Is it safe to have a vegetarian or vegan pregnancy?

Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can have a healthy pregnancy with the right planning. As long as you eat a variety of healthy vegetarian foods and include key nutrients that are essential for your baby’s cellular, brain, and organ development, you can get all the nourishment you need without meat, fish, or poultry (and without animal products such as eggs and dairy, if you’re vegan).

In fact, a well-designed plant-based diet is loaded with nutrients that support your baby’s development and your health, including plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, it’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol, which aren’t great for you in excess even if you aren’t expecting.

Let your healthcare provider know about your diet at your preconception visit or your first prenatal visit. You may want to work with a registered dietitian, especially if you’re following a vegan diet.

In some cases, you may need to rely on fortified foods and take certain supplements in addition to your prenatal vitamin to make sure you’re getting enough of what you need. Always consult your provider before taking any supplements while pregnant.


You’ll need: About 70 grams per day in the second and third trimesters. (Note: You may need more or less protein depending on your weight, activity level, and health history.)

Protein is the building block of cells, making it essential for your growing baby. It’s made up of amino acids, including nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own.

Animal foods have about twice as much protein per serving (about 20 grams) compared to plant foods (10 grams or less). And, unlike animal foods, plant foods don’t contain all nine essential amino acids. That’s why it’s important to get protein from a variety of vegetarian sources, ideally incorporating a protein food in every meal.

Good sources of vegetarian protein include:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Legumes, such as chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils
  • Soy foods, including tempeh, tofu, soy milk, and soy beans
  • Many nuts, seeds, and nut butters (such as peanuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseed, and walnuts)


You’ll need: 27 mg per day

Iron supports your baby’s physical growth and neurological development. It also improves your blood supply – which is especially important right now, given that blood volume increases between 20 to 100 percent during pregnancy. In fact, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.

Your prenatal vitamin will likely fill some of your iron needs, but you should also eat several servings of a variety of iron-rich foods every day. Good sources of iron include:

  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal
  • Beans and other legumes
  • Tofu, tempeh, and other soy-based foods
  • Whole grain or enriched foods, such as bread and pasta
  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and chard
  • Dark chocolate

Plant-based foods contain nonheme iron, which is harder for your body to absorb than the heme iron found in animal foods. That means you’ll want to pay extra attention to how you get your iron. Avoid having tea or coffee with meals, which may make it harder for your body to absorb iron from vegetables. Instead, to help your body better use this mineral, pair an iron-rich food with something that’s rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, tomato sauce, or broccoli.

You’ll have a blood test early in your pregnancy to check your iron level. If yours is low, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take an iron supplement.

Low levels of iron can cause iron-deficiency anemia, which may pose risks for you and your baby (like preterm birth). If you’re concerned you might be experiencing anemia symptoms (which include fatigue, weakness, pale or yellow skin, cold hands and feet, and dizziness or lightheadedness, among others), be sure to talk to your doctor.


You’ll need: 11 mg per day

Zinc supports growth during pregnancy – and you’ll need a steady supply because your body has no way to store it. The best sources of zinc are animal foods, since your body isn’t as efficient at absorbing zinc from plant foods. This makes it harder for vegans and vegetarians to get enough zinc from food alone. Focus on eating a variety of plant foods that are rich in zinc and check your prenatal vitamin to make sure it contains zinc.

Many foods that also provide iron can help you reach your zinc goals. Good sources of zinc include:

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans
  • Soy foods
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Wheat germ
  • Oatmeal
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese

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