A Plant-based Pregnancy
I spent the last 10 months pregnant while staying on a 100% plant-based lifestyle – in Japan.
The Underlying Principle
As of the date I found out I was pregnant, I had already been eating only plant-based for 3 years so there was no dispute as to what my diet would look like for the duration of pregnancy. However, I was also aware that in Japan, this would be a challenge as a) many doctors and midwives may not be familiar with the diet enough to recommend and support my decision, and b) family and relatives would not hesitate to point fingers at my ‘not normal’ diet if/when something was not looking right. Already a few people commented I would crave ice cream (dairy) and meat at some point in my pregnancy – something I could not strongly deny as I had no idea how my body would feel and react to this new state of being. That’s when I promised myself to hold to a principle; Stay 100% plant-based unless there are indications I feel I want to eat otherwise, or medical tests prove I am putting the baby and myself at risk.
Checkpoint 1: Family, Doctor, and other ‘stakeholders’
My partner (is Ofer actually) was of course supportive of the decision and we required zero discussion. My family were also quite (surprisingly) supportive. I guess the only exception is my grandmother who did show some concerns about not getting any animal protein in the diet. Next was the doctor. We went to the Japan Red Cross which has a system of meeting any doctor that is on shift (i.e., I never met the same doctor twice in my pregnancy) but they are brilliant at keeping records of what was discussed at appointments. Interestingly the doctors didn’t seem to mind much, and nor did the midwives….
Then there were the other folks – friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. There were a few who almost made bets with me as to when I’d start eating meat again…I guess you can never please everyone.
Checkpoint 2: Growth of baby, growth of mum (a.k.a weight gain)
With an uneventful start to the pregnancy (in terms of the reactions of people around me), I felt good. Now, I had to keep tabs on how it was going for me. Keeping in mind the underlying principle I had set for myself, I continued to eat as I had done the last 3 years – 100% plant-based and pretty much whole-food (minimal processed foods and junk, no white rice/wheat/bread where possible). I also continued my daily exercises until the day of labor – switching from swimming, to yoga, to squats, and in the last trimester to long walks. All checkups ended up showing the baby was right on the average growth curve, with a slight below-average weight gain for myself. Everything was looking great!
Checkpoint 3: Other pregnancy problems
I also realized that I was having none – yes NONE – of the classic pregnancy symptoms that are often associated by foods such as gestational diabetes, constipation, skin problems, or even mood swings. Aside from the nausea I had in the first trimester, I had nothing to complain about the experience throughout. By this point I was starting to attribute my lack of problems to my diet – because why not?
To be fair, some things in the list are not entirely attributable to food: namely gestational diabetes and mood swings. However, not having cholesterol with only minimal saturated fats helps minimize the risk of gestational diabetes, and mood swings can be made worse by intaking more hormones – which usually come with the eggs, dairy, and meats from our commercial farming methods of today. Then there are the other things in the list that can be swayed very much by the foods you eat; constipation and skin problems (and constipation can make skin problems worse by itself too). By virtue of having a plant-based diet, daily fiber intake was already around 41% higher than someone on a conventional diet with animal products. Then you have the skin problems which are usually caused by hormones – of which you are adding more to the mix by taking all those growth hormones that are found in eggs, dairy, and meat.
Of course, every pregnancy is different – so much that even I could have very different experiences between pregnancies (if there is another one) – and every body is different. I am aware that there are women who used to be plant-based but ate meat during their pregnancy because they felt their bodies “needed” it. Without judgement though, and not much research out there to back my claim, I do believe that being plant-based was the key to my oh-so-easy pregnancy journey. FYI, the delivery was only 8 hours too (if you know, you know that’s on the short end)…..just saying!
Anybody interested to try?
What started as a curious experiment to opt for a completely plant-based diet consequently turned into a new and exciting lifestyle! Since my transition, I have been primarily interested in 2 things: to increase awareness on the plant-based lifestyle, and to help as many plant-based people in Japan sustain their plant-based lifestyle by providing useful information. I believe that a plant-based life is for everyone: you can do a meat-free Monday and still call yourself plant-based. Even if you still occasionally put some parmesan on your pasta, go ahead – declare you live a plant-based lifestyle. The point I’m trying to make is, plant-based, it is just another way of life.