I’m a vegetarian, and I’m considering become a vegan. What effect will that have on breastfeeding?
Answer: Overall, diets that include more fruits and vegetables and less fat are healthier than those containing lots of meat and sugar, and moms who make a conscious choice to become vegetarians or vegans are more likely to be health conscious than those who eat lots of fast food.
While a nursing mom’s diet doesn’t have to be perfect, it is important to make sure that it isn’t so severely restricted that it affects her health.
The more foods that are eliminated from the diet, the more aware moms have to be of making sure that they get the basic nutrients they need.
Vegetarian diets tend to be bulky due to the amount of plant products, and this may cause them to have a low caloric density. A diet that is too low in calories will cause the body to use protein for energy, decreasing the amount of protein available to you and your baby.
The biggest concern for vegans is the lack of Vitamin B-12, and they may be low on folate and iron, all of which are found in animal products.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may develop in the breastfed infant by 2 – 6 months of age, but may not be clinically apparent until 6 – 12 months. Signs and symptoms of severe vitamin B12 deficiency in infants include vomiting, lethargy, anemia, failure to thrive, hypotonia (low muscle tone), and developmental delays.
These would be EXTREME and very unusual situations, but since B-12 is not found in plant foods, and since the high fiber in a diet made up only of plant foods may interfere with iron absorption, it makes sense for for vegan lactating moms to take vitamin B-12 supplements, in addition to making sure their diet contains plenty of iron, protein, and calcium.
Anne Smith, IBCLC