Is a vegan or vegetarian diet safe for my baby?

When a vegan or vegetarian diet is followed properly, it can be very safe and healthy for your child. It’s good to check with your doctor when first starting solid foods — make sure you tell them of your dietary plans. Your doctor may ask that you have your baby’s blood tested for iron and other nutrient levels when first starting out, and they may have you re-check your baby’s nutrient levels after spending a year or so on a vegan/vegetarian diet just to make sure you’re on the right track. If you provide your baby with a well-rounded, whole foods diet, you will probably be presented with very healthy results. Some doctors may not be very knowledgable when it comes to vegan or vegetarian diets — if that’s the case with your doctor, consider visiting a nutritionist who specializes in vegan/vegetarian diets.

Can my baby get all the nutrients she needs without eating meat?

Yes! Visit Nutrition to learn more about what vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your veggie baby needs to thrive.

Does my veggie baby need any additional supplements she can’t get from her food?

Vitamin B12

The B12 RDA for babies ranges from .30 to .70  micrograms daily, depending on age.

Vitamin B12 is found in food that mainly comes from animals, fish, dairy and eggs. So, if you’re feeding your child a vegetarian diet that includes enough eggs and dairy products, B12 won’t be a concern.

Vegan babies who aren’t consuming eggs or dairy can get enough B12 through fortified foods. For example, brewer’s/nutritional yeast — 1 tablespoon contains about .40 mcg. One vegan, fortified B12 yeast supplement we love is Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula. You can add brewer’s yeast to anything you cook. Other great sources of B12 are found in fortified soy milk (read the nutritional label for levels of B12) and fortified faux-meat (“meat” made from wheat gluten or soybeans to resemble beef, pork, chicken, turkey and fish). There are other options out there too, such as fortified breakfast cereals. It’s important not to rely on one source of B12 only — be sure to add a variety of fortified foods to your child’s diet.

If you’re concerned about vitamin B12, talk to your doctor or nutritionist who can recommend a B12 supplement for your baby.

If you’re still breastfeeding, ensure you’re getting enough B12 yourself, either through the foods identified above, or through a supplement. The B12 you consume is also passed on to your child through your milk.

Vitamin D

The Vitamin D RDA for babies ranges from 300 to 400 mcg, depending on age. Besides the sun and animal products, there is no other way to get Vitamin D naturally. However, Vitamin D is found in fortified products, including some non-dairy milks and other foods. In Canada, doctors recommend that all babies (regardless of whether they eat meat or not) take a Vitamin D supplement until they are 12 months old. If you’re feeding your baby a vegan or vegetarian diet, talk to your doctor or nutritionist for their recommendations on whether or not you should continue supplementing your child past 12 months.

Where will my baby’s iron and protein sources come from?

This is the most common question parents, caregivers, and even doctors ask when considering a meat- and/or dairy-free diet.

We’ve been so conditioned as consumers to believe that beef packs the most punch when it comes to protein, the only way to get the “right” kind of iron is by eating meat, and that dairy is the best source of calcium. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the average North American eats twice as much protein as is needed, with most of this excess protein coming from red meat. Legumes and grains are much healthier sources of protein and can even reduce the risk of osteoporosis. And, when it comes to iron absorption, studies have shown that eating dairy along with iron-rich foods can actually reduce the amount of iron absorbed into one’s system. In fact, excessive cow milk intake and early introduction of cow’s milk are two of the leading factors contributing to iron deficiency in children (Iron-deficiency anemia in children (PDF)).

Protein, iron and calcium are abundant in a variety of veggies, fruit and legumes, and in some cases, can offer more nutritional value than beef and cow’s milk. Click here to see plant-based sources of protein, iron and calcium.

Is a vegan or vegetarian diet healthy for my baby?

A vegan or vegetarian diet can be much healthier than a diet that includes meat when done properly. Studies have shown that vegan diets can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, heart disease, various cancer and obesity. Visit Veggie 101 for more information about the health benefits of eating a meat-free diet. Always consult your doctor or paediatric nutritionist to ensure this way of eating is right for your child.

Is it unethical to feed my baby a vegetarian/vegan diet?

There have been some instances in the news where parents or caregivers have been deemed “unethical” for choosing to raise their child on a meat-free diet.

Years ago, a leading US nutritionist and professor at the University of California claimed that raising children without meat in their diets would damage children’s health. Her study was based on impoverished children living in Kenya who subsisted on mostly starchy diets. She found that by adding only two tablespoons worth of meat to their diets improved their muscle and brain development considerably. She went on to say, “I would go as far as to say it is unethical to withhold these foods [animal products] during that period of life [baby, toddlerhood and childhood]. There’s a lot of empirical research that will show the very adverse effects on child development of doing that.”

But, when the British Dietetic Association reviewed her results, they found that the study only focused on impoverished, rural children whose diets were low in iron, zinc, B12, as well as other essential nutrients, and that the results should not be applied to children in the developed world. Read more about the study here. [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/feb/21/health.food]

Most vegans and vegetarians would argue that avoiding meat and other animal products is more ethical than a traditional diet, based on what we know about the agricultural industry’s effects on the environment, health and animal welfare. Read more about why people choose to become vegetarian or vegan here.

Many would say that by raising our own children vegan or vegetarian, we’re helping to preserve the planet not only for them, but for future generations to come.

My baby is now 12 months old. Should she be drinking cow’s milk?

Turning 1 is a huge milestone for your baby. He’s eating solids well, learning new things every moment of the day, and may be walking and talking. At 12 months, many breastfeeding moms decide it’s time to wean their child (as this milestone often coincides with mom’s return to work), and infant formula is no longer considered a necessity. The prevailing wisdom (doctors and other experts) say that 12 months is a good time to switch from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk.

But cow’s milk really isn’t necessary. Milk’s heath benefits are beefed up through powerful marketing and advertising campaigns paid for by the milk industry. Many babies and adults across Canada and the US (and all other parts of the world) are lactose intolerant and shouldn’t be consuming any dairy products at all. In fact, around 65% of the global population is lactose intolerant — that should tell us something! (ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/lactose-intolerance). Protein and calcium are found in a variety of other foods your veggie baby is likely eating, and you can use plant-based milks in cooking and baking to create the same delicious foods you’re used to.

Whether or not you choose to offer your baby cow’s milk is up to you, but know there are other healthy options available should you decide not to.

And if you are breastfeeding, you can choose to continue (the WHO recommends breastfeeding until age 2 and beyond), as human breast milk contains higher contents of good fats than cow’s milk, and provides the right amount of calcium and protein for your baby.