Vegan While Pregnant & Birthing

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Looking to enjoy an animal-friendly pregnancy, birth, and beyond? Read on for some tips I picked up along the way…

First, a little about my experience: I decided to eat a vegan diet four and a half years ago and shortly thereafter began adapting the rest of my lifestyle to be cohesive with veganism. Why? For sake of brevity, I’d say in this order: 1) for animals, 2) for my health, 3) for the planet.

Before, I was a type of pescetarian for some years. I ate fish on a regular basis (I’ll admit, I was addicted to sashimi grade raw fish — blech!), scrambled eggs on special occasions, and I didn’t consume much dairy or cheese directly, but also didn’t notice or care if it happened to be hidden in foods (which is most of them, it turns out!). So for me, the switch to a vegan diet was a pretty much a matter of ordering vegetable sushi, scrambling tofu instead of egg, and checking labels for dairy and other hidden animal ingredients.

My oldest son had just turned one a few months prior to this lifestyle change. He was starting to eat food other than breast milk, and it ended up being plenty of time to get adjusted before my next pregnancy, which was fully vegan and perfectly healthy.

Both of my kids are vegan (M is five, J just turned 2) and so is my husband, so that makes things easy when it comes to dining out, stocking the pantry, cooking meals and so on.

Skip ahead to sections:

1). Vegan While Pregnant & Birthing

2). Vegan While Breastfeeding

  • Tips
  • Mother’s Breast Milk
  • Donor Breast Milk
  • Plant-Based Formula
  • Conventional Formula
  • Homemade Formula
  • Lanolin Nipple Cream

And coming soon in the next post…

3). Vegan While Raising Baby

  • Tips
  • Vitamins
  • Baby Foods/Plant-Based BLW
  • Baby Products
  • OTC Medicines
  • Circumcision
  • Diapers
Disclosure statement because I’m not a Doctor, m’kay?
The following is not intended as medical advice. Always ask your doctor/pediatrician/naturopath/health provider for a professional opinion before taking any advice suggested here, which is for educational purposes only and to be considered at your own risk.
Also, please note – this post contains no paid affiliate links.

Vegan While Pregnant/Birthing

Here are a few tips to help make your vegan pregnancy journey a little smoother.

The Vegan Society states that being vegan should be “as far as is possible and practicable.” This list is simply meant to inform about items that aren’t vegan-friendly so you can consider this in your decision-making.

Find a vegan-educated prenatal care provider.

Ideal but not necessary, as long as you have responsible agency over your own health. Your OB/midwife only needs to be supportive of your vegan lifestyle. If they aren’t, this is a red flag. If they insist that you need to eat animals for a well-rounded pregnancy diet, it’s time to hire someone new.

Consult with a vegan dietician.

This can come in handy if your prenatal care provider has limited knowledge about vegan nutrition.

Nutrition is arguably the most important focus of prenatal care.  Isn’t it interesting how virtually all of the forbidden foods during pregnancy are not vegan? Deli meats, smoked seafood, soft cheeses, meat pate… hmmm (not to be confused with Mmmm!).

Midway through my vegan pregnancy, I reached out to nutrition coach and fellow vegan mama Dori Lancaster at Healing Thru Food to work up a meal guide for me and regularly showed it to my midwife. This way she could see how plant-based diets can accommodate plenty of baby-growing nutrients.

Vegan nutrition in pregnancy

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Via vegan-momma.com

Educate yourself about protein (you’ll hear about it over and again).

The recommended daily protein intake during pregnancy is 70 grams (this may be adjusted for individuals depending on body composition, activity level, stage of pregnancy and other factors — ask your nutritionist).

As a vegan baby grower, you’ll hear the ‘protein questions’ at least once, so here are a few suggested responses — for fun or for serious!

“Are you getting enough protein?”

