A vegetarian diet need not have a negative effect on the baby, according to Dr. Holly Roberts, author of "Your Vegetarian Pregnancy." It's a misconception that pregnant women need to eat meat. The vegetarian mom-to-be can get her nutrients via a diet emphasizing omega-3s, protein, calcium, B12 and daily supplements.
When eaten at least twice a week, these fatty acids help with brain function and development of the fetus and include zinc, folate and iron. Although they are most frequently found in fatty fish such as salmon, pregnant vegetarians can get those omega-3s from walnuts and flaxseed.
Many believe protein is one of the most essential nutrients a pregnant mother needs. Even if she eats no meat, a pregnant woman can get protein from milk, cheese, eggs, lentils, beans and soy products. Pregnant women are advised to consume about 50 grams of protein per day. A cup of lentils contains about 18 grams, and an ounce of cheese contains about 7 grams. Some plant-based proteins don't have enough amino acids, so vegetarians can supplement their proteins with grains or seeds, such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread.
Pregnant vegetarians should also include at least four servings of calcium in their daily diets. This nutrient plays an essential role in the development of bones and teeth in the baby and the mother. Calcium products include non-fat or low-fat milk, vitamin D soy milk, cheese, tofu, yogurt, kale, spinach, broccoli, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Some products, such as cottage cheese, have calcium but not much vitamin D, which helps to absorb the calcium. Combining the calcium product with vitamin D-enriched foods or margarine is another way to get the extra nutrients.
Many believe this vitamin is needed to produce healthy tissue and cells and is also helpful if breastfeeding is planned. Pregnant vegetarians should consume one or more 1.5 mg servings of B12 per day with foods such as milk, egg yolk, soy milk and miso. One egg has about 80 percent of the daily B12 requirement, while an 8 oz. glass of milk has 100 percent. If the mother only eats plant-based foods, she can get the vitamin through soy cereals, Quorn, Marmite and Vecon.
Some think anti-oxidants play a major role in immunity in the pregnant mother and baby. By consuming six servings of vegetables and four servings of fruit per day, the pregnant vegetarian can meet daily needs. Organic fruits and vegetables have up to 40 percent more anti-oxidants than regular nonorganic products, according to a four-year study by the European Union.