Nutritional Needs Before & During Pregnancy

Fact: Eggs take 3 to 4 months to mature in your ovaries, so start eating healthily today to improve your egg quality tomorrow (or 3 months from now…you get what I mean!) Even before you enter the TTC (trying to conceive) phase, it’s important to start doing everything you can to get your body ready for pregnancy. Establish an exercise routine and start eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Contrary to popular belief, all of your body’s nutritional needs–and the needs of your developing baby–can be met on a plant-based diet. And no, so-called “vegan babies” are not always smaller than other babies. Trust me, I know; my third was just an ounce shy of 9 pounds!

Below you will find a list of some of the most important nutrients to give special attention to when pregnant/trying to conceive. I have also included the recommended daily intake amounts and plant-based sources of these nutrients.

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Folate, a b vitamin, is an essential nutrient needed both before and during pregnancy (you probably already know this, but it helps with the development of the neural tube and reduces the risk of an ectopic pregnancy). Recommended intake before pregnancy is 400 mcg a day and increases to about 600 mcg a day during pregnancy. Here are some awesome sources of this vitamin:

  • Legumes: beans, peas, lentils. Lentils are especially high in folate. Just one cup of lentils gives you 358 mcg of folate! One cup of black beans contains 256 mcg of folate.
  • Spinach and other dark, leafy greens: One cup of spinach packs approximately 100 mcg of folate. (Fun fact: the word folate is derived from the Latin word folium which means leaf.)
  • Mangoes: One mango has a whopping 144 mcg
  • Citrus fruits: An orange can give you up to 50 mcg of folate.
  • Edamame: These delicious beans are loaded with folate. One cup has 454 mcg of folate.
  • Quinoa and other whole grains: One cup of quinoa has about 75 mcg of folate.
  • Asparagus: 1/2 cup of this veggie contains about 134 mcg of folate.
  • Beets: Yes, they taste like dirt, but they’re high in folate. One cup has close to 150 mcg.
  • Avocados: A half of an avocado has about 80 mcg of folate. They’re also rich in ALA, which is discussed further down this page.

Getting that 400-600 mcg per day doesn’t look quite so intimidating now, does it? Just eat lots of fruits and veg!


During the second and third trimesters, your protein intake should be around 70 grams a day. There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein that will meet this need: legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and even some vegetables (for example, one serving of broccoli contains 4.2 grams of protein).

A word about soy: unless you have a sensitivity to soy, you do not need to worry about avoiding soy products that are minimally processed, such as: edamame (fresh soybeans), tofu, tempeh, and soymilk. What you do want to avoid are highly-processed soy products which of contain soy protein isolate. Remember, your goal is to eat a diet rich in unprocessed, whole foods.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is the healthy omega-3 fatty acid that people always want you to eat fish to get. But guess what? You don’t have to get it from fish! DHA and EPA are important for your baby’s developing brain and eyes (it’s also a good idea to get plenty of these fatty acids when TTC and just for your own overall health). It’s recommended that pregnant women get an intake of 300 mg of DHA (or a combo of DHA and EPA) per day.

In addition to consuming foods rich in ALA–another fatty acid that your body can convert into DHA and EPA–such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and edamame, you should consider taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement. Fish-based omega-3 supplements can be contaminated with mercury and other icky stuff you don’t want whereas good algae-based ones do not. There are many on the market, so find one that suits you best!


Iron is another nutrient people commonly think they need to eat meat in order to get. But that’s just not true! Iron is found in many plants.

Pregnant women require 50% more iron than nonpregnant women. The daily recommended intake is 27 mg. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based foods that are high in iron. Keep in mind: Iron is best absorbed when consumed with foods that are rich in vitamin c. Iron also inhibits the body’s ability to absorb omega-3 fatty acids; therefore, your DHA should be taken either an hour before or after your iron.

One cup of soybeans contains close to 10 mg of iron and one cup of lentils has over 6. Other beans contain between 4-5 mg per cup. Whole grains are another excellent source of iron. One cup of cooked oatmeal gives you close to 14 mg of iron. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach as well as broccoli are other good sources of iron.

Cooking in a cast-iron pan will also increase the iron levels in your food.

Note: Vegans and meat-eaters alike may end up anemic even when consuming a well-planned diet (especially in the third trimester when a baby’s need for iron increases drastically). If you are experiencing symptoms of anemia such as fatigue, pale gums, shortness of breath, dizziness, and even depression, ask your healthcare provider to check your iron levels. Your doctor will be able to advise you if iron supplementation is necessary and can tell you how much and for how long.


Calcium is not only found in dairy products. All women–pregnant, breastfeeding, or otherwise–should aim to get 1,000 mg of this bone-building mineral. If you aren’t consuming enough calcium during pregnancy, your body will start taking it from your bones to give to your baby. So be sure to eat plenty of the following calcium-rich foods: broccoli, bok choy, kale, collard greens, tofu, almonds, figs, legumes, seeds, spinach, and cabbage.


This vitamin (which is actually produced by bacteria) is not found in most plant-based foods. One reason animal products tend to be rich in this important vitamin is simply because animals eat more dirt than we humans do (and they’re almost supplemented with it). Many people are deficient in vitamin B12. Why is that an issue? Because B12 assists in the formation of red blood cells and DNA.

A pregnant woman should get at least 2.6 mcg of vitamin B12 every day. Most prenatal vitamins contain an adequate amount of this vitamin. If you’re not taking a prenatal vitamin, you should definitely be taking a small dosage B12 supplement (25-50 mcg or up to 250 mcg) daily or a supplement with 1,000 mcg of B12 twice weekly.

Click here to read more about this vitamin.


Fiber is your friendespecially in the first trimester when that pesky pregnancy constipation comes along. Being constipated is absolutely miserable, so that alone should motivate you to get more fiber. And guess what?! Animal products do not contain fiber. Fiber is a plant thing. So, naturally, when you start eating more plants, you’ll be consuming more fiber. Fiber has a plethora of benefits to your health, including helping your body to regulate hormones as it serves as a sort of vessel that carried all the excess hormones that build up in your body out and away. Beans, whole grains, fruits, and veggies are excellent sources of fiber. Ground flaxseed is another excellent thing to add to your diet to keep things moving along.

Americans average an intake of a mere 15 grams of fiber per day, but you should aim for 25-30 grams, or up to as much as 40 grams per day.

Other Vitamins & Minerals

Obviously, there are many other important vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Vitamin D, for example, is very important in boosting your immune system (and making you happy!) It also boosts your body’s ability to absorb calcium. As long as you get adequate amounts of sunshine, you shouldn’t need to worry about supplementing. And if you’re eating plenty of the nutritious foods discussed above, then you should be getting plenty of the other vitamins and minerals you need.

Choline and iodine are also very important. But I want to take a minute to talk about zinc because zinc is especially important for a male’s fertility. It’s found in nuts and seeds and legumes. So get your man eating those sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and plenty of beans, because you need him producing plenty of healthy little swimmers!

I highly recommend checking out the book Becoming Vegan for a more thorough look into your body’s nutritional needs during pregnancy. It has a whole chapter about it (Chapter 9).