- It’s not unusual for vegans and vegetarians to experience overwhelming cravings for meat during pregnancy and after childbirth, experts say.
- These cravings could be a sign that the body is deficient in certain nutrients – like B12 and iron – and they shouldn’t go ignored.
- While eating meat and other animal products is one solution, there may also be other ways to round out a vegan diet during pregnancy and after childbirth by eating beans, lentils, and soybeans, which are also rich in iron.
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During her second pregnancy, MacKenzie Passegger expected odd food cravings like peanut butter and pickles. But she wasn’t prepared for her unrelenting desire for a nice, juicy piece of meat. Passegger had been a vegetarian since childhood, and had recently turned vegan. She chose the lifestyle out of her concern for animals and how meat production negatively impacts the environment.
She hadn’t eaten a single animal product in seven months.
That soon changed.
“It got to the point where I would be in tears just wanting to eat a steak or hamburger,” Passegger told Insider.
It isn’t unusual for vegans and vegetarians to crave meat during pregnancy and after childbirth
The mother of two tried to ignore the cravings at first. But during her second trimester, after consulting with her doctor, she gave in. Her OBGYN reassured her this was likely a signal from her body that she was missing key nutrients and that she shouldn’t ignore it. She started with steak, and then moved onto ground beef and milk. She felt guilty at first, but she knew she was giving her body what it needed.
“It’s such a hard balance to give into your cravings and handle the moral part of it,” Passegger said.
Her baby is now a year and a half old, and though her urge for meat has largely subsided, she still continues to eat animal products sparingly. As a breastfeeding mum, Passegger said consuming meat, eggs and dairy boosts her energy levels. She also said she feels weak and irritable when animal products aren’t part of her diet now.
To balance her nutritional needs with her ethical concerns, Passegger makes sure to purchase animal products from humane and local sources. She buys eggs exclusively from the farmer down the road where she lives in Tirol, Austria. There, she knows the chickens are well cared for and have space to roam. She also only buys meat from organic, regional farms with a reputation for treating animals with the highest standards.
Passegger’s experience isn’t all that unusual, said Dr. Allison Suttle, a gynecologist and chief medical officer at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Suttle said many of her vegetarian or vegan patients have experienced meat cravings during pregnancy or right after giving birth.
The cravings could be a sign that a woman is deficient in certain nutrients, including iron and B12
Cravings can be a sign that the body is deficient in certain nutrients, Suttle said. Meat cravings during pregnancy and after birth are often due to iron deficiency. After delivery, it could also be the body’s way of trying to replenish a loss of iron and protein after the intense work of childbirth.
“I tell patients, listen to your body,” Suttle said. “Your body does tell you when it needs certain things.”
Most women of reproductive age have low iron stores to begin with due to the monthly blood loss that comes with menstruation, Suttle said. While pregnant, women need more iron to help support a growing foetus. After giving birth, women can become even more deficient in this area due to blood loss from childbirth.
“I have had some patients who are vegetarians or vegans say: ‘You know I hate meat, I have no desire for it, but now I’m pregnant and I can’t stop thinking about a steak,'” Suttle says. “This is kind of distressing for them.”
Meat cravings during pregnancy could also be linked to the body’s need for B12 – a vitamin that supports both mum and baby’s nervous systems, Suttle said. B12 is frequently found in animal products, like red meat, milk and salmon, though some cereals and soy products are also fortified with B12.
A vegan diet doesn’t necessarily pose risks to the mother or baby during pregnancy
Eating a well-rounded diet is crucial during pregnancy, since good nutrition supports fetal development. Maintaining a vegan diet during pregnancy doesn’t necessarily pose risks to mum or baby, Suttle said, but it can make getting adequate protein and nutrients, like iron or vitamin B12, more difficult. Because plant-based iron is harder for the body to absorb than iron found in animal products, vegetarians and vegans should also consume foods rich in vitamin C, which helps with absorption.
For Lucy Robinson, the need to increase her iron intake during her first pregnancy lead her to eat meat for the first time in two years. Like Passegger, her cravings also hit during the second trimester. While she tried to resume a vegetarian diet after her child was born, she found she wasn’t able to stick with it.
“My iron levels were on the lower side and I needed to focus on getting enough protein,” Robinson said. “I am now an omnivore, and I don’t feel satisfied or healthy unless I eat animal products.”
It’s important to remember that nutritional needs and preferences may vary from person-to-person, Suttle said. While meat cravings could signal a person’s need for more iron or B12, it doesn’t necessarily require eating meat. Beans, lentils and soybeans are also rich in iron.
Even without dietary restrictions, it can be tough to get all the nutrients a woman needs during pregnancy, Suttle added. That’s why she advocates for patients to have open, and frequent, discussions around diet and nutrition with a doctor or nutritionist during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
“There’s a ton of information out there and you’re going to get a ton of advice,” Suttle said. “If you listen to your body, it’s telling you something, which is why coming up with your own individual nutrition plan is so important. Ultimately you are the one responsible for making the decisions. No one else can.”
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