  • “…and also enough fiber, carbs, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, and water.”
  • “Yes, and no artery-clogging cholesterol to go with it!”
  • “Enough but not too much, which is good!”
  • “I haven’t been hospitalized for protein deficiency yet so I’m probably good.”
  • “Let’s see, it’s only 2 PM and I’ve had a green breakfast smoothie which had 30 grams of protein… lunch was soup and a sandwich at 20 grams… a snack of veggies, crackers and hummus at 12 grams… only 8 more to go and there’s still dinner… and second dinner, because, you know, I’m pregnant and all! Want me to keep counting or should I stop there?”

“Where do you get your protein?”

  • “From food.”
  • “At the grocery store. Sometimes restaurants.”
  • “Plants have protein. My favorites are […].”
  • “From the same place your main protein source gets theirs.”
  • “Semen. I get my protein from semen.” (That’ll get them to quit asking! 😉 ).

Protein-Chart

Plan your Birthing Day meals in advance.

If you’re having a hospital birth, you’ll need to make sure you’re covered food-wise after birth. This link has some good tips about making that happen.

Labor snacks are important, too. Be sure you write in your birth plan that you will be bringing snacks for labor; your labor support person (doula, partner, etc) can advocate for you if anyone gives you trouble regarding ‘policies.’ Even if you don’t feel up to eating while in labor, you’ll want peace of mind that you do have the option.

For a home birth, drinks with replenishing electrolytes are a must. Beware of honey used as a sweetener in fruit juices, kombucha, tea, etc. Coconut water and non-dairy protein smoothies are popular choices for hard-working, laboring mamas.

Once you’re settling in at home post-birth, don’t forget to request for your Meal Train (friends, family, neighbors, coworkers who drop off pre-made goodies) to make all offerings vegan.

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Is It Vegan?

In case you were wondering…

Prenatal Supplements

All mothers are encouraged to take daily vitamin supplements, whether they are synthetic or food-based (personally, I’m a proponent for the latter).

The majority of prenatal pills have a gelatin-based capsule. As you likely already know, gelatin is made from boiled bones, skin, tendons, and connective tissue of slaughtered animals like cows, pigs, and horses — so it’s definitely not vegan! Milk and egg derivatives are often used as binding agents in the supplements, too.

women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should take a prenatal vitamin that is high in folate, iron, iodine, and calcium”

Some vitamins may also be derived from animals. Vitamin A is often derived from animal liver and Vitamin D3 is typically derived from lanolin, the oil that comes from sheep’s wool. DHA is usually sourced from fish.

Choosing vegan prenatal supplements doesn’t have to be too challenging though — just look for synthetic or plant-based sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin D (D2 or D3), and DHA and check for a certified vegan label.

This link has a good list of some vegan-friendly prenatal pills.

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Prenatal Vaccines

Many medicines often contain animal derived ingredients and/or were tested on animals — vaccines are no exception.

Vaccines that are routinely and widely recommended for pregnant women today are the Tdap (tetanus, diptheria, acellular pertussis) and Flu. However, one of the package inserts reads:

“It is also not known whether Adacel vaccine can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman or can affect reproduction capacity. Adacel vaccine should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed.”

While these vaccines aren’t themselves vegan, in my opinion if an individual makes the personal medical decision to be vaccinated, it doesn’t make them any less of a vegan. Sometimes using animal derivatives cannot be practically avoided (as a patient or consumer), but still I share this for the purpose of informed consent. Vegan-ness of a medical treatment shouldn’t be the only consideration when choosing or refusing (though it is an important one). To me, the fact that today’s pregnant mothers and fetuses are the first test subjects for the safety of these drugs in utero is of much greater concern. But alas.

In these products, animal ingredients (such as gelatin) are the inactive excipients used as preservatives/stabilizers.

For the Flu vaccine, the virus is grown in fertilized eggs from hens:

“These vaccine viruses are then injected into fertilized hen’s eggs and incubated for several days to allow the viruses to replicate. The virus-containing fluid is harvested from the eggs. For flu shots, the influenza viruses for the vaccine are then inactivated (killed), and virus antigen is purified.” – The CDC

Tdap is listed by the FDA as a class C drug, which is described as such:

“Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.”

