Vegan Pregnancy – My Own True Story
By Hita Bambhania-Modha
In the summer of 1996, after six months of meditating over John Robbin’s book `Diet for the New America’, my husband and I became vegan. The true tales of loving and intelligent animals, shocking details of cruel, wasteful, and unhealthy factory farming, and the heart-piercing argument–“we become what we eat” all touched us deeply and influenced our decision. Already vegetarians since birth, we decided to exclude dairy products as well from our diet. A vegan diet essentially consists of plant-based foods and excludes all animal products such as chicken, fish, beef, pork, eggs, honey, and dairy products.
Upon hearing of our seemingly abrupt decision to become vegan, concerned friends and family asked, “What will you do when you become pregnant?” “Wouldn’t you need extra supplements from animal products?” Honestly, I didn’t have any answers–either for them or for myself. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Dr. Michael Klaper’s book `Pregnancy, Children, and a Vegan Diet’ which gives a thorough analysis of nutrition in a vegan diet. After reading this book from cover to cover, I was convinced that I would not give up vegan diet even in pregnancy.
Well, in 1998, I did become pregnant. Although I had great moral support from my husband, parents, and midwife, I felt quite alone in my quest of going through a vegan pregnancy. I felt that I needed to talk to someone who had done this before successfully. All the mainstream books that I read on pregnancy stressed that vegetarians have to be extra cautious. The message I derived was “Vegans Beware”. Everybody that I met was concerned that somehow my vegan diet will not be sufficient for the nutritional needs of my growing baby. Their argument was seemingly sound “lack of good nutrition can cause birth defects in a child”. Furthermore, if something goes wrong in formative days, it will be impossible to correct later on. I felt encircled in fears and apprehensions of people around me, and, perhaps, sadly, adopted their fears as well. My most haunting nightmare became “What if I had an abnormal baby, say, with a missing ear or a missing finger or weak bones?”
However, instead of sinking in the whirlpool of fears, I decided to take charge. Re-reading the `Pregnancy, Children, and a Vegan Diet’ assured me that if I ate a wide variety of foods from the vegetable kingdom, plus some vegan supplements I will have a perfectly healthy and normal pregnancy. While mistakenly a vegan diet is thought of as a diet that lacks nutrients in fact exactly the opposite is true. A good vegan diet has an abundance of all nutrients that our body needs. I ate a variety of colorful, seasonal fruits and vegetables that gave me plenty of vitamins and minerals. I ate different legumes and beans with grains and rice, which fulfilled my needs for protein, carbohydrates, and fibers. I snacked on nuts, seeds, sprouts, and dry fruits. I drank plenty of water, fruit juices, and soymilk (fortified with B12). I also took vegan multivitamins with folic acid. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I took vegan iron–Floradix.
To be more precise, my usual diet included foods from India. My typical meal was dal (split toor soup), rice, vegetable curry, chapatis (a flat tortilla-like wheat bread), and salad. In place of dal, I sometimes ate other variety of legumes and beans. Often, I made khichadi with split mung/toor and rice/cracked wheat. I ate vegetable sandwiches with whole wheat or sprouted grain bread, taco/burrito, falafel, pita bread with hummus and tabouli–to name just a few. I made vegan deserts using egg-replacement powder, soymilk, and vegan margarine. My list here could go on and on. Driven first by fear, and then by determination, I left no vegan shore untouched. I truly discovered that delicious and yet nourishing vegan dishes are only limited by one’s imagination.
Two things I had to be careful about were: (a) to avoid foods with empty calories such as fried foods and certain desserts and (b) to plan a good protein dish in every meal–especially toward the latter part of my pregnancy. This is probably true for a non-vegan diet as well.
In addition to a healthful diet, I nourished the baby and myself by reading good books, by listening to good music, by walking, and by doing yoga.
After a healthy full term pregnancy and a normal labor at our home, in 1999, I gave birth to a perfectly normal baby girl. At birth, my daughter weighed 6 lb. 6 oz. She is now 2 and a half. She began teething at 8 months, and reached a full set of teeth well before she was 2. Skeptics chanting “vegans suffer from Calcium deficiency” were — once and for all — silenced. My daughter is truly a vegan child. Perhaps surprisingly and quite reassuringly, in her entire time on planet Earth, we have never had to visit a doctor!
I went through a very similar second pregnancy, only this time I took no additional supplements. My second child, a boy, was born in 2001. My son was also born at our family home. At birth, he weighed 7 lb. 5 oz., and was very healthy as well. He is now 6 months old and is exclusively on my breast milk, which I have an abundant supply of. As of today, even my son has not visited a doctor even once.