Infant and Toddler Nutrition: Vegan Edition

Updated: May 30



Vegetarian and vegan diets have been found to be healthful and advantageous at all stages of the life cycle. Even with this being true, women who decide to have children and choose to raise them on a vegan diet are often still met with some skepticism and questions, especially when the child is very young in the infant and toddler stages. Because most people are raised eating meat and dairy, led to believe that meat is necessary for iron and protein, and dairy is necessary for calcium, infants and toddlers raised vegan can be misunderstood. If you are vegan and considering having a child but worry that you will need to shift your dietary habits during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or as your child grows, rest assured you and your child can still safely and healthily follow a vegan or plant-based diet.


Breastfeeding


Common nutrients that may fall short while following a full plant-based diet include iron, omega-3 fatty acids (specifically, DHA and EPA), zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Lactating women may need to pay special attention to omega-3 fatty acid, zinc, and vitamin B12 status, as the recommended dietary allowances for omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin B12 all increase during lactation. Although most vegetarians and vegans consume sufficient amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plant sources of food (mostly found in chia seeds, flax meal and walnuts), the conversion rate of ALA to the active forms, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in the body is low. To ensure all necessary needs are being met for mom and baby, supplements may be recommended for DHA, zinc, and vitamin B12. Many DHA supplements on the market are derived from fish. However, more recently, a variety of algae-based DHA supplements have become available to consumers. Consuming sufficient DHA is important for the baby’s growth and development, as it is a major structural component of cell membranes in the brain and retina, which develop substantially after birth. With the proper nutritional considerations, following a vegan diet while breastfeeding is still possible.


Infants