My third pregnancy was actually my first vegan pregnancy. To this day when I look at Micah I am still blown away that I made this human entirely out of plants. Maybe because I have been told my entire life that you need animal products to be healthy and grow properly, or maybe it’s because I let the fears and anxieties of others influence my thought! Or maybe because I was insecure at the beginning as well. But when I look at my son I see a healthy, happy, chubby little man and seeing him today makes me realize how wrong I was about what health can be. I wanted to share my experience because I think it is important to communicate that it is very possible to have a healthy vegan pregnancy and postpartum!
I know that a vegan diet is not for everyone, heck I NEVER thought it was for me. Before I had Micah I was a full blown carnivorous paleo. I ate meat or some form of animal product with EVERY meal. We had eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch and beef for dinner. I made my coffee with butter and we had cheese and yogurt all the time for it’s probiotics. I was what I thought to be ‘healthy’. I was not overweight or outwardly sick. But I did have thyroid issues, low energy, brain fog and I just never felt full of energy (but anyways that is for another post). What I wanted to discuss here is my experience having a vegan pregnancy. Was I healthy, was I deficient, did I have any problems and how healthy is my baby compared to my other 2 children?
Ok so my pregnancy! I transitioned into a plant based diet a few months before I became pregnant. So I was very nervous when I became pregnant because I was still so new to veganism. I wanted to make sure my baby was receiving all the nutrients he needed and that I was not depriving my body or my baby of anything (echo the protein and iron debate) . SO, shortly after I discovered I was pregnant I asked my doctor to do some blood work to check my iron, calcium, B12 and folate. I was not on any prenatals at this point so I was very nervous about the state of my nutrition. It is one thing to make a decision for yourself, but it is an entirely other thing to decide something for another, especially a growing child. My decisions when pregnant could affect him for life! So I was very happy to see that my blood results were all normal or in the high range of normal, except iron. However I must mention that iron has always been an issue for me. When I was paleo eating red meat every single day I was still low on iron. So I didn’t concern myself to much with that and started a vegan supplement plus b12 right away. I now know that my issues with iron is my poor absorption of iron and I am taking the steps to help correct this.
As my pregnancy continued I got my blood levels checked every few months to check my the main nutrients that are suggested by many to be deficient in a vegan diet. They always came back normal, except iron which was slightly on the low end of normal.
Ok now for the bad news (sorry but it was not all roses and sunshine). This third pregnancy was a very hard one for me. This shocked me because I had easy, movie type pregnancies with my other two boys. No vomitting, no major nausea and I worked until a few days before they were both born. With Micah (this vegan pregnacy) that was not the case. At 10 weeks I had to start nausea medication just so I could make it to work. I stopped throwing up but I was so drowsy that I had to take a nap in my car, yes that’s right, in my car at lunch and then again when I got home so I could find the energy to make dinner. So that was short lived and I stopped the medication at 15 weeks. I eventually had to go on medical leave at 21 weeks because I felt so incredibly sick. At first I chalked it up to finally having a girl, so imagine my surprise when I found out it was another boy hahaha. Then I thought it was because my iron was so low. In fact my hemoglobin had also dropped a bit by this point. But this corrected itself when I switched to a stronger dose of iron (I used floravit, which is a vegan brand) but the sick feeling remained. It wasn’t until Micah was born that we realized why I may have been so sick (complications with his placenta). But throughout my entire pregnancy I was worried that my dietary choice could be the reason I was feeling so bad. I’ll be honest there were a few times when I was so sick and feeling so horrible that I questioned my decision to become vegan while pregnant. But then I thought logically! How could eating plants, beans, and fruit make my body deficient or sick! I tracked my macros- and micro-nutrients on cronometer and followed up with blood tests, and spoke to my midwife which all helped me relax a lot. Mostly because I saw that I was receiving all my baby needed. Being a researcher by training I spent many hours reading peer reviewed articles about veganism and it’s safety (Check this blog post for the resources ). HOWEVER, one thing I must mention is that just being ‘vegan’ does not mean you are eating well or even healthy. A bag of potato chips are vegan, and so are many processed foods! So I took the time and effort to make healthy choices and eat a WHOLE FOOD plant based diet!
Ok so how was my baby, was he healthy and is he growing? My son Micah was born on Christmas day after a short labor weighing in at 6 lbs 13 oz. He was my smallest baby (the other two were 7lb 13oz, and 7lb, 6oz) but healthy and just perfect. He is a very calm, patient, happy little 6 month old today (as I write this). And despite being my smallest (but still a very good birth weight) he is a CHUNK! Weighing in at almost 22 lbs at 6 months! I have no issues nursing him, and I have an amazing milk supply. I make sure to eat enough calories from whole plant-based foods and stay hydrated to allow my body to make enough milk! I think a huge part of successful breastfeeding has to do with hydration and caloric intake.
SO, was I healthy, yes I believe so. Was I deficient, absolutely not! And how healthy is my baby compared to my other 2 children? Well so far he is healthy and happy. The only difference…. he has NO gas or digestive issues!!! Both my other two boys had MAJOR stomach cramps, gas, bloating and reflux as babies! So I will just leave it here that I think the main reason for this is my very clean diet. I especially kept my diet free from many irritants during the first 3 months postpartum. I didn’t consume caffeine, chocolate, gluten, or heavy spices (and obviously eggs and dairy) and minimal to no alcohol.
Today I am so grateful and happy I trusted myself and did the research to make sure I was on a healthy track. If you are considering a vegan pregnancy, heck if you are just plain pregnant, regardless of your diet choice, make sure you are receiving all the nutrients you need from WHOLE foods. Download cronometer and track your food intake and ask for a few blood tests along the way to make sure you are hitting all your macros- and micro-nutrients (carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals)! Don’t rely solely on your prenatals! If you are super sick, like I was, then try your best with soups, veggie stock, smoothies and fresh juices and supplement with high quality supplements where you need it.
If your interested in my birth story comment below!