Healthy choices for two

A vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious during pregnancy but does require planning.
A vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious during pregnancy but does require planning.

Healthy eating is important at all stages of life, but are you a vegetarian and worried about what to do during pregnancy?

Don't worry, with a little planning, you can still meet the nutritional needs of pregnancy for both mother and baby while maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle.

Deb Young, a Wollongong mother of two and prenatal specialist at Younga Yoga Studio, is a long-time vegetarian with her husband, Russell. Her first pregnancy with three and-a-half-year-old Milo was smooth and she was able to follow a vegetarian diet throughout her term.

"I had my iron levels checked routinely, and they were all OK so I continued to eat a diet that was quite high in protein without meat, so lots of pulses, fruit and veggies, and eggs too," she says.

"It's important not to just cut out meat, but replace it with other foods like the pulses and legumes that can give you similar nutrients.

"There are some real positives to being vegetarian while pregnant. You tend to get a lot more fibre, you tend to have a healthier lifestyle and you enjoy a larger range of vitamins and minerals and wider variety of nutrients."

However, Mrs Young's second pregnancy with her newborn baby boy was more of a struggle.

"Not long finishing breastfeeding my first and then pregnant again, I could feel my body was much lower in energy. I was really tired, I felt my body needed more to keep healthy, so I had to supplement my diet with an occasional little bit of meat or seafood … about once every two or three weeks," she says.

"Maintaining a vegetarian diet above all else depends on how strictly you are vegetarian, your reasons for being vegetarian in the first place … all kinds of moral, ethical, health and sustainability reasons."

Mrs Young says her first priority was always the health of her baby.

"You need to take care of yourself, for you, the pregnancy and the baby too. For me, following a vegetarian diet but also eating that little bit of meat was the most sensible thing to do," she says.

"Every pregnancy is different and it depends on the person … but if choosing to go vegetarian, I'd say they need to be really well-read on it so they're doing everything right.

"A good balance from a range of foods is key. Iron, calcium and magnesium are essential. Minerals such as the vitamin B group are important too.

"But also to those who have been really strict on being vegetarian, I think letting go is important too. I'd say don't be so stubborn or rigid about your habits during pregnancy.

"Women tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to have the perfect pregnancy or perfect diet, or be the perfect mum but often, when the baby comes along, you need to make changes, be flexible and go with the flow.

"Pregnancy does take a toll on your body and maintaining a vegetarian diet during that means you need to keep an eye on your levels and be mindful that you might need supplementation. But it's definitely very achievable.

"A vegetarian diet can be healthy, nutritious, balanced and safe."


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