• Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Dec 08, 2023

Vegan Supplements, Nutrition, and Pregnancy

When you become pregnant you likely have so many questions about what is best for you and your baby. There is so much information out there about what to do and what to eat when you are expecting a baby. It can be difficult to decipher what is fact from what is false. You may be asking yourself which supplements you should take and when? Or “What foods are good to eat while I am pregnant?”

Following a vegan diet adds an additional level of complexity to deciphering misinformation. A vegan registered dietitian can help you be well nourished on your journey through pregnancy. 

Vegan-Pregnancy-Nutritionist-3

Why is nutrition important during pregnancy

Proper nutrition leading up to and during pregnancy will have a direct impact on the health of your baby which will have an impact on their health as an adult. The goal of pregnancy nutrition is:

1) to provide the nutrients needed to support the growth and development of your baby in the womb 

2) to provide you, the mother, with the nutrients necessary to maintain your own health. 

Thinking about having a baby?

You may not know as soon as you become pregnant, that is why good nutrition before pregnancy is so important. 

Women who have healthy body weight and good nutritional at conception have better pregnancy outcomes for both baby and mom.

There are certain complications that arise very early on in pregnancy that are a result of nutrient deficiencies. 

During pregnancy 

Pregnant women need up to 50% more of certain nutrients compared to non-pregnant women. A registered dietitian can help you navigate your pregnancy needs.

Preconception

So what if you are just beginning your pregnancy journey? Let’s start with prenatal vitamins. The amount of certain nutrients your body requires when you are pregnant increases. It is a good idea to carefully look at your nutrient intake prior to conception. It is recommended that women start taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid or a folic acid supplement 3 months before becoming pregnant. 

Folic acid

The recommended intake of folate during pregnancy is 600 micrograms dietary folate equivalents or DFE. Those who follow  a vegan, vegetarian or plant based diet have a tendency to consume more foods that naturally contain folate listed below.

Dietary Sources of Folate

  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Dark green vegetables 
  • Legumes 
  • Oranges 
  • Fortified wheat flour 
  • Fortified pasta 
  • Fortified breakfast cereals 

To increase folate intake avoid loss during food processing for example, choose raw spinach over cooked.

A folate deficiency is associated with neural tube defects in your developing child.  The neural tube forms the early brain and spine: inadequate folic acid intake increases the risk for improper closure of the neural tube. 

 0.4 mg folic acid in a daily multivitamin for 2-3 months before pregnancy and until 12 weeks gestational age is recommended. 

Vitamin B12

Like folate, vitamin B12 is important for the proper formation of neural tube defects. Sufficient vitamin B12 levels are also important once you start breastfeeding. If you do not consume enough vitamin B12, your child will not receive enough through breastmilk. 

Following a vegan or plant-based diet can really make it difficult to get enough vitamin B12. It is important to be very mindful of your vitamin B12 intake due to its essential function during development. It is recommended that pregnant women following a Vegan diet take one of the following:

  • A supplement containing 25 micrograms of B12 everyday
  • A supplement containing 1,000 micrograms a few times per week (on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for example)

In addition to the supplementation, you should aim to consume three servings of foods fortified with Vitamin B12 per day such as:

  • fortified cereal
  • fortified grains 
  • nutritional yeast. 

Each of the three servings should contain 4 micrograms or 60% of your daily recommended intake. The label of your chosen product could look something like this:

Pregnancy-nutrition-vegan-dietitian

 Calcium 

It is recommended that you consume 1000 mg of calcium per day. Even though your baby requires calcium for the formation of bones while growing, a woman’s calcium needs do not increase during pregnancy. 

Whether you are pregnant or not, if you are following a vegan diet it is difficult to meet your Calcium needs through food alone. 

