I’m Vegan and Pregnant, Should I Take A Prenatal?

by Lauren Armstrong — Registered Dietician, BSc Dietetics
August 31, 2020

You're growing another human, which means extra nutrients are necessary.

Your diet may be filled with plenty of plant-based foods, but that doesn't mean that you're meeting your baby's needs.

It's essential to work closely with your ob-gyn, who can give you more insight into whether your vegan diet can support you and the baby during pregnancy.

Most of the time, prenatal vitamins are recommended to address any shortcomings, and the gaps are closed.

You don't want to go for any ol rinky-dink vegan prenatal vitamin either.

You want the best for your growing baby (and yourself, too!). Beyond quality, you also want to ensure it contains the right amounts of vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy.

So, what should you take a prenatal if you’re pregnant and vegan? We answer all your questions below.

Let’s get right to it, should vegans take prenatal vitamins?

Vegan or not, if you have a bun in the oven, you need a prenatal. It can be difficult to accurately track how many and what nutrients you’re getting in each day. Plus, your focus should be on preparing yourself for a new family member!

Taking a daily prenatal makes things simple to ensure your baby gets the nutrients they need, and there is some leftover for yourself.

If you’re vegan and pregnant, these are the top nutrients you need

Vegan or not, your goal is to ensure that you're consuming various foods to keep your energy levels up, meet your nutrient needs, and gain the proper amount of weight for your pregnancy.

If you are vegan while pregnant, you do need to be more aware of specific vitamins.

B12 is essential for vegans that are pregnant

B12 is one of those vitamins that has a high prevalence of deficiency in vegan people.

It's naturally found in animal products and not plant foods. A 2019 article published in Nutrients mentions that low amounts of vitamin B12 consumed during the first trimester of pregnancy may result in preeclampsia, anemia, and neurological impairment.

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for neural & retina strength during your vegan pregnancy

Keep essential fatty acids in the back of your mind, especially those omega-3 fatty acids.

Exclusion of meat or fish from the diet can result in a lack of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of fat converted from omega-3's.

DHA accumulates in the brain and retina during the end stages of the pregnancy, which is essential for neural and retina membranes.

Iron helps our vegan mamas-to-be stay strong & energetic

When you’re vegan and pregnant, your body needs more iron, especially in the second and third trimesters.

The good news, iron absorption from plants increases with each trimester. You can make that absorption even better by pairing your iron-rich foods with vitamin C.

The kicker is that you need to ensure that you're getting enough in. The majority of iron-rich foods include animal products such as eggs and shellfish. If your intake is lacking, you will likely feel tired and weak and put yourself at risk for preterm delivery.

These additional vitamins benefit vegan expecting mothers

Other vitamins that should also not be placed on the back burner include:

Here’s a list of vegan food sources to eat during your pregnancy

1. Fortified foods (non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals)

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends vegan pregnant women and breastfeeding women take a vitamin B12 supplement. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin B12 in micrograms (mcg) includes 2.6 mcg during pregnancy and 2.8 mcg during lactation.

It's not always the case that these foods will be fortified with vitamin B12, so double-check the label before you depend on them, adding vitamin B12 to your day.

When you're pregnant, vitamin B12 crosses the placenta and is also in breast milk once the baby arrives.

An exclusively breastfed baby is at higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency due to the lack of vitamin the mom can provide.

2. Chia seeds, walnuts, and oils (more specifically flaxseed, soybean, and canola)

For omega-3's, there is not enough evidence to create an RDA, but it does have an Adequate Intake (AI) to ensure nutritional adequacy.

Pregnant women should be consuming 1.4 grams, and lactating women should aim for 1.3 grams.

There are many different omega-3's, but the most commonly researched ones include:

The food sources listed easily count toward your ALA intake.

On the other hand, DHA is a little more complicated and is necessary for improved infant health outcomes. The majority of DHA is found in fatty fish, including salmon, herring, and sardines.

It is possible for our bodies to convert ALA into DHA but usually requires high amounts.

Thankfully, vegan DHA supplements are around and made from algae.

3. Breakfast cereal, white beans, lentils, spinach, and tofu

The RDA for iron in milligrams (mg):

These RDA's are for nonvegetarians only.

Vegetarian and vegan individuals have an RDA that is 1.8 times higher.

The reason is due to a little thing called heme and non-heme iron, two forms of iron.

Heme iron is found only in animal flesh, whereas non-heme is found in both plant and animal foods. Heme iron has the ability to absorb easier due to specific transporters. These transporters allow the heme iron to get past cell membranes quickly and into the bloodstream.

If you pair up plant-based iron-rich foods with vitamin C, such as orange juice or tomato juice, absorption can get a little boost.

4. Leafy greens (spinach, romaine, mustard greens), breakfast cereal, grains, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, avocado

The RDA for folate is listed as micrograms of dietary folate equivalent (DFEs) and is 600 mcg DFE for pregnancy and 500 mcg DFE for lactation.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to require manufacturers to add 140 mcg folic per every 100 grams to enrich bread, cereal, pasta, flour, and other grains. This strategy was to help limit the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs).

NTDs can create malformations in the spine (spina bifida), skull, and brain (anencephaly). Folate is necessary for neural tubes to close and prevent these complications, which occurs in the 21 to 28 days post-conception.

The two most common NTDs include spina bifida and anencephaly, which occur in 5.5 to 6.5 babies per 10,000 births in the United States.

Now, what should vegans do post-baby?

Taking a vegan prenatal vitamin doesn't have to end as soon as your baby makes their arrival.

If you're planning on breastfeeding, your body is still in need of additional vitamins and minerals.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, the amounts and types of vitamins found in breast milk directly correlate with how much the mother is taking in.

If you lack B12 or any other essential vitamin, so will your breast milk and your baby.

Taking a prenatal vitamin can ensure a healthy vegan pregnancy

As a vegan, it can be challenging to find your groove when it comes to getting in the recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals through both food and supplements. Instead of just being concerned about yourself, you also have to worry about the growing baby you’re carrying.

Getting the right amount of essential vitamins and minerals is crucial for their development and your health over the next nine months.

Be aware that many over the counter prenatal vitamins can be in a gelatin soft gel capsule or even have additives that are not vegan friendly. Vegan-certified prenatal are vetted so that you know you're getting quality supplements without unknowingly consuming animal products.