Veganism is the practice of not consuming or using animal products and avoiding things that were produced using any form of animal exploitation. Embracing a vegan way of living is a personal and healthy choice. If you’re currently breastfeeding, you will want to how going vegan will affect you and your baby. So to all our vegan breastfeeding moms, I carried out some research to help find the most essential information you’ll need when breastfeeding your baby.
A breastfeeding mother on a vegan diet can successfully nurse her baby provided she follows a well-balanced diet. While breastfeeding, she should ensure that she has adequate sources of calcium, vitamin D, Omega-3, iodine, zinc and iron in her diet. Supplementation of Vitamin B12 is strongly recommended as this vitamin is mostly derived from animal protein. A deficiency of vitamin B12 in a lactating mothers’ breastmilk will result in her baby also becoming deficient. Symptoms include drowsiness, lethargy, low muscle tone and failure to thrive.
Recognizing the numerous benefits that it can offer, breastfeeding while on a vegan diet can be a rewarding experience for you and your baby. However, it isn’t as simple as you may think. If you want to provide an optimum source of nutrition, then you ought to know some of the most important factors to consider if you plan to go vegan while breastfeeding.
Is breastfeeding vegan?
Many people are confused about the real meaning of a vegan diet. Some may think that vegans dislike all kinds of milk, including breast milk for their little one. However, if we dig deeper into the vegan principle, it only eliminates all products which involve the exploitation of animals. Animal products are excluded like milk and other dairy products derived from animal sources like cows and goats. Vegans promote the welfare of animals. One aspect they contradict is the dairy industry, which involves separating calves from their mothers too early so that humans can use the cow’s milk for their consumption. Vegans believe that cow’s milk is for their calves, goat’s milk is for their kids, and human milk is for their infants. Therefore, breastfeeding adheres to the vegan way of living and still serves as the best source of nutrition for the babies of vegan mothers.
A typical vegan breastfeeding meal plan
According to “Vegan Nutrition for Mothers and Children: Practical Tools for Healthcare Providers”:
the breast milk of vegan mothers who are following well-planned vegan diets, including a reliable source of Vitamin B12, provides adequate nutrition to their breastfed babies.
Since vegan diets eliminate meat and other animal products, the main concern for the breastfeeding mother is to ensure that she gets enough nutrients for herself and her baby’s needs. A plant-based diet can provide plenty of beneficial vitamins and minerals that a breastfed infant needs. However, some essential nutrients like Vitamin B12 and iron are frequently derived from meat products. It is vital to establish a well planned vegan meal plan. According to some studies, the concerns associated with the vegan diet during breastfeeding mostly arose due to some individuals following more “restrictive” diets rather than “well-planned” diets.
For a vegan diet to become well-planned, here are the most important criteria to be met:
Eat a wide variety of plant foods.
A vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate for breastfeeding mothers and their babies if they can meet their caloric requirement by consuming a wide array of nutrient-dense plant foods. Experts suggest that you go for the whole or minimally processed foods to preserve the natural vitamins and minerals coming from the plant foods.
Reduce vegetable fat intake.
The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) suggests that the amount of vegetable fat in the diet must be limited so as not to displace the nutrient-dense foods or limit the caloric intake of the breastfeeding mom.
Avoid sources of trans fats and tropical oils:
- Coconut oils
- Palm oil
- Palm-kernel oil
Substitute by consuming good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats:
- Nuts (Walnuts)
- Beans (Kidney beans, edamame beans, soybean oil)
- Seeds (Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds)
- Seaweed and algae (Nori in sushi, spirulina, and chlorella)
Adequate calcium intake.
Most breastfeeding mothers with a regular diet get their calcium needs from milk and dairy products. Since these food products are excluded in a vegan diet, mothers need to find good sources of calcium from plant products. When you produce breast milk, the required calcium will be taken for your baby’s needs. If your diet is deficient in this mineral, your body will undergo a process called bone calcium resorption. Calcium is released from bone tissue and into the blood where it will then pass into breast milk required for your baby.
Significant calcium sources in a vegan diet include:
- Soy foods (Calcium-set tofu, tempeh, and natto)
- Beans, peas, lentils
- Seeds and their butter (Tahini butter from sesame seeds, chia, and flaxseeds)
- Grains (amaranth and teff)
- Seaweeds (Wakame, Kelp)
- Calcium-fortified plant yogurt and cereals
Iron from plant sources
Plant foods are rich in iron. However, their iron content is available in the non-heme form which is not as easily absorbed by the body. Iron-rich foods that should be included in your diet are:
- Dark green vegetables
- Dried fruits (apricots)
- Iron-fortified breads and cereals
Additionally, increasing your intake with foods rich in Vitamin C enhances your body’s ability to absorb iron.