Boostrix (GSK) and Adacel (Sanofi) are the 3-in1 Tdap brands currently available to pregnant women:
“Tetanus toxin is produced by growing Clostridium tetani in a modified Latham medium derived from bovine casein. The diphtheria toxin is produced by growing Corynebacterium diphtheriae in Fenton medium containing a bovine extract. […]
Tetanus and diphtheria toxoid potency is determined by measuring the amount of neutralizing antitoxin in previously immunized guinea pigs. The potency of the acellular pertussis components (inactivated PT and formaldehyde-treated FHA and pertactin) is determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) on sera from previously immunized mice.” – from Boostrix package insert
“The effect of Adacel vaccine on embryo-fetal and pre-weaning development was evaluated in two developmental toxicity studies using pregnant rabbits. Animals were administered Adacel vaccine twice prior to gestation […] by intramuscular injection.” – from Adacel package insert

Adacel’s package insert also mentions a “guinea pig potency test,” but states the medium was created “without beef heart infusion,” for whatever that’s worth.

Alas, neither brand of Tdap given in pregnancy, nor the flu shot, are animal cruelty -free products. Learn more at National Vaccine Information Center.
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The Orange Drink

Doctors tell you to skip the fast food your whole pregnancy, then force you to drink a lot of artificial syrup junk in a matter of minutes to overload your system with sugar as a test for gestational diabetes. Safety-wise, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?

You don’t have to say no to the test (unless you wish to refuse), but you should think about practicing your “No thanks” to the drink.

Though it is listed as dairy-free and seems to be free of other animal ingredients, I’ve yet to confirm whether this prescription-only liquid was itself tested on animals, but we do know at least one of its ingredients was — specifically, Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), which is approved as a flame retardant and banned in Europe and Japan. The results of these animal studies showed BVO builds up in the body, is transferred through mother’s milk, is associated with neurological problems, and a host of other health issues.

Did you know the drink contains even more ingredients that aren’t even recommended for pregnant women to consume because they’re considered toxic?

If you give your informed consent to the glucose test, try these healthier alternatives to the orange drink, aka Glucola (it even sounds gross, doesn’t it?):

  • Consume glucose – All you need is a nutritional content of 50 grams of glucose, which you’ll find in a breakfast of pancakes and syrup, 28 vegan jelly beans, a banana and two slices of bread, 10 oz of cranberry juice, or however you wish to mix-and-match your sugar tally. Eat within the prescribed amount of time, then off to your prenatal appointment you go!
  • Hemoglobin A1C test – A simple blood test in first or early second trimester.
  • Random glucose testing – Follow a schedule that includes diet plan and finger stick blood testing, which can be done at home.

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Candles Used During Labor

Beeswax candles are not vegan. Palm oil is itself technically vegan, but arguably not vegan as razing of palm forests to procure this oil is destructive to already dwindling orangutan populations. There are other types of wax such a soya-based and coconut oil. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s certified sustainable, fair trade, and non-toxic. Battery-operated candles generate nice ambient lighting as well, without smoke or fragrance.

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Artificial Induction & Pain Management

In the majority of cases, artificial interference in labor and delivery isn’t medically necessary. The risk-to-benefit ratio should always be weighed and fully informed consent provided for any birth interventions. If a mother chooses artificial induction or drug pain management, she should be supported in this decision. I do think it’s important for a vegan mother to know the animal testing history of these interventions, especially if she wishes to avoid them when possible.

A reminder about why animal studies are not ethical, are not necessary for scientific progress, and living beings must be kept out of research labs: here, here, and here.

  • Pitocin

This publication mentions synthetic oxytocin studies performed on animals such as sheep, voles, and rabbits.

Here is described the use of Pitocin to induce labor in rabbits and then prematurely remove her young. Newborn rabbits were starved for several days before being killed, while control babies were force-fed on the manually-manipulated nipple of its restrained mother if nursing didn’t occur normally.

