Are vegeta*ian pregnant women at more risk?

his article follows on from my articles on vegetarian diets in children.

This article is for informational purposes, and does not concern women at risk of malabsorption due to Crohn’s disease for example 


“  Eating is a necessity, but eating smart is an art. “

La Rochefoucauld


Choosing the right foods means giving your body the best of fuels so that in return, it gives us energy , fights pathogens, and prevents the development of cancer cells.

When you are pregnant, eating healthy, in line with your needs is essential. You should not eat twice as much, but twice as much.



What do the studies say

According to studies, newborn babies of vegetarian mothers have a birth weight comparable to that of a non-vegetarian mother.


Regarding vitamin D

Deficiency of this vitamin is common in the northern hemisphere. It is recommended for all pregnant and lactating women to be supplemented with 2000IU per day, i.e. 50µg / day during the winter months.


Folic acid

Like all pregnant women, folate supplements also apply to ensure the correct nervous development of the child (a folic acid deficiency being associated with a spina bifida).



There are 3 types of omega-3:

  • ALA (alpha linolenic acid)
  • The DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)

Plant sources of omega-3 are ALA. They include flax seeds and oilseeds .

The concentrations of DHA in the umbilical blood, the blood of the baby born to vegetarian mothers, and breast milk are reported below , but the consequences are unknown . Knowing that this type of fatty acid plays a key role in brain development and that of the eyes, it is advisable for pregnant and lactating women on a vegan diet, to include in their diet foods rich in linolenic acid .

However, the rate of conversion of ALA to DHA is often low as it requires a perfect balance of many nutrients and enzymes.

Also, pregnant women who do not consume fish, fish oil, or very few foods rich in omega-3, can be supplemented with DHA. After birth, if the woman chooses to breastfeed, supplementation may be given to the child.

In the same idea, trans fatty acids , inhibitors of conversion of linolenic acid to DHA will be limited.

These recommendations are also valid for omnivorous pregnant women , whose omega-6 / omega-3 ratio is unbalanced (which is observed in the majority of French people).



The iron

The double iron requirement during pregnancy. However, supplementation is not automatically necessary . Only biomarkers (transferrin saturation coefficient or soluble transferrin receptor) can indicate anemia. In the case of a proven anemia, supplements will be prescribed.

If iron supplements have no effect, it is advisable to dose vitamins B6, B12 and B5 (among others). At the same time, foods rich in zinc will have to be taken daily, because iron supplements can decrease the absorption of zinc , especially if they are taken during meals (supplements are more effective taken 30 minutes before meals but are much less well tolerated).

The prevalence of anemia does not appear to be greater among vegetarian women . This can be explained by the fact that many foods inhibit the absorption of iron, and that vegetarians interested in nutrition can combine plants rich in iron with other rich in vitamin C, in order to increase l absorption of this mineral.


Vitamin B12

In a vegetarian consuming eggs and / or dairy products, the risk of having a B12 deficiency is low. In vegan women, especially if they decide to breastfeed, vitamin B12 supplementation will be offered.



The need for calcium during pregnancy does not increase, since intestinal absorption is naturally increased (and yes, the body is well made!). The sources of calcium are varied and are not limited to dairy products .


The calcium concentration of a vegan mother’s breast milk does not seem to be affected , but supplementation will be recommended to the mother to cover her own needs if necessary .




Because the synthesis of thyroid hormones increases by 50% during pregnancy, the need for iodine increases at the same time (knowing that a deficit of iodine is linked to cretinism). The intakes are to be monitored , in particular in women who consume very little or no seafood, or who live in regions where the soil is iodine deficient . For vegan women who regularly consume seaweed, iodine intake is not a concern.


In the end, it can be concluded that a healthy vegetarian diet is not at risk for the development of the fetus. Whether the mother is omnivorous or vegetarian, the risks of deficits remain the same . It is even observed that pregnant vegetarian women have greater intakes of nutrients necessary for the good development of the child. By consuming more plants, and therefore more fiber, bacteria have more “fuel” to produce substances such as vitamin K.

Future vegan mothers will require special attention. B12, vitamin D, calcium, DHA and iron supplements may be necessary depending on their nutritional status.

The food and the environment in which the pregnant woman lives can have an impact on the epigenetic expression of the child. Also, women expecting a baby are strongly advised to consult a dietician.






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