If you eat sensibly, then vegetarianism will have no bad effects on pregnancy. However, if you're not used to a vegetarian diet or don't get your full balance of nutrients, then problems with you or your baby may occur. Your doctor should be able to advise whether you're low in any particular mineral or nutrient. This is particularly important if you follow a vegan diet.
One common worry about vegetarianism during pregnancy is a lack of protein. Protein deficiency during pregnancy will weaken the mother and can lead to developmental problems in the fetus. As a vegetarian, you need to ensure you get protein from a range of sources, including grains, legumes and beans. Otherwise, you may miss the full set of essential amino acids required to build new proteins in the body. Pregnant women in the latter two trimesters should try to get 71 grams of protein each day, according to the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine.
Low Birth Weight
A lack of iron during pregnancy can leave you feeling slow and listless. In severe cases it can cause low birth weights and cognitive problems in children. Iron occurs in highest doses in meat and fish. However, some plant foods do contain iron -- though it tends to be a less easily absorbed form called non-heme iron. The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests pregnant women get 27 milligrams of iron from their diet per day. Soybeans, for example, contain 8.8 milligrams of iron per 1 cup, while 1/2 cup of boiled spinach contains 2.3 milligrams. Some cereals and other products are fortified with iron.
The male birth defect hyposdpadias means that the penis has an abnormal opening for the urethra. In a 2000 study published in "BJU International," researchers found that the high levels of phytoestrogens consumed in a vegetarian diet may play a role in raising the risk of hypospadias. They found vegetarian mothers had higher odds of having a baby with hypospadias. Other studies suggest that high soy consumption may play a role in hypospadias, notes VeganHealth.org.
Many vegetarians take vitamin supplements during pregnancy. These often include iron, omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and a range of other essential and beneficial nutrients. If you're a vegan or a vegetarian who avoids dairy and eggs, you're at greater risk of nutrient deficiency. Calcium, iron, protein and other minerals are all present in high doses in dairy and eggs. Speak with your doctor if you're a vegan or restricted vegetarian during pregnancy.
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron
- "BJU International"; A Maternal Vegetarian Diet in Pregnancy is Associated With Hypospadias. The ALSPAC Study Team. Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood; K. North, et al.; January 2000
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy
- Veganhealth.org: Hypospadias and Vegetarian Diets