There's now an ever-increasing amount of information available for the new vegan who wants to learn how to get started with a plant-based diet and for the long-time vegan who wants to improve their physique and for everyone in between — just look around this website for a start! But what about those of us seeking to build vegan bodies from scratch? What about vegan pregnancy and raising vegan children? Given the importance of these issues, there is a surprising dearth of information, as I discovered when I became pregnant with my son after having been vegan for 12 years. And, in sharing my experiences with raising Miles - now almost 2 years old - on our website, I continue to receive messages from parents who, although vegan themselves, are not raising their children vegan because they think they are lacking some vital information or trick that makes it possible to do so. There isn't! A healthy vegan pregnancy and raising vegan children are easier than you might think! In this three-part series, I will share my thoughts on a few common misconceptions, starting with...
Myth #1: Sure, you can be vegan during pregnancy — even the American Dietetic Association says so — BUT you have to take special care to get all the vitamins, minerals, and protein needed for a healthy vegan pregnancy.
Have you ever looked at a list of prohibited foods for pregnant women? Here's a partial list: Raw and undercooked animal foods. Certain fish and shellfish, due to mercury levels. Hot dogs, processed meats, and unpasteurized dairy products. It seems to me that the mother-to-be who must take special care is the one not eating a plant-based diet! All pregnant women are advised to supplement with various vitamins, and regardless of what your dietary practices are, you should be aware of its limitations. A varied whole foods diet based on vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, however, is far more likely to provide vitamins and minerals necessary for the demands of pregnancy as compared to the limited diet of white flour pasta, bread, chicken, and low-fat dairy — with a few tired vegetables on the side — that is standard "healthy" American fare.
I was fortunate enough to avoid the medical system almost entirely throughout my pregnancy, instead choosing the care of a midwife and to simply be more aware of my own health and physical state throughout the process without relinquishing that responsibility to a doctor. My only supplements were B-12 and DHA; the former because B-12 (when not received secondhand from animals that have themselves been injected with B-12 supplements) is not present in thoroughly cleaned plant foods and the latter because I don't eat a lot of sea vegetables. I did not, however, bother supplementing with folate and iron, as many women of childbearing age are advised to do, because I eat a lot of lentils, leafy greens, and other foods that provide plenty of those things. My midwife, although otherwise comfortable with my vegan diet, was concerned that I would be iron-deficient and tested me late in pregnancy...only to be shocked that I had the highest iron levels she had ever seen in a pregnant woman! Of course, she was also concerned that my super-low blood pressure, the product of 12 years without the consumption of cholesterol, would cause me to pass out in childbirth (it didn't — I had a complication-free, drug-free home birth)!