My Healthy Vegan Pregnancy
by April Lee Coburn
When my partner and I first realized we were pregnant, many genuine concerns followed our initial joy and elation. We worried about raising a child on a low income budget, financing a birth without health insurance, and how to best prepare for natural childbirth. This was our first child and these issues were all new to us. What we absolutely did not worry about was the safety of my vegan diet on our growing fetus. We had years ago come to the realization that consuming animal flesh and milk was not conducive to health (that of humans, animals, or the earth). The confidence in the knowledge we had gained on this issue had transformed it into a virtual non-issue. So much so that the topic of a “vegan” pregnancy hardly presented itself during the duration of that nine month celebration that was my son’s gestation.
I must say that I truly enjoyed being pregnant. In the beginning I experienced some mild nausea along with an indescribable feeling of being “rewired” inside, but these sensations passed after the first few months. Once in the full swing of pregnancy, my general composure was one of comfort and happiness. I was truly able to enjoy and marvel at every change in my body. My belly gradually expanded and my weight gained steadily (about five pounds a month for the last six months). Everyone said I was “all baby” since it seemed that almost all of the extra weight was confined to my growing belly. I felt alive in a way I never had before-truly beautiful and vibrant.
When our midwife Karen first raised the topic of nutrition during my very first prenatal appointment, I described my diet of mostly home prepared meals made from a variety of organic produce, grains and beans. She agreed that I was eating very healthily, but asked that I keep a three day food diary anyway. At my following exam, Karen checked on the adequacy of my prenatal vitamin (a vegan brand made from whole foods) and also looked over the diary. She suggested I try to eat more raw food every day such as salads and fresh fruits (much of the vitamin, mineral, and enzyme content of food is destroyed in the cooking process), and that I include more yellow vegetables in my diet such as squash and carrots. She also suggested that my between meal snacks should be protein foods such as nuts and seeds or protein energy bars since protein intake is important for both baby and mother during gestation. These simple changes were easy to incorporate into my daily routine.
As my pregnancy wore on I prepared my body and mind for the coming birth. I read every book I could find on natural childbirth, tried to get outside and walk every day and practiced prenatal yoga several times a week. My partner rubbed my belly daily with lavender oil. We took a hypnobirthing class which taught me how to relax my entire body and allow the surges (contractions) to move through me without tensing. As my due date drew near, I remained active and comfortable. There were days when I wanted to rest more than others, and I honored this need by decreasing my activity. For the most part though, I hadn’t a complaint, and at nine months I had none of the usual negative “symptoms” of pregnancy (stretch marks, edema, varicose veins, etc.).
During labor I instinctively withdrew into myself, allowing my body to work unimpeded. When the surges began I soon learned how to relax into them. I used the breathing and relaxation techniques I had practiced to release all tension from my body. I felt no pain, only pressure with the surges, and was able to maintain my energy. Though my midwife tried to get me to eat, I couldn’t keep anything down and ate hardly anything during the entire twenty three hours of labor. Looking back, I see this as natural. My body needed to put its energy into the birthing process and not digestion. Water and juice were all I needed to keep myself hydrated and strong.
My son was born into the warm waters of a birthing pool in the comfortable and secure environment of our bedroom. His emergence into this world was beautiful, healthy and calm. As I held him in my arms for the first time I was amazed by his vigor and alertness. He began breathing on his own minutes after his birth, all the while looking around with wide open big blue eyes. Soon he was at my breast nursing healthily. So peaceful was this birthing that nearly two hours passed before we heard his first cry. Those first precious and intimate moments together are such cherished memories for me. After twenty three hours of labor I still had an incredible amount of energy with which to greet my son and care for him during first hours in this world.
A vegan pregnancy for me was easy. However I cannot take the entire credit for this fact. I was fortunate to have incredible support in my life partner, who shares my vegan philosophy and lifestyle, and in the extraordinary women who were my midwives. Pregnancy and childbirth are normal, though profound, transformational processes. A woman’s body that is strong and healthy (and unimpeded by fear and tension) is able to handle these processes beautifully. A healthy diet, free of animal products and other toxins, no doubt played a large part in my body’s ability to perform gracefully during pregnancy and birth.
My feelings of gratitude for such a positive birthing experience were compounded the day after the birth as I held my newborn and recounted the experience in my mind. My son and I sat resting together from our work the previous day when my midwife arrived for our post partum exam. Such a sense of mother’s pride resounded in my heart as I heard her enter the room and ask, “where’s my healthy vegan baby?”