Breastfeeding When You are Vegan

Did you know that January is Vegan Month, aka Veganuary? Don’t be too surprised if you see some vegan food information floating around social in line with this month. And since it is Vegan Month, let’s talk about every vegan mums’ mind’s biggest concern. Can a vegan diet support a breastfeeding mother and her baby’s nutritional needs? To understand this better, we need to break down the details to see all the necessary nutrients for breastfeeding mothers.

According to most experts, a breastfeeding mother requires about 450 – 500 calories a day for breastmilk production. Regardless of whether you are vegan or not, all breastfeeding mothers should include good protein sources, calcium, vitamin B-12, vitamin D and iron in their diet. 

Thus, your nutritious meals during confinement are not only designed to help you regain your strength but also to help you produce quality milk for your little one.

How your diet can affect your breastmilk

How your diet can affect your breastmilk
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Breastmilk is made up of water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and over 20 different amino acids. There is no doubt that some of these components will be present in your breast milk regardless of your diet since they are drawn from the body; however, others come from the foods you eat. So if your diet is deficient in nutrients, this will affect your breast milk’s nutritional quality. The body just does not produce or store enough nutrients like vitamin B12, iron, DHA, iodine, and zinc which are all critical for the development of your baby. 

Simply put, if you are deficient in vitamin B12 and do not take supplements to rectify this, then your infant will also become deficient because it can only be obtained by eating animal products. This can lead to loss of energy, appetite and affect your baby’s ability to thrive.

What are the common deficiencies in vegan mothers?

The common ones usually involve nutrients that the human body cannot produce or store much of such as:

1. Calcium

Calcium
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It doesn’t matter whether you’re vegan or not; all breastfeeding mothers need at least 1000 mg of calcium every day. Of course, it is far more challenging to achieve this in a vegetable-only diet. However, you can still find good calcium sources in dark green leafy vegetables, bok choy, tofu, mustard greens, spinach, broccoli, kailan, and chickpeas almonds and Brazil nuts. You can also buy calcium-enriched juices and soy products, rice products, soymilk and add calcium supplements into your diet.

2. Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B 12
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Vitamin B-12 is also another difficult one as it is derived mainly from animal products. Getting enough Vitamin B-12 is crucial because deficiency in infants can cause loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and result in their already tiny muscles wasting away. Thankfully fermented soybean foods like tempeh and yeast are an excellent alternative source of vitamin B-12; otherwise, you may need to consider adding supplements to compensate.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D
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Your baby will also need vitamin D to help him or her to absorb calcium and phosphorus. Too little vitamin D can result in rickets, a disease marked by bone deformities. You can get vitamin D by getting enough ultraviolet B rays in sunlight so do spend some time in the sun. Although vegan breastfeeding mothers may need supplements during winter in northern latitudes where ultraviolet B rays wavelengths are not found in sunlight due to its angle.

4. Protein

Protein
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All nursing mothers are encouraged to partake around 65 grams of protein per day for the first six months and 62 grams per day between six and 12 months. And since meat is off limits, your baby will benefit from a varied range of protein sources such as soy products, beans, and grains like quinoa, whole wheat, buckwheat and brown rice should provide a sufficient amount of protein for breastfeeding mothers.

5. Iron

Iron
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If you are generally healthy and eat well, then the Iron in your breastmilk should be sufficient for your baby for the first 6 months. Iron is needed to make a substance in red blood cells that carry oxygen to your organs and tissues.

It is a common myth that vegan mothers tend to be more iron deficient compared to meat-eating mums. But as long as you get enough iron from whole grains, spinach, mushrooms, dark beans, lentils and dark leafy green vegetables, they can actually be better per calorie basis if you compare it to meat. Otherwise there’s always iron-fortified cereals and supplements. Just make sure you pair it with food that are rich in Vitamin C  to increase your Iron absorption.

6. DHA

DHA
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To ensure healthy development of your baby’s brain and eyes you need to ensure that you have enough DHA(an omega-3 essential fatty acid) in your body. While it is found mostly in fish, there are also plenty of plant sources such as flaxseed, hempseed, and walnuts. An ideal amount would be roughly 1,500 milligrams of DHA per week.

7. Zinc

Zinc
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Aside from calcium, zinc is another nutrient that is stored in the body. Your baby can obtain zinc through your breastmilk by depleting the zinc stored in your body. To ensure adequate zinc to meet both your needs, a breastfeeding mother requires 12 milligrams per day or more. Although many plant based food contain zinc, they are not as easily absorbed compared to zinc from animal products. Zinc can be found in nuts, seeds, beans, grains, leafy green vegetables, or fortified foods.

So.. Can vegan mothers breastfeed?

Most certainly! Vegan mothers can breastfeed without having to give up their vegan lifestyle as long as they eat various foods (including fortified ones) that provide them with adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. 

However, if you’re unsure whether your diet is sufficient, you can always consult with a health care provider to determine this. Suppose you are in need of supplements, doctors can easily prescribe or recommend some for you or your infant.

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