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Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be

Eating healthily during pregnancy is important for your own health and the health of your developing baby.

It's important to eat a varied and balanced diet during pregnancy. This will provide enough nutrients for your own health and the development and growth of your baby during pregnancy.

Vegetarian and vegan mums-to-be need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamin B12, which are mainly found in meat and fish, and vitamin D.

Iron in your diet

Good sources of iron for vegetarians and vegans are:

  • pulses
  • dark green vegetables
  • wholemeal bread
  • eggs (for vegetarians who include them in their diet)
  • fortified breakfast cereals (with added iron)
  • dried fruit, such as apricots

Vitamin B12 in your diet

Good sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians are:

  • milk and cheese, choosing lower-fat varieties where possible 
  • eggs

Good sources for vegetarians and vegans are:

  • fortified breakfast cereals, choosing lower-sugar options where possible 
  • fortified unsweetened soya drinks
  • yeast extract, such as Marmite

As sources for vegans are limited, a vitamin B12 supplement may also be needed.

Vitamin D in your diet

Although we get vitamin D from sunlight, in vegetarian food terms, it is found in:

  • egg yolk
  • foods fortified with vitamin D, including some breakfast cereals and most fat spreads
  • dietary supplements

Because vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, it might be difficult to get enough from foods that naturally contain vitamin D and/or fortified foods alone. So all adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months (October until the end of March). 

Vegans will need to read the label to ensure that the vitamin D used in a product is not of animal origin.

From late March/early April until the end of September, most people should be able to get enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Calcium in your diet

If you're a vegan, you also need to make sure you get enough calcium. This is because non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods.

Good sources of calcium for vegans include:

  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • pulses
  • fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
  • brown and white bread
  • calcium-set tofu
  • sesame seeds and tahini
  • dried fruit

Talk to your midwife or doctor about how you can get all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.

Foods to avoid when pregnant

All pregnant women, regardless of their diet, are advised not to eat mould-ripened soft cheese (such as brie or camembert) and soft blue-veined cheese (such as roquefort or Danish blue). These cheeses could contain listeria, which can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illness in newborn babies.

Pregnant women are advised not to eat pâté, including vegetarian pâté, which can also contain listeria. Some vegetarian pâté contains raw eggs, which may carry a risk of salmonella infection.

Pregnant women are also advised not to eat raw or partially cooked eggs.

Find out more foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Breastfeeding on a vegan diet

If you have been taking vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements as part of your vegan diet, continue taking it while you are breastfeeding.

You should be able to get all the other vitamins and minerals you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Vitamins for babies

Babies from birth to one year of age who are being breastfed should  be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D.

Babies who are fed infant formula should not be given  a vitamin D supplement until they are receiving less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, because infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.

Vitamin supplements containing vitamins A and C are recommended for infants aged six months to five years old, unless they are getting more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day.

You can buy suitable drops at any pharmacy.

Feeding your baby breast milk only until they are around six months old will help you protect them from illness and infection.

Babies who aren't breastfed are more likely to get diarrhoea, vomiting and respiratory infections.

For mothers, breastfeeding decreases the risk of breast cancer and it may also offer some protection against ovarian cancer. Breast milk should continue to be given alongside an increasingly varied diet once your baby is introduced to solid foods.

For vegan mothers who aren't breastfeeding, soya infant formula is the only alternative to cow's milk formula. Get advice from your midwife, health visitor or GP before using soya infant formula. 

Breastfeeding support

Find out more about the benefits of breastfeeding, or get support with breastfeeding.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

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