need to boost your food intake a little bit. During the first six months of breastfeeding, you need 500 calories a day more than you did before you became pregnant. This drops to 400 additional calories a day during the second six months of breastfeeding, because it is recommended that children start eating some solid foods (like infant cereals, soft fruits and vegetables, and baby foods). Protein needs are the same as during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Work With a Health Care Provider
Your nutrient needs increase when pregnant. Please consult a physician or dietitian to aid you in addressing these needs. If you are searching for a plant-based physician or dietitian, you can look through our directory for health care providers in your area. Dietitians are on staff at the Barnard Medical Center with telehealth visits available.