These studies found Pitocin interfered with mother-baby bonding, caused vasoconstriction (inablity to eject milk), interfered with the mother’s release of natural oxytocin, resulted in newborn jaundice and sleepier baby, and more issues.

  • Cervidil (Dinoprostone, aka Prostaglandin E2)

“Pregnancy Category C is given to medicines that have not been adequately studied in pregnant humans but do appear to cause fetal harm in animal studies. […] When given to pregnant rats and rabbits, prostaglandin E2 increased the risk for skeletal defects in the fetuses.” – U.S. Food and Drug Administration

In this study, sheep were given Cervidil to ripen the cervix before forcefully impregnating them via artificial insemination.

  • Epidural

“Animal studies suggest that epidurals can produce effects observable later in a child’s development—effects related to epidurals interfering with vulnerable brain processes during a sensitive period.” – Pathways to Family Wellness, issue #39

Researchers who administered epidurals to laboring sheep found that the epidural ewes had difficulty bonding to their newborn lambs, especially those in first lambing with an epidural administered early in labor.

Golub administered epidural bupivacaine to pregnant rhesus monkeys at term, and followed the development of the exposed offspring to age 12 months (equivalent to four years in human offspring). She found that milestone achievement was abnormal in these monkeys: at six to eight weeks they were slow in starting to manipulate, and at ten months the increase in ‘motor disturbance behaviors’ that normally occurs was prolonged.

Epidurals slow labor, possibly through the above effects on the laboring woman’s oxytocin release, although there is also evidence from animal research that the local anesthetics used in epidurals may inhibit contractions by directly affecting the muscle of the uterus.” – Epidurals: risks and concerns for mother and baby

The following describes a porcine study, wherein pigs were kept in cages, minimally fed, and underwent surgery including spinal cord transection before being euthanized. Tungsten microwires were implanted into their spinal cords to allow electrode stimulation. The study aimed to test Epidural effectiveness in aiding attempts to restore function to paralyzed body parts.

“The paravertebral tendons were bilaterally dissected and the paraspinous musculature was retracted and detached from the spinous processes and laminae using a combination of blunt preparation and monopolar electrocautery. Self-retaining retractors were inserted and progressively deepened with exposure to allow adequate visualization of the surgical field. Dissection in close proximity to the surface of the spinous processes reduced bleeding and facilitated subsequent bone removal. A small Cobb periosteal elevator was used to retract and sweep soft tissue from the spine, exposing the laminar surface.[…]

The facet junction was identified and the bone thinned using a Horsley rongeur to expose the interior cortical margin. The spinal canal was then opened using a small angled curette by removing the remaining bone of the inferior L5 and superior L6 articular processes.”

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Cord Separation

There is no evidence that separation of the cord is a physically painful event for the baby when performed carefully and safely.

However, separating the cord too soon is now known to be harmful as it prevents the baby from receiving all of his blood, much of which is still circulating from the placenta after birth. Instead, delayed cord clamping/cutting can be done when the cord stops pulsing; it will appear drained, pale, and feel limp.

Gentle alternatives to traditional cutting with surgical scissors includes: cord burning (Sacred Severance), in which lit candles are used to slowly burn the cord until it gives way — and Lotus Birth, in which the cord remains attached between the baby and nearby placenta and is allowed to fall off on its own.

Here is my post  about our cord burning ceremony.

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Consuming Your Placenta

Many postpartum women consume their placenta in a variety of ways: drying, baking, blending up in a smoothie, drying into powder to take in capsule form, and others. Read this post to learn about why it’s done.

Some may worry because placenta is an organ from a (human) animal, that it isn’t vegan. But so long as the placenta is your own, and you’re a willing participant in this process, it is indeed vegan!

No animals were harmed and your own consent is given, so please, if you wish, go ahead and enjoy eating your plant-built placenta!
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Vegan Pregnancy Resources

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