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Can I Stay Vegetarian While I’m Pregnant?

Apr10

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Hi Amy,
I need your sane, practical and above all else, objective advice. A dispassionate third party is what I need at this moment in time, not an over-excited potential grandmother with an ulterior motive.

My husband and I have discussed it and discussed it and finally have agreed that this summer I will go off the pill and we will start “trying.” Huzzah!! Hooray! I have been waiting my whole life to be a mom, and the baby dreams have been coming thick and fast as of late. I am super excited and want nothing more to talk baby strategies with everyone I meet. For I have so many questions.

But my husband is nothing like me. The next thing out of his mouth, after “this summer” was, “don’t tell anyone, it is none of their business.” Which…okay I agree with him to a degree. But in promising discretion, I have denied myself the advice of those who have gone before me. The solution? You don’t know me, nor do you know my husband, so I can ask you questions, yay!

First the easier stuff.

Should I be doing anything differently for this pre-pre-conception stage? Taking vitamins, eating folic acid, that sort of thing? I have been on the pill for 9 years now, how will my body react to not having any contraception in its system? Will I lose that regularity when I go off the pill? More importantly, will I lose my boobs?
Now the harder stuff (to me anyway).

I am a vegetarian. I have been for thirteen years now (I’m 27). I don’t eat anything that was once an animal (that includes fish). I do eat dairy and the occasional egg, but on the whole my protein comes from plant sources. I have a healthy weight, low blood pressure and low cholesterol, all of which I attribute to my diet. My husband (a meat eater) thinks I need to see a nutritionist when I do get pregnant, because he believes that I should not be vegetarian while baking a baby. The opinion that I should start eating meat again once knocked up has been echoed by several co-workers and many members of my family. Further destroying my confidence was my vegan friend who, upon learning she was pregnant, started eating poultry “for the baby.”

What do you think? I really don’t want to make any sort of switch. Beyond the moral ramifications, I feel like eating meat would just make me sick. But then again, I know that the dietary needs of babies and children are completely different from the needs of adults. Is animal protein necessary for proper fetal development? What SHOULD I eat, both now and during my eventual, hoped for pregnancy?

Thank you Amy. I know you’ll give it to me straight.
Theresa

Ok, as for the preconception business: taking a prenatal vitamin or folic acid supplement is an excellent idea. I wouldn’t say it’s ESSENTIAL, or anything, but it is an excellent idea.

(I always bought a bottle right when we started our official “trying” phases, and then got annoyed with them after a couple months, and then as I grew more and more disillusioned with my wonky fertility and the pile of negatives tests I shoved them in the back of the pantry and went back to my debaucherous lifestyle of coffee for breakfast and wine for dinner and French fries at all other times. And neither of my children appear to be too badly messed up for it.)

As for going off the pill, everybody reacts differently blah blah blah. Some women need some time before their cycles regulate, others get knocked up the first month off. Some gain weight, some break out, some…don’t. I lost weight when I went off the pill AND noticed a huge improvement in my fibrocystic breast disease (which according to Pill literature, is the complete opposite of what is supposed to happen). But my cycles took freaking YEARS to return. My point is: you just never know and you cannot plan everything, so allow me to rub your shoulders while gently reminding you to dial your inner control freak down, a little bit.
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And now! For the vegetarian stuff! I am not a vegetarian, but many, many of my friends are, and many, many of them continued to be vegetarians throughout pregnancy. I see no reason why you should plan to change, especially since it sounds like you are a very responsible vegetarian who pays attention to what she eats and alternative protein sources. (Unlike one vegetarian friend I had who honestly didn’t like vegetables all that much and mostly lived on junk food.) (!!!)

That said, pregnancy is a whole different nutrition ballgame for everybody, including us meat-eaters, so a little extra help is not a bad idea. I actually really like your husband’s suggestion of visiting a nutritionist, and I bet you could EASILY find one who would support your vegetarianism and help you plan a very healthy meatless pregnancy.
There are also several books that might help, including Your Vegetarian Pregnancy, the Complete Organic Pregnancy and the Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. And there are probably at least a dozen others. I don’t have any first-hand experience with these books, of course, so take some time to browse them at the bookstore and see if any of them jibe with your diet and philosophy.
TONS of women have remained vegetarian and vegan throughout pregnancy and nursing, happily and healthfully. It sounds like you are responsible enough to easily manage it on your own, but the nutritionist and a couple books might ease your husband’s concerns. (I’d toss in something about animal products and byproducts being more likely to pass on a food-borne illness onto a fetus, but I guess all those spinach e-coli recalls poked some holes in that defense.)

