I am planning on getting pregnant but I have some questions about my food habits. I am vegetarian and I do not eat meat. Do you think that this fact may affect the baby during pregnancy? What type of nutrients are essential during this step? And finally, what do you think may be the disadvantages of being vegetarian if I breastfeed my child?
Thanks in advance.
It is possible to eat a balanced diet that provides the nutrients you and your unborn baby will need when you are a vegetarian but you may need to take extra time ensuring you get all the right types of food. This article on Safe Eating and Drinking Before and During Pregnancy helpfully explains the different nutrients you need to be consuming. It is good to start eating a balanced diet even when you are trying to conceive.
As a vegetarian, you should ensure that each day you are eating some of these food groups:
-fruit and veg: it's good to aim for 5 portions of these a day
Protein, calcium and iron will be particularly important for you to eat when you are pregnant, but there are many vegetarian sources of these. Do you eat fish? The article above also describes what fish to eat and which should be avoided in pregnancy. You should also mention to your midwife that you are a vegetarian.
In terms of breastfeeding, again you can be a vegetarian and breastfeed without problems but you need to ensure you are eating the correct balance of nutrients. In breastfeeding, vitamin B12 is important. This can be gained from dairy products. The same is true of Calcium. You should also be having 12mg of Zinc a day. Some vegetarian mums take vitamin supplements to ensure they are getting these (other vitamin supplements can be taken during pregnancy) and other mums carefully plan their diet against the recommended guidelines for breastfeeding mums.
Thanks. This information is very helpful.
I will keep you informed.
ljmarsen gave you some good guidelines. I would also like to mention that some vegetarians actually have a hard time conceiving because they're not getting the full spectrum of amino acids which is more easily achieved by eating fish, poultry or meat.
I've seen women go on fish and/or poultry/meat during their preconception preparation and during their pregnancies and breastfeeding. Once these phases were over, they returned to a vegetarian diet.
You will need to read your body carefully and adjust as needed. Your body will usually give you clues as to whether it's getting enough of every nutrient or not. If you find that you start craving more protein during pregnancy, and that piece of meat actually looks really good to you, you may need to actually eat it in order to be sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to support the development of your child and allow you to have the best chance of a full term, healthy pregnancy.
One thing I've noticed with many vegetarians is that they tend to eat a lot of simple carbohydrates like pizza, pasta, white bread, cake, etc. Be sure you're avoiding simple carbohydrates and eating whole grains instead.
It is completely possible to remain a vegetarian or even a vegan throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. I know many women who have done it and have extremely healthy babies. It can be more difficult to maintain the right level of protein and iron, but it can most definitely be done.
During my own vegetarian pregnancies, I purchased two books which I think may be helpful for you. One was called "The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook: Whole Foods to Nourish Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women- and Their Families" and the other was called "Your Vegetarian Pregnancy".
I hope that helps and I would also speak with your prenatal care provider to see if they have any suggestions. I know my midwife gave me an entire list of great non-animal based protein sources during my last pregnancy.