pregnancy

Eating greens while feeling green: Yes, you can have a vegetarian pregnancy.

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I like to be able to joke that my children came from the cabbage patch, seeing as I was eating like a rabbit raiding Mr McGregor’s garden for both my pregnancies. It’s a nice fit.

All the greens, all the time – and for most of the first trimester, my face was matching the leaves on my plate.

Yes, I’m a vegetarian. I have been for many years and was well before falling pregnant for the first time six years ago.

I have many reasons for not eating meat, but the main one is because I just don’t enjoy the taste. Never have. Sunday roasts, barbecue chicken and Christmas dinners are all the meals everybody looked forward to…but I dreaded. I tucked into the side of veg with gusto but pushed the meat around on my plate, hating that someone had spent time cooking something for me that I couldn’t bring myself to eat.

Rarely ordering a meat dish on a restaurant menu, one day I decided to go ‘full veg’ and stop eating meat altogether. It was a relief to just tell people I was vegetarian rather than disappoint them for not sampling their cooking or declining invites to dinner parties so I didn’t have to make a fuss about an alternative meal.

Being a vegetarian is easy. We are spoilt for choice with an abundance of fresh produce and a range of vegetarian foods that go from the sublime (gimme allll the salt and pepper tofu) to the ridiculous (there’s no faking the love for fake bacon).

I mean, how good is tofu? via GIPHY

There are so many tasty meat-free recipes that I’ve never once worried about going hungry. Every restaurant has at least one vego option or can tailor dishes to suit. Even as a wedding guest I’ve been able to tuck into a mushroom risotto while the rest of the table plays swapsies with their chicken and beef.

But once those two lines pop up on the pregnancy test, you panic. You (irrationally) feel like you are not giving your baby the best start.

Suddenly your leafy, wholesome and satisfying meat-free diet – which has served you well for years – seems to be inadequate for growing a baby. Along with the worry you have about scans, tests and appointments your mounting concerns quickly turn to your diet. Baby didn’t choose to be vego, but will be stuck with months of spinach, nuts and seeds – will it be enough?

Straight to Google I tapped (please note, you should not do this. Ever.). I should have simply waited to have a word with my obstetrician at my first antenatal appointment. He swiftly put my mind at ease and assured me that baby and I will be more than fine with a vegetarian diet, adding that there’s plenty of other sources of iron and protein that would give us all the goodness we both need over the next months. Phew.

I was straight into the health food store faster than you can say ‘kale smoothie’ and enjoyed making a weekly trip to the farmers’ market to choose the very best organic, locally grown fruit and vegetables.

Stir-fry, veggie lasagne, bean tacos, grain salads and iron-enriched cereal were staples for me. I’m not vegan, so could continue my love affair with dairy.

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Sadly, a vego diet doesn’t prevent morning sickness, but hot chippies (praise be) cannot be beaten when everything else makes your stomach turn.

The Royal Women’s Hospital tells vegetarian mums-to-be to fill up on lentils, beans, tofu and eggs as replacements for meat. It says a vegetarian diet can meet the needs of your pregnancy if you take care to include enough protein, iron, vitamin B12 and calcium-containing foods.

vegetarian pregnancy
Give me a delicious lentil and veggie salad any day. Image: Getty.

A hospital fact sheet recommends that vegetarians planning to become pregnant may need to have extra vitamin B12 prior to conception to build up your body stores (this can be checked with a blood test). But of course, make sure to discuss with your doctor or obstetrician, as well as other supplements required in pregnancy.

I have given birth to two healthy children – who both eat meat. They do understand that their mother chooses not to and share in my excitement for a good vegetarian meal or when selecting the crunchiest carrots from the greengrocer.

I did slip up though. Just the once. It was late in my first pregnancy and I was exhausted, ravenously hungry and on my way home from a long week at work.

Something strange came over me and to this day I swear the baby made me do it. I found myself turning into the drive-thru and ordering a cheeseburger, then devouring it before I had a chance to stop myself.

It’s proof that when it comes to pregnancy cravings, it’s not always easy being green.

What's your best advice for eating a vegetarian diet during pregnancy?

Natalie Esler is a Melbourne-based journalist and writes a blog, Millie Mummy Melbourne.

Elevit

The first 6-8 weeks after conception are critical for a baby's development, including the growth of its vital organs.  When you're pregnant, your baby depends on you for everything it needs to grow and thrive, and in the early stages of infancy, breast milk provides nutrients for baby’s healthy development.

That's why it's so critical for women to ensure their nutrient intake is adequate as soon as they start trying for a baby, and throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Elevit's range of multivitamin and mineral supplements are specially formulated to support you through every step of motherhood.

Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. Vitamin supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet.

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