The first 1000 days of life–the period between conception and a child’s second birthday—are essential. This thousand day-window can have positive effects on a baby’s growth, brain development, gut health, metabolism, and immune system. For this reason, the mother’s diet before conception and during pregnancy plays a role during the early life of the child.
Contrary to popular belief, a wholesome, well-planned, and careful vegan or plant-based diet can meet all the nutritional requirements required to sustain a healthy pregnancy.
A vegan-based approach to nutrition includes a variety of grains, dals, pulses, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and fruits to ensure nutrient adequacy and fulfil protein requirements as compared to a narrow approach of depending on dairy, poultry, and meat sources that are devoid of the array of antioxidants and micronutrients that come from the plant-based eating.
This diversity of food groups contributes a healthy environment of the positive gut microbiome that is key for good gut health for the mother and the child!
The limitation of following adopting veganism is that certain nutrients may not be readily available in the natural vegetarian and vegan sources of food but are critical to pregnancy.
With careful inclusion of alternatives and the right and mandatory pre-conception and prenatal micronutrient supplementation—adequate nutrient delivery and balance can be achieved!
These critical nutrients—vitamin D, B12, iron, calcium, and omega 3—need special attention when adopting a vegan lifestyle.
Vitamin B12 along with folic acid and omega 3 fatty acids is crucial to develop healthy cognition and nervous system and prevent any neural tube defects and other birth defects.
Iron deficiency or anaemia can contribute to the poor nutritional status of the child, thus low birth weight babies, premature delivery, and other pregnancy complications.
Vitamin D and calcium play a critical role in maintaining hormonal balance in the mother to favour a good pregnancy outcome and are responsible for the skeletal system development and strong bone health for the baby!
In case the mother’s pre-conceptional stores of vitamin D and calcium are low, which further becomes a concern if not adequately supplemented while eating only plant-based food sources—the baby will leach out the maternal calcium stores from the bones for its own needs & result in long-standing low maternal bone mineral density, increased pregnancy complications like pre-Eclampsia and pre-mature delivery.
As long as you can meet your own nutritional needs and the additional requirements for your baby’s healthy growth- a vegan diet can be safely followed to ensure a successful pregnancy outcome.
To ensure you are meeting the critical nutrients it is recommended that you take advice from a dietitian/nutritionist to ensure good health for both- yourself and the baby.