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. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also at risk of not getting enough vitamin D.

Iron in your diet

Good sources of iron for vegetarians and vegans are:

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

Vitamin B12 in your diet

Good sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians are:

  • milk and cheese
  • eggs

Good sources for vegetarians and vegans are:

  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • fortified 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

Vitamin D is found in meat, oily fish and eggs, but your body can also make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to summer sunlight.

All pregnant women, regardless of their diet, are advised to take a vitamin D supplement throughout pregnancy to ensure they have enough vitamin D for their baby. Vegans will need to read the label to ensure that the vitamin D used in a product is not of animal origin.

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:

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

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 about foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Breastfeeding on a vegan diet

If you're breastfeeding and following a vegan diet, it’s especially important to take a vitamin D supplement, as recommended for all breastfeeding women. If you have been taking a vitamin B12 supplement, should also 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.

Vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D are recommended for infants aged between six months and 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.

It's recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby until they are around six months old, then gradually introduce solids while continuing to breastfeed.

Soya infant formula is the only alternative to cow’s milk formula for vegan mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed. Get advice from your midwife, health visitor or GP before using soya infant formula. 

Page last reviewed: 16/10/2013

Next review due: 16/10/2015

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