Aaaannnd one last point: no matter what your diet philosophy is, it’s important to listen to your body during pregnancy. Some cravings are pointless (your baby does not really need an entire package of Oreos, no matter how badly you want them), but some pregnancy cravings are trying to tell you something. Some vegetarians do find themselves actually WANTING meat during pregnancy, which can suggest that you are lacking protein or iron in your diet. You can give in to the craving, of course, or you can make more of an effort to up your intake elsewhere and see if the sudden desire for hamburgers goes away. (Likewise, any really off-the-wall cravings should not be ignored — if you suddenly want to eat chalk or dishwasher detergent or other non-food items, call your doctor to get your iron levels checked IMMEDIATELY. You aren’t insane — that’s a weird little thing called pica.)

I tend to develop hypoglycemia AND anemia while I’m pregnant and have to watch my blood sugar and iron levels carefully. Usually, though, my body lets me know when something is out of whack with cravings for juice, spinach salad, red meat and black bean burritos with hot salsa and sour cream. Yum. Thanks, body, for staying all on top of that.

Visit Amalah’s Weekly Pregnancy Calendar for more.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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12 Responses to “Can I Stay Vegetarian While I’m Pregnant?”

  1. Jill Apr 10 at 3:03 pm Reply Reply

    I would like to add that your husband is right not to tell anyone. My husband was the same way when we started trying last May and I ignored him and told one of my friends because wheee, she doesn’t know anyone else I know! And like a month later was completely mortified because wow too much information.
    Like you, I went off the pill and we started trying right away. It’s been 11 months and one miscarriage and lots of charting and frustration and wtf this was supposed to happen right away! (I actually wrote in here last October I think, and Amy gave great advice about how sometimes? it just takes a long time. And then two months later I got pregnant and then I miscarried, so yeah, stuff happens) So I know you’re really really excited and want everyone else to be really really excited for you, but try as hard as you can to keep this information to yourself, because if it doesn’t happen right away it most certainly doesn’t help to have people asking you for updates.
    Case in point: I broke down and told my mom about the miscarriage, and now three months later she is still asking every month about whether or not I have anything to tell her. Gah!
    Also, if you’re super excited and just have to do *something* you should try charting. I’ve given up on it the past few months, once I realized that my cycles are totally regular and I got sick of thinking about it all. the. time. with the temping, but it’s sort of a good way to be proactive in those first few cycles.
    Hopefully, you’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets knocked up right away and not have to worry about all this. Good luck!

  2. Mindy Apr 10 at 3:13 pm Reply Reply

    Um…I would strongly suggest you talk to your doctor, even though you say your in pre-pre conception stage.

  3. Jill Apr 10 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    (I just reread my commment and want to clarify that obviously, you know your friends and family and whether or not it would be a problem to tell early on, and that was all just my experience, blah blah I’m not trying to tell you what to do.)
    Also: everything I read said to go to the doctor for a pre-conception workup and I never did because I didn’t think it would be worth the hassle. I’ve since been and she thinks everything is fine, but especially with your nutrition questions it might give you some piece of mind just to make an appointment in the next few months and talk it over and make sure your pap is up to date and all the fun stuff.

  4. Elizabeth Apr 10 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    I remained vegetarian throughout my pregnancy. I am about the same–no meat (including fish), plenty of dairy, eggs so long as they’re disguised because I just don’t like them and the smell made me horribly sick while I was pregnant. On my totally vegetarian diet I grew a NINE POUND ELEVEN OUNCE baby. Seriously, people in my childbirth class laughed when they heard that I had had the largest baby of all of us by over a pound when I was the one so worried about my protein intake.
    And I did worry about my protein intake. The Brewer diet says you need 100 grams of protein a day. My midwives were pushing 60-80. (Some people think getting plenty of protein will help prevent preeclampsia, but my friend was pretty strict with the Brewer diet and still got it.) I was counting every gram, especially at first. Toward the end I didn’t care as much, but I’d basically “learned” how to eat plenty of protein and didn’t need to pay as much attention. And I can still rattle off protein grams in various foods.
    My tiredness in early pregnancy was helped a great deal by drinking a smoothie made with yogurt, fruit, juice, and (vegan) protein powder for breakfast every morning. There is a brand of Greek yogurt called Total that is strained and so it has a lot more protein–a 7oz container of the 2% has 17 grams. A little thing of string cheese has 6-8 grams, depending on the brand. A slice of toast with peanut butter can get you 12-15 grams. Every little bit adds up. A handful of nuts here, a container of chocolate milk there, and you can get to 60 pretty easily. It definitely helps to keep a diet journal for a week or so and look everything up on a protein counter so that you get a good feel for things.

