One of the most common questions I get from my fans and patients is, “how do I stay healthy and keep my baby healthy on a vegan diet through pregnancy?”
When I decided to try getting pregnant, it was especially scary because I had successfully healed myself of Lupus four years prior, and everybody I knew was scared that pregnancy could be the trigger that brought the disease back. In fact, my doctors insisted this would happen. Having experienced a complete transformation in my body, I did not believe this, and I was determined to eat the most nourishing diet possible to prove them all wrong and enjoy my growing family.
Many doctors have yet to agree on the best diet for pregnancy, and many of my patients find that their doctors sometimes discourage a vegan diet during pregnancy. This can be frustrating for many vegan moms; but don’t worry, because not only am I a vegan medical doctor— I’ve also had two fabulously fit and healthy pregnancies. My two boys couldn’t be healthier.
I firmly believe that whether you’re pregnant or not, a “high-raw” (mostly raw) whole food vegan diet is the very best for your health and the health of your children. If you are already vegan, then this is the time to concentrate on whole healthy plant foods and stay away from the processed, albeit delicious, vegan junk food that is so readily available today. If you aren’t vegan yet, there is no better time to choose the healthiest diet possible, to support your own health and to create the healthiest baby possible. No matter how far along you are, it’s never too late to start! Today is a great day to go vegan!
I believe parenting starts in the womb. This is a great time to commit to giving your baby the best possible start in life. Make sure you are as strong and fit as possible, to be the best mother possible.
Here are my 5 keys to a healthy vegan pregnancy that have helped my clients, and me, rock our pregnancies and look fitter during pregnancy, and after giving birth. Follow these steps and you can rock your vegan pregnancy!
1. Be Healthy BEFORE You’re Pregnant
Pregnancy is one of the most amazing and most difficult things your body will go through. Your heart has to work harder to pump the extra blood through the extra body weight you will have. As your belly grows, your muscles have to hold up your spine, which can put a lot of strain on your back and your hip joints. Your surging hormones will affect your emotions and you will notice strange feelings in your body. Everything changes. Therefore, one of the best ways to have a healthy pregnancy is to be as healthy as possible before you start. Make sure you are nourishing your body with fresh raw greens and vegetables every day. This will provide the vital vitamins and minerals you need to optimize your health.
Many women worry about getting enough calcium for the bones, and iron for their blood. There is an abundance of these minerals in kale and spinach, so blend them up and drink them down in a green smoothie every day!
Leafy greens, as well as broccoli, asparagus, avocado and beans, are also the very best source of folate, an essential nutrient for your baby’s developing nervous system. Folate deficiency is not from a lack of prenatal vitamins, it’s from a lack of abundant healthy vegetables, especially greens! The reason folate is so highly emphasized in pregnancy and preparing for pregnancy is multifold. Before you get pregnant, folic acid is very important for your own brain and heart health. It’s also vital for producing red blood cells, which you will need to make much more of as your blood volume increases during pregnancy. Once pregnant, this essential nutrient must be available to build your baby’s spinal cord, which happens very early in pregnancy, sometimes before you even know you are pregnant. Therefore, you want to make sure you are getting plenty of folate before and during your pregnancy, eating an abundance of healthy greens and vegetables.
Eat your flax seeds and walnuts to amp up your omega-3 fatty acids to optimize cellular health, brain health, immunity and metabolism. I believe when you eat this way, pregnancy vitamins are probably unnecessary, but I have taken whole-food-based vegan prenatal vitamins with both pregnancies, mostly for added insurance when nausea made it hard to eat the foods I needed.
Drink plenty of water every day and exercise. Make sure you optimize your core strength, focusing on abs, spine, back, glutes and balance exercises. I was so fit when I got pregnant with my first son, that I had almost no aches and pains. My spine was straight and my abs stayed tight. Use this time to get in the best shape of your life, you will be very glad you did.
2. Have Your Best Plan, and be prepared to let it go
Pregnancy is the perfect practice for parenthood. You need to create the best plan possible, and then be prepared for chaos when nothing goes the way you planned!
For example, you should plan to nourish your body with fresh raw greens, vegetables and fruits, and exercise daily so you can maintain your super healthy body during your pregnancy. However, as I often tell my clients, pregnancy is all about survival. You will have food aversions. The meals you usually love become completely gross to you. I normally love my green smoothies, but during my last pregnancy if I even let smoothie touch my lips, I would vomit like crazy. After having the interior of my car detailed twice, I gave up on the smoothies until later in the pregnancy when the aversions calmed down. I also normally love, love, love salads, but when I was pregnant, just looking at a bowl of greens and veggies immediately turned my stomach. Without smoothies, I knew I had to find a way to eat my greens and veggies, and I discovered that I could eat anything on an everything bagel. For the next few weeks, I ate two-to-three bagels a day, fully loaded with hummus, avocado, greens, sprouts, tomatoes—you name it—and I enjoyed it without any nausea.
The current theory is that the high levels of hormones cause these aversions and nausea. Nausea is a good sign that your hormones are doing their job, but when they hit it feels like a constant hangover and you need to do whatever it takes to survive. Try not to eat like you have a hang-over. Stay away from greasy nutrient-poor foods. Instead, see how you can get in the nutrients you need in a way that your body will accept. If you aren’t able to eat as many raw healthy foods as you would like, don’t worry, your baby is going to take all the nutrients he needs from your body, even if you aren’t eating them.
