It’s not just a fad — plant-based eating is healthy! Vegetarian and vegan diets provide multiple health benefits and may even prevent certain diseases. Contrary to what some people think, it is totally possible to provide all the nutrition your baby needs on a vegetarian diet. In addition, research shows that the breast milk of a vegetarian mother contains fewer environmental toxins! Here are some tips on breastfeeding for vegetarian mamas.
You might have noticed that you feel quite ravenous when you’re breastfeeding, and you are not imagining it. Roughly 300 to 500 additional calories per day are needed to meet the energy needs of breastfeeding. The exact amount you need depends on how much milk you are producing and how active you are. Selecting healthy, energy-dense foods can help you easily meet your calorie needs. Yummy higher-calorie vegetarian foods include avocados, nuts and nut butters, legumes and bean spreads like hummus.
Lactation also requires additional nutrients. Luckily, a vegetarian diet can support most of your nutritional needs, as long as you are enjoying a variety of different vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins. However, there are a few vitamins and minerals that vegetarians should pay extra attention to during this time:
- “Calcium (1000 mg/d): Our babies will get the calcium they need to build strong bones from breast milk. To help protect from osteoporosis in your child’s future and your own, be sure to eat foods that are good sources of calcium. Dairy is a great option, but you can also find calcium in dark leafy greens, tofu, orange juice, sesame seeds, and fortified alternative milks.
- “B12 (2.8 mcg/d): Because B-vitamins are usually found in animal proteins, vegetarians are often B-vitamin deficient, and infants of vegetarian mothers may also not be getting enough B-vitamins. The only food source of vegetarian or vegan B12 will be in fortified cereals, plant milks and soy foods. If you are concerned with your B12 status, talk with your physician.
- “Zinc (12 mg/d): Because it can take a lot of food to meet your zinc needs, vegetarians should consume foods high in zinc on a regular basis. Luckily for your baby, breast milk can provide enough zinc for the first few months before they begin solid foods. Zinc is found in beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast.
- “Omega-3 fatty acids: Even though there are currently no official recommendations for essential fatty acids (like DHA and ALA) in the diet, they have been shown to be important for cognitive development and vision. Because DHA is normally found in fish, vegetarians typically have less of this healthy fat in their diet. DHA can be found in fortified eggs, and excellent sources of ALA are seeds (like chia, ground flax, and hemp) and walnuts.
If you are a vegetarian mom and you are not sure if your diet is complete, talk with your doctor or work with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can help guide you along your way.
About the author: Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.
- Creighton C. Vegetarian Diets During Lactation. Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Available at: www.vegetariannutrition.net Accessed June 16, 2017.
- Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intake Reports. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available at: https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/dri-tables-and-application-reports Accessed June 16, 2017.
- Kolasa K, Firnhaber G, Haven K. Diet for a Healthy Lactating Woman. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Dec;58(4):893-901.
- Lawrence, Ruth A., and Robert M. Lawrence. “Chapter 9: Maternal Nutrition and Supplements for Mother and Infant.” Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2016. N. pag. Print.
- Mead N. Contaminants in Human Milk: Weighing the Risks against the Benefits of Breastfeeding. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Oct; 116(10):A426-A434.
- Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980.