Vegan and vegetarian moms-to-be could be missing out on an important nutrient during pregnancy according to new research. The study published in the journal Early Human Development suggests that pregnant women who increase their intake of vitamin B12, found primarily in fish, steak and other red meat, during the first three months of pregnancy are up to eight times more likely to have a baby who cries less. Researchers from the Public Health Service in the Netherlands measured the vitamin B12 levels of nearly 3,000 women when they were three months pregnant and then recorded how often, and for how long their babies cried once they were born. Five percent of mothers lacking B12 had crying babies, while about 1 percent of women with the highest levels of B12 reported excessive crying. But does this mean you should consider straying from your vegetarian and vegan beliefs?
Probably not. Women eating plant-based diets often have lower levels of vitamin B12, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to eat a steak, or even a salmon steak to fill your B12 quota. Even though vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal foods, if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, you may already be getting more than enough of the nutrient. Beyond popping pills, you can get vitamin B12 from fortified soy milk, cereals, meat substitutes and nutritional yeast — just read the labels to see how much you’re getting.
So why are low levels of B12 associated with baby’s that cry more? Researchers suggest that a low level of B12 may affect a the brain’s myelin production during fetal development, a supportive tissue that surrounds and protects nerve cells, and that a lower level of myelin could cause irritability. Or, B12 could be related to sleep cycles since low levels stop the release of sleep hormone melatonin.
Beyond the risk of a crying baby, B vitamins are important during pregnancy. Vitamin B12 also teams up with important pregnancy nutrient folic acid to help in the formation of red blood cells, and too little folic acid has been linked to spina bifida and other birth defects. So if you’re a vegetarian or vegan mom-to-be, talk to your doctor or midwife to ensure that you’re getting enough of these important nutrients from vitamins and fortified foods.