When it comes to exercise, do what you can, whenever you can, so you can keep your body strong and healthy. Try not to get down on yourself for the days that you choose to nap instead. Pregnancy is a survival game. Get through it doing the best you can. It’s good practice for when that baby comes who has no idea about your ideal sleep schedule!
Alex Tadlock, Brooke’s younger son (pictured at top in Brooke’s belly).
3. Listen To Your Body, It’s Speaking To You
Your body is probably not going to feel like your usual body pretty shortly after that positive pregnancy test. You will probably have nausea, your sense of smell will be like a bloodhound (and there are apparently way more foul odors out there than pleasant ones when you are pregnant). Your muscles and tendons will be stretched in new, and possibly uncomfortable, ways. You might experience problems with memory, emotional ups and downs, and overwhelming fatigue to boot.
Try to love your changing body the way you love the baby growing inside you. Be compassionate and empathetic. Feed your spirit as well as your mouth. Sleep when you are tired, even if there are dishes piled up at the sink. Eat when you are hungry, even in the middle of the night.
Make sure you support your mental and emotional health as well. Attend classes like yoga, meditation, and even dance.
If you think you might be depressed, consult with a psychiatrist for valuable support. When I was eight months pregnant, I attended a women’s weekend meditation and dance retreat. Before going, I was tired, nauseous, and my belly was big. I didn’t know if I could handle all the dancing or even stay awake for the full day. I decided to go and just do whatever my body wanted to do. It was a remarkable experience. The dancing felt great, and my nausea completely cleared up. I felt more energized and hungry, as well as centered and connected. It showed me that my body wanted more movement and meditation, which helped me power through the last month of my pregnancy feeling better than ever. Note that if you feel a little tired or nauseous, some exercise might actually make you feel better, but if you feel too tired to try or can’t get going, it’s ok to stop and just rest. Listen to your body. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Even though that little baby is hitching a ride in your belly, getting pregnant takes a team effort, and getting through it is a team effort as well. It will be harder to do all of the things you are used to getting done on your own, and the best thing you can do is to express that to your partner, or to friends or parents if you are a single parent. The people who love you will help you if you are very clear about your needs.
When I became pregnant with our second son, I was still working as medical director at a nonprofit, and normally prepared a healthy high-raw dinner after work. During the pregnancy, my joy for preparing food just felt like more work at a time when I just wanted to relax, especially on Tuesdays, my longest day of the week. I told my husband that I was not going to be making dinner on Tuesdays and asked him to take that on. Now, when you ask for help, you need to be prepared for how that person can help you, even if it isn’t what you would normally do. My husband did not start making raw zucchini lasagna on Tuesdays. Instead, he was waiting for me in the car with our older son when I got home on Tuesdays, to drive the three of us to the local vegan Vietnamese restaurant. I got to relax and take a night off from making dinner, and he got to feel like he was taking care of me, which he really wanted to do. Asking for help allows you to feel cared for, and gives the people who love you the opportunity to show you how much love they hold for you in their hearts. It’s a win-win-win (extra win for the baby!).
5. Hyper-nourish After You Give Birth
Just when your body gets used to (kind of) the enormous amounts of hormones fluid, and weight you are holding, it all changes in one day! (Giving birth is like going through a mini-menopause.) On top of that you will be getting little to no sleep, have outrageously sore nipples from your little angel learning to nurse on them all day and night, and painful injuries from a vaginal delivery or Cesarean section.
The good part is not only the magical baby you can stare at for hours while he sleeps, but also that your food aversions and nausea are gone. It’s time to get to work nourishing your body as much as possible to heal your injuries, keep up the energy you need to care for your baby, and create the milk supply that will help him grow. Your appetite will be ravenous if you are nursing (and you should do everything you can to breastfeed your baby - nothing is healthier for your baby), and many women are tempted to eat junk foods to satisfy their cravings for extra calories.
Start off every day with a green smoothie using kale or spinach and the fruits you enjoy to make sure you have the nutrients and water your body needs. Realize that your aversions or eating issues during the pregnancy might have left you a bit malnourished and dehydrated, especially since the baby takes what he needs from your body no matter what you eat. Now is the time to feed your cells and get your health as strong as possible. Also make sure you are drinking at least 96-ounces of water a day, since a huge amount of your fluid intake will be diverted to your milk supply. Constipation is very common after birth, and the smoothies and water will help you keep things moving. Raw foods and water will also give you the energy you need to take on parenthood. You don’t need to focus on exercise at this point, just hold your baby, breastfeed when he’s hungry, and sleep with him whenever you can. Keep the teamwork going as much as possible and you will look and feel great.
When I gave birth to my first and second sons, I was back in my size two jeans within two weeks after giving birth, without exercise, and eating as much nourishing food as I wanted. When you follow these 5 Keys, your body will take care of you while you take care of your little one.
Not only are you what you eat, but your baby is also what you eat. Not only are you what you feel, but your baby is what you feel. Follow these 5 Key Steps and you will set up your health, and your baby’s health, for success.