Vegetarian and vegan diets increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies such as proteins, iron, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, omega-3 and vitamin B12 but can be considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding as long as all nutritional requirements are met

In March 2019 researchers from Spain published their review on the consumption of vegetarian and vegan diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The researchers stated that balanced plant-based diets rich in fibre and low in fat are considered to reduce the risk of poor pregnancy outcomes such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and preterm delivery. However, vegetarians and vegans are at risk of nutritional deficiencies and these protective effects disappear if deficiencies emerge, eg lack of proteins, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, DHA, and iron, which can cause a low birthweight, neurological disabilities, and foetal malformations. In addition, maternal nutritional deficiencies during breastfeeding, with a lack of vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, and DHA, may lead to a low vitamin content in breast milk which can cause permanent neurological disabilities in infants or low bone mineralization. Maternal nutritional status is therefore key for plant-based diets to be beneficial. Well-balanced, vegetarian and vegan diets can therefore be considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding as long as all the nutritional requirements are met. In this regard, specific dietary interventions before, during, and after the baby is born which are aimed at improving diet quality, with the adjustment of any nutritional deficiencies, may avoid poor pregnancy outcomes, mental disorders during pregnancy, and consequent physical and neurological foetal disabilities. Therefore, healthcare professionals should be knowledgeable about plant-based diets so that they can implement balanced dietary patterns and improve supplement intake, paying attention to the critical nutrients so that adverse health outcomes can be avoided.

Sebastiani G et al. The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diet during Pregnancy on the Health of Mothers and Offspring. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 6;11(3). pii: E557

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