Can I Stay Vegetarian While I’m Pregnant?
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 than 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…ok 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.
Preparing to Conceive
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.
To Meat or Not To Meat
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 to 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.
Published April 10, 2008. Last updated March 27, 2018.
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