Breastfeeding Your Vegan Baby
by Erin Pavlina
Most of you probably know how important it is to breastfeed your baby, but it’s even more important when you’re vegan. As of this writing there are no commercial soy infant formulas on the U.S. market that are 100% vegan. They all contain Vitamin D derived from an animal. And cow’s milk formulas are out for obvious reasons. What does that leave you with? Not much choice. If you want your baby to be vegan, you’ve got to breastfeed or find a milk bank that has collected and stored milk from a vegan mom (difficult at best).
It’s important to be prepared to breastfeed, you don’t want to wing it. It may sound simple and easy to breastfeed but there’s a lot more to it than just putting your breast in the baby’s mouth. While you’re still pregnant, read books about breastfeeding and attend a few La Leche League meetings so that you can get your baby latched on by yourself if there’s no one there at the birth who can help you. If your birthing center or hospital provides a lactation consultant, use her! If you can afford to hire a lactation consultant, they are worth their weight in gold. If finances are tight, seek a La Leche League meeting or leader who will help you free of charge. They can also help you overcome any unforeseen difficulties that might occur.
How Long to Breastfeed
How long you breastfeed your baby is entirely up to you. Current recommendations suggest breastfeeding for a minimum of one year, and two if it’s mutually desireable. Since infants need breastmilk or formula for at least one year and since there are no vegan formulas, as a vegan mom you should plan on breastfeeding your baby for at least the first year. Babies need breastmilk or formula until they are one year old. After that you can give them soy beverages and other nondairy beverages if you are not still breastfeeding.
Getting Your Vitamins
While you’re breastfeeding it is extremely important to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in your own diet. Your baby is counting on you to provide her with all the nutrients she needs to grow at a healthy rate. While getting a well balanced diet and sufficient vitamin intake is of extreme importance while breastfeeding, the following two vitamins are of particular concern to vegan women. Be absolutely sure you are getting enough of these:
- Vitamin B12 – Babies are born with zero to little stores of this important vitamin. B12 will pass through your breastmilk in sufficient quantities ONLY if you’re getting plenty in your own diet. If you are not 100% sure you’re getting enough yourself, consider giving your infant a liquid B12 supplement from the time she is 2 weeks old until you stop breastfeeding.
- Vitamin D – Get out into the sunshine! If you can’t get 10-15 minutes per day of sunshine, or 20-30 minutes two to three times per week, then you must be sure to get enough Vitamin D in your diet. Good sources of this vitamin are found in fortified non-dairy beverages. Let your baby’s skin get some sunshine too, but be very careful not to expose your infant to too much sunlight because of the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. If you live in colder climates and aren’t sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D, you can supplement. Find Vitamin D2 because that is plant derived. Vitamin D3 is from an animal source.
Advantages of Breastfeeding
The well known advantages of breastfeeding your infant include providing natural immunity against numerous diseases, fewer ear infections, less allergies, less gastrointestinal disorders, lower incidence of SIDS, and a decreased risk of contracting diabetes. One lesser known advantage is that the breastmilk of vegan women is refreshingly void of toxins that are found in large quantities in the breastmilk of non-vegan women. Breastfeeding is also better for the environment as there is no waste or pollution. And, of course, breastfeeding is much better for the animals, who’d like to keep their milk for their own babies.
La Leche League Website
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Gwen Gotsch and Judy Torgus
The Breastfeeding Book by Martha Sears R.N. and William Sears M.D.
Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Michael Klaper, M.D.
Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D. and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D.