Plant-Based Foods that are rich in Calcium:

  • Almonds
  • Molasses, 
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli 
  • Cabbage 
  • Collard greens 
  • Figs
  • Kale 
  • Okra
  • Calcium set tofu
  • Calcium fortified cereal
  • Tahini 
  • Fortified soy yoghourt
  • Orange juice and dairy free milk alternatives fortified with calcium 

Supplementation in addition to calcium rich foods is recommended. 

Choline

Choline is essential for the proper development of your child’s brain. It is recommended that you consume 450 milligrams of dietary choline per day throughout your pregnancy. Similarly to vitamin B12, It also important to ensure you are getting enough choline before you become pregnant because brain development happens so early on in pregnancy.

Choline is found commonly in animal products, but there are several vegan sources of choline including:

  • tofu
  • soybeans
  • soymilk
  • peanuts and peanut butter
  • kidney beans
  • quinoa
  • broccoli

Selenium

Selenium is important for the regulation of thyroid function and function and the regulation of your immune system. Selenium needs go up slightly, by 5 micrograms to 60 micrograms during pregnancy. Foods that are rich in selenium get it from the soil in which they grow. Most people living in North America do not suffer from a diet deficient in selenium.

Plant-based foods that are rich in selenium include:

  • Brazil nuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • sesame seeds

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is necessary for many important roles in the body such as helping with the absorption of calcium. Not having enough vitamin D can lead to an increased risk for preeclampsia. 

It is necessary to supplement with Vitamin D. The body cannot synthesize Vitamin D during the winter months like you can in the summer. A supplement of 600 IU is recommended but you can take supplements from 600-2000 IU of Vitamin D per day. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for the regulation of hormones and reproduction. Luckily, people following a plant-based diet, generally consume adequate amounts of Vitamin A through colourful fruits and vegetables. 

Foods that contain vitamin A include:

  • Carrots
  • Leafy greens 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Apricots 
  • Broccoli 
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Mangoes 
  • Peppers 
  • Pumpkin 
  • Squash 
  • Sweet potatoes 

How much is too much?

Vitamin A in large doses is very potent and not safe to consume during pregnancy. Supplementation of high doses of Vitamin A should not be taken while pregnant or if you could become pregnant. Toxicity from the overconsumption of vitamin A while pregnant can lead to serious birth defects. 

Iron

Iron is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies among women. Iron needs increase during pregnancy due to 

  1. The needs of growing baby 
  2. Needs of the mother due to high blood volume during pregnancy

It is important to note that Iron is needed to form hemoglobin which is a component of red blood cells and needed to carry oxygen throughout the body. This is why we need more iron when we are pregnant, because we have more blood circulating not only through our own bodies but through the baby as well. 

The required amount of Iron during pregnancy is 49 mg per day for a person consuming a plant-based diet. This is 1.8x higher than a person consuming animal products. 

Dietary Sources of Iron include but are not limited to:

  • Lentils 
  • Spinach 
  • Beans
  • Edamame 
  • Tempeh 
  • Swiss chard 
  • Hummus 
  • Sunflower seeds

Vitamin C and Iron

Consuming foods that are rich in Vitamin C will help increase the absorption of plant-based iron by 67%. 

Foods that are rich in Vitamin C include:

  • Red and green bell peppers
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Cooked broccoli 
  • Tomatoes 

While consuming foods that are rich in calcium are very important, it is a good idea to avoid consuming calcium rich foods alongside iron rich foods. If you are taking Iron supplements and Iron supplements, take them at different times and avoid taking calcium supplements with meals to maximize iron absorption at meal times. 

Zinc

During pregnancy, zinc needs increase to 11 mg from 8 mg. Zinc is particularly important for the role of cellular division. The multiplication of cells involved in the growth of your developing baby is why zinc is particularly important during pregnancy. Many foods that are high in iron are also high in zinc.

