Raising a Vegetarian/Vegan Baby

January 27, 2020

blog watch me bloom, recipes for growing me ~6 months, raising a vegetarian vegan baby, close up of multicolour purple blue green cabbage

 
There’s no doubt that vegetarian and vegan diets are on the rise in today’s general population. People switch over to this lifestyle and choice for several reasons—whether it be spiritual, health-related, or altruistic; however, there are important considerations for the developing fetus and the breastfed baby of the vegetarian/vegan mother.  

There are several vitamins you cannot get—or get adequate amounts of—from plant foods alone. Animal-based diets contain many important nutrients, including: 

  • Carnosine: important for muscle function
  • Creatine: gives muscles greater strength and endurance
  • DHA: an essential fatty acid important for brain development and function
  • Heme Iron: prevents anemia and more easily absorbed than non-heme iron found in plant foods
  • Taurine: found only in animal-based foods; assists in muscle function bile-salt formation, and antioxidant defences
  • Vitamin B12: involved in developing red blood cells, while maintaining nerves and normal brain function
  • Vitamin D3: although Vitamin D2 is found in plant foods, it’s D3 that allows Vitamin D to be absorbed more efficiently [i]

close up of vitamin b12

The essential Vitamin B12

One of the vitamins absolutely essential for the developing fetus and infant is Vitamin B12. It is involved in developing red blood cells, while also maintaining normal brain function. Deficiency in Vitamin B12 can increase the risk of birth defects as well as contribute to premature birth. [ii] Also, Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with numerous cognitive defects due to myelin damage (the sheath surrounding axons) resulting in impaired brain development and function. [iii] It is important for mothers to understand this, as a mother who follows a strict vegetarian/vegan diet could have deficient B12 stores, resulting in the developing fetus and infant having a deficiency in Vitamin B12. In infancy, as well as early childhood, individuals with Vitamin B12 deficiency can present numerous symptoms, some of which include: weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, irritability, failure to thrive, lack of appetite, and vomiting. [iv]
 

assorted green vegetables and fruits, asparagus, avocado, lime, apple, spinach, broccoli, snow peas


Tidbit for your Tiny One

Mothers who follow a plant-based diet can certainly provide their infant with adequate nutrients provided they monitor their stores and utilize nutrient-fortified products or supplements as required. [v] For the developing fetus: pay attention to vitamins and trace elements, knowing that vegetarian and vegan women may be at risk for Vitamin B12 and other nutrients. [vi] Health Canada recommends 2.4 μg vitamin B12 for all women, 2.6 μg for pregnant women and 2.8 μg for women who are nursing. [vii]

For the developing infant: When breastfeeding, modifications to the mother’s diet is preferred, but when unable, consuming fortified products or vitamin-mineral supplements is ideal. For non-breastfed infants, utilize fortified complementary foods to provide sufficient amounts of key nutrients. [viii]

In our book, Recipes for Growing Me ~6-months, we’ve highlighted the importance of working with a healthcare professional to assist in regular monitoring of vitamins and trace elements: 

sample page from recipes for growing me ~6 months, baby's first cookbook, "V is for...vegan and vegetarian", happy face heart character illustration on bright green background with black heart vines growing and black lettering poemV is for...vegan and vegetarian
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian
And I am too
We better ensure I have
Enough vitamins from you
I likely do but let’s just review
With an expert in the field
Who can check me through

 
Beyond Infancy

Adults can experience Vitamin B12 deficiency as well. It is important to pay attention to this vitamin as it plays a vital role in the following throughout life:

  • Bone health and helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves mood and symptoms of depression
  • Helps cognitive functioning
  • Helps reduce fatigue [ix]
  • Red blood cell and anemia prevention
  • Reduces risk of macular degeneration


Have a blooming’ day!
Sarah & Karen


*Bibliography:  

[i] Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-nutrients-you-cant-get-from-plants#1

[ii] Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-benefits

[iii] Bak, M., Cakar Gokgoz, S., Unap, A., (2009). Neurological manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency in 15 infants. Journal of Pediatric Neurology, 7, 275-278.

[iv] Bak, M., Cakar Gokgoz, S., Unap, A., (2009). Neurological manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency in 15 infants. Journal of Pediatric Neurology, 7, 275-278

[v] Guiding Principles for Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Child; Pan American Health Organization, Division of Health Promotion and Protection Food and Nutrition Program, Kathryn Dewey 1-37 FOOD & NUTRITION

[vi] Piccoli, G.B., Clari, R., Leone, F., Attini, R., Cabiddu, G., Mauro, G, Castelluccia, N., Colombi, N., Capizzi, I, Panni, A., Todros, T., Avagnina, P. (2015). Vegan-vegetarian diets in pregnancy: danger or panacea? A systematic review. An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 122 (5): 623-633.  

[vii] Roumeliotis, N., Dix, D., Lipson, A. (2012). Vitamin B12 deficiency in infants secondary to maternal causes. Canadian Medical Association Journal, Oct; 184 (4), 1593 – 1598. 

[viii] Guiding Principles for Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Child; Pan American Health Organization, Division of Health Promotion and Protection Food and Nutrition Program, Kathryn Dewey 1-37 FOOD & NUTRITION 

[ix] Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-benefits


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