  5. Liz Apr 10 at 3:38 pm Reply Reply

    Hi! I’m a vegetarian, and had copies of “Your Vegetarian Pregnancy” and “The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook” while I was incubating my 9-pound honker. You can absolutely remain vegetarian while pregnant, although I developed pretty severe anemia. However, my OB did not blame the anemia on being veg at all. As for the 2 books, I found YVP to be helpful both with dietary info for me and with medical facts to shield myself from “but the bay-bee needs MEEEEEEEEEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” that I was having to deal with from well-intentioned friends and family. The cookbook, well, not so much. I consider myself to be a pretty non-picky eater, but really none of the recipes appealed to me. I love Moosewood and others way more.

  6. jodifur Apr 10 at 4:04 pm Reply Reply

    I am a vegetarian and had no problems when I was pregnant. definitely talk to your Doctor though. I craved spinach and cheese all throughout my pregnancy. I am convinced it was because the baby needed iron and protein.
    I read a great book before we started trying, before your pregnancy. I highly recomend it.

  7. yoinkie Apr 11 at 5:17 am Reply Reply

    Also you may want to remind your husband about the millions of vegetarian women (and babies born to those women) in places like India where vegetarianism is much more of a cultural norm. 31% of Indians are vegetarians (Hindu CNN-IBN survey) and yet the population is booming…fancy that.

  8. Anne Glamore Apr 11 at 9:00 am Reply Reply

    The thing about parenting that can be exasperating, if you let it, is that everyone has their own opinions and they won’t hesitate to proffer them.
    The way you handle your diet is you and your hubby’s business, and you might as well go ahead and think up a snappy comeback for “well-meaning” (nosy??) relatives who insist you chomp on roast beef or whatever.
    But you know what? It will be good practice because the “advice” NEVER stops – from the baby stuff (breastfeeding, pacifiers, co-sleeping) to discipline, to OMG your 12 yo has a cell phone? You let your 9 yo scramble eggs alone??
    Trust your intuition and go for it, I say.
    Also the nutritionist sounds like a great idea, because I bet it would be interesting.

  9. Laziza Apr 11 at 11:23 am Reply Reply

    This is making me laugh! I was happily omnivorous before getting pregnant, but it’s my BABY who appears to be vegetarian. Seriously, I have wanted very little meat since getting pregnant but want VEGETABLES, VEGETABLES, VEGETABLES all the time. So I’m being careful to make sure I eat a few eggs, some peanut butter, some cheese, beans, etc. I do eat fish a couple of times a week, which doesn’t sound like an option for you, but I honestly think I’d be covered anyway. In short, vegetarians have babies, uh, ALL THE TIME. But I’d make sure your doctor or midwife knows your preferences and works with you to make sure you and the baby remain healthy throughout. Good luck!

  10. micad Apr 16 at 8:34 am Reply Reply

    I used the “Your Vegetarian Pregnancy” book and it was fabulous… My mom pulled the same bs as Theresa’s, so I sat her down with me, cookbook in hand, and we walked through it and that pretty much settled her hash…
    “you’ll be craving meat in two months” said she. i never did.
    While not essential-essential, I think vitamins and supplements, especially as a vegetarian, are nearly so… and tremendously helpful in balancing what may be an unruly diet, though there is plenty to be down about that with just the foodstuffs you’re eating. I’ve found this to be a good source for dietary and supplement info, pre-natal through postpartum:
    http://www.dsib.org/pregnancy

  11. Colleen Apr 22 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    My hard-core vegan SIL craved, and caved, to chicken while she was pregnant. Shortly after the birth of her 9+ lb toddler, she cut out the poultry again without an issue. She also didn’t get sick from eating the chicken, which was a plus since she wanted it so damn bad. Another added bonus was that she quit talking dirty about meat to those of us who weren’t vegans.
    I ate meat like a maniac with both my pregnancies and still had iron deficiencies…how each woman’s body handles pregnancy is different (and even different for each pregnancy one woman has!).
    I agree that a visit to a nutritionist would help give you some additional info and ideas on how to support your vegan lifestyle while baking a baby. :)
    Good luck!

  12. Taylor Aug 03 at 5:00 pm Reply Reply

    Hi! I have 6 year old twins girls & a 7 month old & I am pregnant again & I have been a vegetarian since I was 13. I have remained a vegetarian since I was 13, which obviously means that I was a vegetarian being pregnant. I have had 3 healthy girls. Even my twins were healthy for being twins, I did however feed them meat until they were 5 years old because I wanted to be safe about it. They are now vegetarians & I will raise all my kids to be vegetarians as soon as they turn 5. We had also been preparing them for vegetarianism since they were just shy of 4. I btw, I am also a strict vegetarian, no meat, I drink milk & eggs sometimes, not a lot of the time. But def. no fish for me!

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