Consume adequate Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 typically comes from meat, eggs, and dairy products which are eliminated in a typical vegan meal. You can get this vitamin from the following plant-based sources:
- Soy foods and fortified soya drinks
- Meat substitutes
- Vitamin B12 Fortified foods (breakfast cereals)
- Yeast extracts (brewer’s yeast, Marmite)
However, the amount coming from plant sources may not be adequate to support the breastfeeding mom and her baby’s needs. A Vitamin B12 supplement is recommended by your health care provider to ensure you and your breast milk will have sufficient amounts of this essential vitamin.
Adequate Vitamin D levels
Lactating women need to have sufficient Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is necessary for your baby’s bone health as it aids in the absorption of calcium. This vitamin mainly comes from food sources including eggs, cheese, and fish. For breastfeeding vegan mothers, sources are limited to fortified foods and drinks. Therefore, health care providers often recommend adults, especially breastfeeding moms, to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months. Adequate sunlight exposure both for you and your baby is also essential to help activate the available Vitamin D in your body.
Omega-3 Rich Foods
Nonvegans obtain most of their Omega-3 sources from oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Two servings of Omega-3 rich foods are recommended daily for pregnant and lactating mothers. These can be found in sources such as seaweed, algae, chia seeds, walnuts and flax seeds for the vegan diet. A supplement containing 100-200 g daily of DHA is recommended when breastfeeding your baby.
Can I take vegan protein powder while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding mothers need to increase their daily intake to 300 to 500 calories to meet the demands of making enough breast milk for their babies. Calories coming from protein sources play a significant role in boosting milk production and increasing the mother’s energy reserve. This means that those on a vegan diet will benefit from all available protein sources, including vegan protein powders to top it up. However, since many of the powdered preparations available are rich in artificial additives and preservatives, it is always wiser to seek consultation from your health care provider before taking any of these commercially-prepared protein powders.
What is raw vegan, and what impact could it have while breastfeeding?
A raw vegan diet is similar to a vegan diet. The difference is that it requires food to be eaten entirely raw or heated at temperatures below 104–118°F (40–48°C). A typical raw vegan meal is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, which are alternately prepared by blending, soaking, or juicing.
It is comprised of low-processed, plant-based food items which can provide health benefits for the breastfeeding mother. Among them include better heart health, a lower risk for diabetes, improved digestion, and weight loss.
However, a raw vegan diet is also coupled with a risk for nutritional imbalance. In a raw vegan diet, consuming supplements and fortified food products are discouraged. Potentially, this can lead to deficiencies in Vitamin B12, Calcium, and iron. These deficiencies can affect the breastfed baby’s growth, specifically on brain and bone development.
What are my options if I discontinue breastfeeding?
For vegan babies, soy milk is the next best alternative when their mother chooses to wean them off the breast. For babies 6 months and older, this can be coupled with the introduction of solid foods similar to the way they are introduced to non-vegan babies. Mashed or pureed tofu or beans can replace meat. Make sure to consult your doctor before you introduce a vegan diet to your baby to ensure his optimum nutrition even if you discontinue breastfeeding.
Typical breastfed baby poop on a vegan diet
If you’re on a vegan diet while breastfeeding, it is more likely that your baby’s poop will be almost similar to that of other breastfed babies. A breastfed baby’s poop typically starts as black and tarry upon birth and slowly turns into a yellowish or mustard-colored, soft or runny poop which may often contain small pieces of seed-like particles. Your baby may pass out stools with every breastfeeding. A greenish tinge on your baby’s poop is considered normal. According to the AAP, you shouldn’t be concerned unless your baby passes out clay-like and whitish, watery and mucus-filled, or hard and dry stools. Black and bloody stools should be reported immediately to your doctor.
Many vegan moms have raised healthy vegan babies, especially if they continue breastfeeding their little one while having a well-planned vegan diet. Going vegan while breastfeeding is a choice that everyone should respect. Vegan or non-vegan, it is always better for a breastfeeding mom and her baby to regularly meet their health care provider to ensure that they are in optimum health and wellness.