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Vegetarian Pregnancy? Make Sure You Get Enough of This Vitamin

Vegetarian pregnancy

Vitamin B12 is an important consideration for anyone following a plant-based diet – but even more so for women who are pregnant.


B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods – primarily foods of animal origin such as meat, milk and eggs. Vitamin B12 is required for many body functions, such as red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis. If, through the diet, you aren’t getting enough of this essential nutrient, be sure it is included in your vitamin supplement – especially during pregnancy.

In research conducted by Tormod Rogne and colleagues at Akershus University Hospital near Oslo, low levels of vitamin B12 are associated with a 21% increased risk of preterm birth. Globally, low birth weight and preterm birth cause half of all infant deaths in the first 28 days.

For women consuming animal products in their regular diet, vitamin B12 deficiency is rare – but can happen in instances of malnutrition and poverty. Other causes can include medication, malabsorption, either due to a condition such as atrophic gastritis or celiac disease, or after surgery on the gastrointestinal system, such as after gastric bypass.
Those that are particularly vulnerable to B12 deficiency are those who eat vegan diets.

"In countries where vegetarian diets predominate, such as in India, the percentage of pregnant women with B12 deficiency can exceed two thirds," says Rogne.

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Vegan foods that contain B12 are generally fortified with the vitamin (rather than being present naturally) such as fortified breakfast cereals or plant milks such as soy or rice. In supplements, B12 is present as cyanocobalamin.

The RDA in pregnancy and lactation is 2.6 and 2.8 mcg, respectively – just slightly greater than the needs for all adults (2.4 mcg).

Journal Reference:
Tormod Rogne, et al. Associations of Maternal Vitamin B12 Concentration in Pregnancy With the Risks of Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Individual Participant Data. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2017; DOI: 10.1093/aje/kww212

Additional Resource:
National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements

Photo Credit:
By Ⅿeagan from Tulsa, OK, United States via Wikimedia Commons