A HEALTHY PREGNANCY ON A PLANT-BASED DIET
I remember the day I found out I was pregnant like it was just last week. It was the day before Christmas Eve and I was making a lentil pasta that I had eaten many times before– but oddly as it was cooking, my apartment filled with this nauseating eggy smell. It tasted fine but I was having trouble finishing it (which is very odd for me), and my period happened to be a week or so “late.” Now this wasn’t too weird as it was 9 days late just a few months before but I decided to take a pregnancy test “just for the heck of it” with the expectation of it being negative as it was everytime I had taken one previously. I did the deed, left it on the bathroom counter, and forgot about it for a few minutes. I went back to look at it super casually and to my surprise, it said “pregnant”! My pregnancy was an unplanned one so I was in shock to say the least… but all I ever wanted was to be a mom so there was an underlying excitement beneath the surprise.
Why did I transition to a plant-based diet in the first place?
I got pregnant three-and-a-half years into my vegan lifestyle. I transitioned to this way of eating for a multitude of reasons. I initially tried it for the health and nutrition aspects and stuck around for the ethical, sustainability, and economical benefits. I had struggled with a lot of health issues at a very young age including juvenile arthritis, IBS, depression, anxiety, chronic kidney infections, eczema, and hyperpigmentation so going vegan was sort of a “last-ditch” effort that ended up significantly improving (if not completely eliminating) all of these issues.
Eating a plant-based diet helped me balance my health issues, find a sense of community, gave me something to be passionate about, and allowed me to be excited about food again. Both my partner at the time and I were vegan and I had seen many of my friends have successful and healthy pregnancies while consuming a plant-based diet; so I never even gave a thought to whether I would consume animal products or not throughout my pregnancy when I conceived.
Filtering through the “advice”
I had heard horror stories of expecting-mothers being shamed or challenged for choosing to consume a diet without animal products. The truth is, just as with any diet or lifestyle choice, there is a right and a wrong way to do things. You can be vegan or not and consume a diet comprised of highly-processed, low-nutrient foods OR a well-balanced diet filled with high-fiber plants, healthy fats, and complete proteins. There’s a lot of stigma and misinformation attached to the word “vegan” which can unfortunately lead to a well-researched, health-conscious mama to be cross-examined for her choice to eat that way.
I feel very lucky to have no experienced a ton of pushback on my diet after announcing my pregnancy. However, the number one piece of advice I received from friends and family was to “eat whatever I want” or “this is the time to really indulge” and although I definitely didn’t think twice about eating spaghetti and meatless “meatballs” for a week straight when it’s all I was craving at one point, I did notice my energy levels and overall feeling of wellbeing began to decline and eventually developed a chronic candida overgrowth for most of the first trimester.
Finding what worked for ME
Early in my second trimester, I started to focus on my nutrition again and went back to eating what I knew made me feel good *most* of the time. Yes, I still treated myself to ordering in vegan pizza, frozen yogurt, and the occasional plant-based burger but the base of my diet was comprised of whole, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods for the remainder of my fairly uneventful pregnancy. I always had a huge appetite and that definitely did not change throughout my pregnancy. I didn’t really work out except for some uphill walking/light hiking during my second trimester just because I didn’t feel like it. I enjoyed resting (I was also still working full-time) so I wanted to spend my free time with my partner before our lives changed forever. I maintained a healthy weight throughout my pregnancy and had no swelling, serious back or joint pain, “morning” sickness, or any of the other common or severe symptoms that can come with making a human.
I felt more beautiful than ever throughout this period of my life. Growing a human and seeing the changes that came with that did not foster up the anxiety I was expecting as someone who struggled with body image issues and eating disorders for most of my life. I loved my bump, I loved feeling my son twirling around in his first home, I loved the anticipation and excitement that came with knowing I was meeting my best friend in x weeks but without being able to foresee the kind of love explosion that I now know so well.
I gave birth at 41 weeks after a 48 hour labor and emergency c-section to a beautiful, alert, big 8.5lb baby boy. My milk was very abundant from the start and I’m still breastfeeding on demand today 13 months later. My son is my everything. He is incredibly curious and caring and he’s always trying to make everyone around him laugh. Postpartum recovery is a-whole-nother story but I credit a whole, plant-based diet to helping me maintain my energy levels without much sleep, balance my hormones, and produce enough milk to even donate hundreds of ounces to others. My son also now thrives on a plant-based diet and has always been a big boy (I’m talking 14lbs at 6 weeks old)!
Looking back, I’m so glad I went with what I knew was right for me and I hope the same for you! Whatever you choose, you know what’s best for you and your family and it’s beyond worth it in the end.
By: Yasmeen Lee