Can You Be Vegetarian or Vegan and Breastfeed?
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for babies, and the World Health Organisation recommends breast milk as the only source of food for babies for the first six months. Breastfeeding can also be more convenient – no carrying formula and sterilised bottles everywhere. It is important for all breastfeeding mums, for their sake and for the baby’s sake, to make sure that they are eating a healthy and varied diet. Breastfeeding is a drain on anybody’s resources, but a good diet is especially important for women who are vegetarian or vegan.
ProteinBreast milk contains a lot of protein, so it is vital that vegetarian and vegan women who are breastfeeding eat extra protein (and a few extra calories) over and above a normal healthy diet. Good sources for protein for vegans and vegetarians include soya (such as soya milk, tofu or tempeh), pulses, seeds, quinoa, wholegrains and nuts. Vegetarians can also get protein from dairy products and eggs.
Vitamins and MineralsFor the health of both mum and baby, vegetarian and vegan mums should make sure that they get enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and iron.
People who eat meat get a lot of their vitamin B12 from this. Vegetarians and vegans can get their B12 from yeast extract, and vegetarians can also get B12 from dairy products and eggs.
Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin, and getting 20-30 minutes two to three times a week in the sun will increase the body’s levels naturally. Vegetarians can get additional vitamin D from eggs. Vegans can get vitamin D from mushrooms or hemp.
Calcium is important for strong teeth and bones in both mothers and babies, and can be found in green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts and pulses. Vegetarians can also get calcium from milk, cheese and other dairy products.
As a source of iron, vegetarians and vegans should make sure that they include dried fruit, dark green vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains in their diet. Cocoa and black treacle are also sources of this mineral, and could be a good excuse for a mug of hot chocolate, made with dairy or non-dairy milk, every now and then. Vegetarians can also get iron from eggs. Fortified breakfast cereals and other foods can be a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron.
As a form of security, some women may decide to take supplements or give supplements to their babies. There are a number of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly supplements – and doctors, nurses or pharmacists can also give advice on supplements for babies and toddlers.