Vegetarian, vegan and special diets
To ensure both you and your baby get the nutrients you need, it’s important to enjoy an overall healthy, balanced diet.
Take a look at the information below, then talk to your midwife or doctor about how you can get all the nutrients you need to support you and your growing baby.
Vegetarian and vegan diets
It’s certainly possible to have a nutritionally balanced diet when following a vegetarian or vegan diet, but there are a few nutrients that need to be carefully considered.
Vegan dietary sources of vitamin B12 include fortified breakfast cereals, fortified soya drinks, yeast extract such as Marmite, and fortified nutritional yeast. As vitamin B12 sources are quite limited for vegans, a supplement may be recommended. Vegetarians can also enjoy milk, cheese and eggs, which provide some B12.
Vegan and vegetarian sources of iron include pulses such as beans and lentils, dark green vegetables such as spinach, wholemeal bread, fortified breakfast cereals, and dried fruit such as apricots. Vegetarians can also enjoy eggs.
Dairy foods are a good source of calcium. For vegans, alternative sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, pulses, fortified milk-alternative drinks, bread, tofu and dried fruit.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in oily fish. Other sources suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets include walnuts, flaxseed (linseed), hemp seeds, chia seeds, soya beans and rapeseed oil.
It’s important that you have good stores of vitamin D during your pregnancy to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of his or her life. As sunlight is the main source of vitamin D and there are few dietary sources, with the main ones being oily fish and eggs, all adults and children over five years old, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, are advised to consider taking a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement daily.
It’s recommended that babies from birth to the age of one who are breastfed are given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D, whether or not mum is taking a supplement herself. This is to make sure your baby gets enough. Talk to your health visitor for advice on appropriate supplements for your baby.
For more information on vitamin D, visit the NHS website. Some vitamin D supplements aren’t suitable for vegans, so it’s important to check the label carefully.
Milk and dairy products, fish and seafood, and seaweed are the richest sources of iodine; so those following a vegetarian diet can enjoy milk and dairy products to support their iodine intake. From a vegan perspective, seaweed is the main source. However, it’s not recommended to consume seaweed more than once a week, especially during pregnancy, as it can provide excessive amounts of iodine that can be detrimental to health. This means getting enough iodine from a vegan diet can be difficult, so some people may choose to take an iodine supplement. It’s important to speak to your GP or midwife before taking any supplements during pregnancy, including iodine supplements.
If you follow a specific diet, for instance due to a medical condition such as coeliac disease, due to food allergies or intolerances, for religious reasons, or for other reasons, please talk to your midwife or GP and ask to be referred to a dietitian for support with getting the nutrients you need for you and your baby.