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I want to know whether it is safe to follow a vegetarian diet (with no meat or fish) during pregnancy.

Will there be any disadvantages to my baby (nervous system and brain, for example) because of not eating fish or meat, since meat protein may differ from that found in pulses, eggs, yoghurt and cheese?

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Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional nor have I undertaken any medical training whatsoever. If in doubt, consult your doctor or a nutrition specialist.

Firstly, I think you can find interesting answers to your question in another question on this site which is, however, concerned with vegan pregnancy. What this basically means is that you can subtract vegan related problems from the answers and be left with the vegetarian related ones.

I will try to address your question in my own answer as well:

The reason that you have included as the one because of which your baby would suffer from defects in its nervous system and brain - the difference of protein found in meat/fish as compared to vegetarian sources - is, as far as I know, unfounded. It is true that the overall amino-acid composition differs among these groups, but with balanced vegetarian diet you can meet the target for each of the essential amino-acids - the stuff from which protein is synthesized.

In fact, in a correspondence from Dr McDougall to AHA (The American Heart Association) it is argued that (emphasis mine)

..By calculating the amount of each essential amino acid provided by unprocessed complex carbohydrates (starches and vegetables) and comparing these values with those determined by Rose, the results show that any single one or combination of these plant foods provides amino acid intakes in excess of the recommended requirements. Therefore, a careful look at the founding scientific research and some simple math prove it is impossible to design an amino acid–deficient diet based on the amounts of unprocessed starches and vegetables sufficient to meet the calorie needs of humans. Furthermore, mixing foods to make a complementary amino acid composition is unnecessary..

To which AHA itself responds (emphasis mine):

..We certainly agree with Dr McDougall that a vegetarian diet based on the AHA guidelines of 5 to 6 servings of whole grains and 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit would, in fact, supply all of the amino acids necessary for health...

Now as to pregnancy and vegetarianism in general, there is little else to consider, since vegetarian diet does not lack in any specific nutrient as the vegan does (eg. vitamins B12 and D). Normal recommendations, valid for non-vegetarians, apply. A list of these can be easily found in abundance of pregnancy literature and articles, such as this one from NHS. It recommends the folic acid (B9) supplements of 400mcg per day before pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks of it. Folic acid is abundant in vegetarian diet so no higher doses for vegetarians should be needed. It also suggests other possible nutrients to supplement so definitely have a look.

To reiterate, I am not a professional trained in giving medical advice and your best bet would be to contact someone who is. On the other hand, I believe that vegetarianism in pregnancy is not a risk factor, if done sensibly, and you certainly would not be the first parent(s) to go down this road. Good luck :)

  • Could you explain the difference between essential and non-essential amino acids? Thanks. – Jimmy Joslington Nov 9 '17 at 8:25
  • @JimmyJoslington I have changed my answer a little to provide link to this. It's basically just what I noted in the brackets before - essential amino acids you need to have in your diet since your body cannot produce them on your own. Non-essential ones are still essential in the sense that your body needs them, it just can produce them and hence they are not a big deal when considering your diet. – Alexander Rossa Nov 9 '17 at 9:44
  • What about conditionally essential amino acids. What if the patient has a health problem and won't be able to produce these on their own. Any vegetarian diet cover these? – Jimmy Joslington Nov 9 '17 at 12:14
  • @JimmyJoslington I have a feeling that this goes beyond the scope of your original question and can be easily answered by a Google search of the form "vegetarian sources of X" where X is each of the conditionally essential amino acids mentioned in the link you provided. By doing this you can see that plant/dairy/egg sources of these amino-acids exist and therefore yes, vegetarian diet covers these. Also, if your child will suffer from a pathological condition that would have an impact on their ability to synthesize AAs, I am sure you would be given professional medical advice about this. – Alexander Rossa Nov 9 '17 at 13:18
  • @JimmyJoslington I have run out of characters in my previous comment: I will refrain from answering further questions about hypothetical rare medical conditions that could possibly cause trouble for your child, for two reasons. First one is that I am not a medical professional and do not feel competent to give medical advice. Second one is, that, just like the one above, many of these can be answered using a little research and logic. I will be happy to extend my answer with reponses to any other relevant queries you might have though. – Alexander Rossa Nov 9 '17 at 13:23

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