Vegan Pregnancy & Nursing article at La Leche League

Real talk about nutrition & health for pregnant & lactating women is always important.  For those who are vegan or interested in a plant based diet  there can be many questions about nutrition & meal preparation.  I think it’s absolutely critical to have & share real & very frank talk about how we nourish ourselves. Many women pregnant or not, vegan or not, are not aware of their own nutritional needs.  For me, becoming vegan did coincide with an increased interest in both nutrition & food. My love of cooking has since magnified greatly too!  My article was edited down at the La Leche League website so here it is in full.  For the edited down article at La Leche League scroll to end. 

Vegan while pregnant & nursing

The most challenging aspect for me in being vegan through pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been adjusting to diet and nutritional needs but rather learning how to respond to people’s questions and comments. Fortunately I was surrounded by very supportive family and friends so didn’t have to deal with strange comments frequently, but I am always interested in sharing the challenges I had and learning curve I experienced in case it can help other women through their pregnancies and nursing journeys as vegans or even just help inform people who are curious.

I have learned over time to really aim to be as transparent and realistic as possible when people come to me with questions and comments and when I present aspects of my story. I sometimes will offer to talk about things later.  Dinnertime at a family reunion, for example, is often not the best time to discuss why you have sworn off animal dairy, no matter how much people at the table may insist that they want to hear!

I became vegan when my first child was about a year old and still nursing.  I focused on wholesome meals and was fortunate to live in Hawai’i with a bevy of local produce to buy.  However, as a new vegan who enjoys healthful food but isn’t a “health nut”, I also indulged in a fair amount of highly processed foods (such as many types of mock meats) as well as junk food that happened to be vegan! But overall I maintained a balanced diet and my son was growing tall and strong from a young age. 

Even after I stopped nursing him, I remained very interested, as an advocate, in information about pregnancy and breastfeeding as a vegan. Last year when I found out I was pregnant I was excited to finally experience a vegan pregnancy on my own.  Here in Sweden, all prenatal care is governed by midwives (unless in case of a complication in which case you are referred to a doctor). I had routine blood work done at all appointments which helped to keep me informed about my nutritional intake. Like many pregnant women, I took prenatal vitamins and also chose to take an iron supplement. 

During my pregnancy with my son I escaped morning sickness right up until the third trimester when it really became all day long sickness- mainly after meals (and I wasn’t vegan). During my pregnancy with my daughter, nausea persisted throughout the entire pregnancy and early on I found myself experimenting with techniques that would diminish it, if even just a bit. I was vegan but recognized that I experienced nausea less  after plant based meals. Not all vegan food is “plant based” which is a term referring to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and no highly refined foods, meat or dairy. 

I had known about the distinction between vegan and plant based before but never felt an inclination to commit to the latter. However, now pregnant, of course a sense of ease in consuming food and keeping it down was of paramount importance so my diet began to shift increasingly towards plant based meals. In the beginning of my third trimester I took part in the Plant based Nutrition certificate course taught by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. I became savvier at creating wholesome and delicious dishes that my body also seemed to enjoy.

I discovered ingredient combinations that would pack a lot of essential nutrition into meals, such as one of my favorite breakfasts concoctions of several spoonfuls of Hemp seeds, berries, nuts (I often used pecans or hazelnuts) with oat milk, the plant based milk of choice here in Sweden. 

As now with nursing, my main goal was to pack maximum nutrition as well as sufficient calories into my meals and snack times. I always have a range of snacks on me, something I definitely picked up while pregnant as it’s easy to burn through those calories, particularly on a plant based diet, and having a hearty nibble of something at hand was game changing for my energy levels and health. 

I was fortunate to have an extremely supportive midwife who also was clearly knowledgeable that there should be nothing unusual about a woman being vegan through pregnancy as long as she is, like any pregnant woman, simply taking care of herself and making sure to eat well and balanced. There are some great resources out there for those interested in vegan pregnancy and the list of these resources just grows by day. Just do an Internet search for ‘books on vegan pregnancy’ or even a general search to see the ever growing body of articles being produced by women with firsthand knowledge of healthy vegan pregnancies. 

Before becoming pregnant with my daughter, I had spent about two years interviewing, and when possible photographing, women across the globe about their experiences mothering as a vegan, including experiences while pregnant and nursing. I was excited, when I found out I was pregnant, to look back on all these interviews and dialogue exchanges and glean little tips here and there as well as a general sense of support and inspiration. There’s a fantastic group on Facebook called ‘Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting’ which I would recommend to any parent who seeks a place for solidarity and information exchange online regarding vegan pregnancy and beyond. 

My daughter is now 8 months old and heartily nursing away. I am always conscious of what I am eating, with her and my milk supply in mind, focusing on rich, wholesome and exciting meals. I also enjoy indulging – yes I eat cake and chips and burgers too (just all vegan!). 

Becoming vegan can definitely involve a steep learning curve and when you are pregnant and nursing you want to make sure you do everything so your babe is thriving as well.  It’s a very exciting time for women who come to veganism for a variety of reasons as the body of research and knowledge about being healthy through vegan pregnancy and parenting is rapidly growing.  I love helping people find resources so please do not hesitate to look me up!

One of my favourite breakfast dishes, especially when pregnant due to how quick, simple & nutritious it is. Hazlenuts (or pecans or walnuts…) with dried cranberries, hemp seed & oat milk (or other plant based milk)!

Tomato Turmeric soup

3 large peeled tomatoes

2 cloves garlic (minced)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1 can of coconut milk

1/2 tsp of turmeric   

Blend, heat and serve!

Easy to make soups were a favourite while both pregnant & nursing.  Above is a simple carrot coconut soup using 1 bag of carrots peeled and boiled soft with a couple veggie bouillons, then blended, heated up again with a can of coconut soup & served.  Add spices to taste (I use turmeric for almost all my soups!)

Chickpea Spread 

I often use equivalent of two cans of garbanzo beans and mashed them up to a desired consistency.  I added enough vegan mayo (my favorite is Just Mayo but more and more companies are offering vegan mayos so should not be too hard to find a vegan option in mainstream grocers ) to desired creaminess and then mixed in some sea salt, cayenne pepper, a few spoonfuls of relish, stone ground mustard and one diced onion. This is a super flexible recipe that you can just experiment with along the way for the texture and creaminess you prefer and also of course there are many really great vegan chickpea spread or chickpea salad sandwich recipes online to use as inspiration. 

Speaking of chickpeas, one of my favourite snacks (especially when I’m just busy with my children & need a tasty, savory, nutritious quick snack) is Roasted Garbanzo Beans! I sometimes just roast them tossed in a bit of olive oil & herb salt or if I’m feeling fancy & have fresh herbs will also add those to the mix. Great as an appetizer nibbler too (which I love to have if I’m cooking a more complex dinner) or add to a holiday feast table.

Tofu Bacon Salad & with Pasta base
One of my basic cravings during my last pregnancy was a bowl with a fresh greens with olive oil, crema balsamico, pumpkin seeds & tofu bacon but of course I like to spruce it up for more nutrition & calories so would also sometimes add pasta with lightly sauteed tomatoes (increasing lycopene availability!).  For the tofu bacon, I marinated the tiny sliced bits of tofu in tamari soy sauce, baked until dry & then into the pan for a quick, crisp fry. So many flavors & textures to enjoy in one dish!

Edited version of this article at the La Leche League USA blog here