Plant-based foods containing zinc include: 

  • Asparagus 
  • Cashews
  • Corn 
  • Mushrooms
  • Peanuts
  • Peas
  • Quinoa 
  • Seeds
  • Tahini 
  • Tofu
  • Fortified cereals

Iodine

Iodine needs increase from 150 micrograms to 220 micrograms. Most supplements contain only 150 micrograms. To meet your needs while pregnant, use iodized salt. Iodine is essential for the development of your baby’s brain and central nervous system. Aiming for one quarter teaspoon of iodized salt will ensure you are meeting your needs. Consuming too much iodine can be harmful. The upper limit is 1,100 micrograms so be mindful of that as well.

Multivitamin Recommendations:

  • A multivitamin with 16-20 mg of iron is recommended during pregnancy but more may be needed if you have an iron deficiency. 
  • Not all prenatal supplements contain iodine, so be sure to read the labels when choosing a prenatal vitamin

Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for the proper development of your baby’s brain and central nervous system. People who follow a vegan, vegetarian or plant based diet may consume less omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as they are not consuming fish which is a main dietary source. 

Dietary sources of Omega-3’s: 

  • 2 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp. ground flax seeds
  • ¼ cup hemp seeds
  • ⅓ cup walnuts
  • 1½ tsp. of flax seed oil
  • 1½ tbsp. of hemp seed oil
  • 2½ tbsp. of canola oil

Should I supplement?

DHA Supplements commonly use fish oil however vegan supplements that are made from DHA rich algae are available. Could be beneficial but not essential. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplements

Canada – Freshfield Vegan DHA and DPA Supplement

USA – Freshfield Vegan DHA and DPA Supplement

  • you can take 1-2 capsules per day
  • 260 mg per capsule
  • $30.00 for 60 capsules

Canada – NaturaVege Vegan Omega-3 Supplement

USA – Nutravege Vegan Omega-3 Supplement

  • 1 capsule per day
  • DHA and EPA
  • 450 mg per capsule
  • $28.00 for a two month supply

Canada – Flora DHA Supplement

USA – Flora DHA Supplement

  • just DHA
  • 500 mg
  • $29.00 for a two month supply

Prenatal/Multivitamin

Canada – Naturelo Vegan Prenatal Supplement

USA – Naturelo Vegan Prenatal Supplement

Pros:Cons:
100% of the daily recommended intake of essential vitamins and minerals except calcium Three capsules per day to meet requirements 
$50.00 for a two month supplyNo Omega-3 included

Canada – Pink Stork Total Prenatal + DHA

USA – Pink Stork Total Prenatal + DHA

Pros:Cons:
100% of the daily recommended intake of the essential vitamins and minerals except calcium $50.00 for a one month supply
Includes DHATwo capsules per day to meet requirements 
Only 200 mg DHA

Canada – New Roots Vegan Prenatal

USA – New Roots Vegan Prenatal

Pros:Cons:
100% of the daily recommended intake of essential vitamins and minerals per serving with the exception of calciumThree capsules per day to meet requirements
$25.00 for a one month supplyNo-Omega-3 included

Caloric Needs during Pregnancy

Your caloric needs do not increase in pregnancy until the second trimester. 

After the first trimester, your baseline caloric needs do increase, but your total needs will still vary depending on your level of physical activity. In the second trimester your needs increase by 340 Calories per day. In your third trimester, your needs increase by 450 Calories. It is important to choose nutrient dense foods during this time that will nourish both you and your baby. 

Pregnancy-Plant-Based-Nutrition

Protein needs during Pregnancy 

During the 1st Trimester 

Like your energy needs, your protein needs during the first trimester do not increase. 

Vegan sources of protein:

  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Beans 
  • Peanuts 

Choosing high protein foods will help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and help to prevent constipation. 

During the 2nd and 3rd Trimester 

During the second and third trimester your protein needs increase by almost 50%. You will need an extra 25-28 grams of protein per day.

Your Individualized Needs

A vegan registered dietitian can help you discover your personalized energy needs throughout pregnancy.

© All Rights Reserved, Plant-Based Dietitians 2024