Vegans and Pregnancy: Prenatal Vitamins

by Emily on January 15, 2011

We hear a lot about fish oil these days, especially when it comes to the diets of pregnant women. The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are recommended to help foster the baby’s brain and visual development. Doctors recommend it, and, according to Pregnancy-Info.net, Omega-3 rich foods like fish oil are “particularly essential” for the well-being of both the mother and child during pregnancy (“Omega 3 Rich Foods”). In fact, prenatal vitamins are increasingly adding fish oil to their formula to ensure that expecting mothers get enough Omega-3′s to ensure their child’s healthy development.

What’s a vegan to do?

There’s good news. There are vegan-friendly choices for prenatal vitamins out there as well as choices for getting Omega-3′s along the way. You have two basic options: take prenatal vitamins that don’t contain Omega-3′s and, if need be, get your Omega-3′s from another source, or take those which don’t get their Omega-3′s from fish oil.

1. Take supplements without Omega 3′s

Some prenatal vitamins simply don’t contain Omega-3′s and therefore won’t contain fish oil; these are still considered the norm, but that is changing as Omega-3 intake is encouraged by more doctors. A few examples of vegan prenatal vitamins that do not contain Omega-3′s are those by DEVA Nutrition, or Perfect Prenatal by New Chapter. If your supplements don’t contain any Omega-3′s, your doctor may want you to look into supplements that specifically provide these nutrients. Optimum Nutritionists, for instance, sells a supplement that provides Omega-3′s from algae rather than fish oil.

2. Get Omega 3′s from your diet

You can get some Omega-3′s from your diet as well. Flax seed, hemp seed and canola oils, and nuts like walnuts all contain some form of these fatty acids (“Omega-3 fatty acids”). While, according to Gero Leson, D.Env., flax oil has the highest content of all common dietary oils of Omega-3 fatty acids, some studies have shown that it could possibly effect the development of your child  when consumed in large amounts (“Hemp and Flax Seeds (PDF)”, “Flaxseed”). Because of this, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before consuming large amounts of flax while pregnant. Other oils, such as hemp, walnut, canola, and soy, also contain Omega-3′s. Each of these dietary oils is a plant-based option for increasing your Omega-3 intake.

3. Buy prenatal vitamins with alternative sources of Omega 3′s

Your other main option is to look into prenatal vitamins that use alternative sources of Omega-3′s. One brand to look into is PreNexa, which uses algae as its source of Omega-3′s. Their website not only offers their product but also offers an explanation of the relationship between the plant and animal sources of Omega-3′s. Another vitamin supplement to look into is that offered by Dr. Fuhrman on his website.
As with many things about being vegan, you have to read the fine print when looking for prenatal vitamins. However, if you know where to look, there are fish-free alternatives out there that will provide you with the nutrients you and your child need.

Image credit:  Photo by “bies” on Flickr.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri C May 14, 2011 at 12:51 am

I found your website while searching for a list of prenatal vitamins that contain plant-based DHA. While I am not a vegetarian, I do not enjoy burping up fish!
However I wanted to inform you of two things:
1) The manufacturer has now discontinued making PreNexa, I believe in favor of their new offering, NexaSelect, which seems to have even more DHA, Iron, and Vitamin D3 crammed into one pill, and
2) PreNexa and NexaSelect are NOT vegetarian or vegan friendly – though they use a plant-based DHA, the caplets themselves are unfortunately comprised of gelatin. (My two best friends are vegetarians, so I’m always on the lookout for this kind of information.)

Here are the Inactive Ingredients, from the manufacturer’s website:
Inactive Ingredients: Ethyl vanillin, FD&C blue #1, FD&C red #40, FD&C yellow #6, gelatin, glycerin, lecithin, palm kernel oil, sodium benzoate, soybean oil, sunflower oil, titanium dioxide, yellow beeswax, water and white ink (ammonium hydroxide, isopropyl alcohol, n-butyl alcohol, propylene glycol, shellac glaze in SD-45 alcohol, simethicone, titanium dioxide).

It’s such a shame, because, other than that one ingredient, it really is the perfect prenatal vitamin! I have been taking it for the past 3.5 years, and absolutely love it.

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Chloe March 27, 2012 at 5:59 am

The New Chapter vitamins are not vegan as they contain D3. D2 is the vegan D.

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