Raising a Vegetarian/Vegan Baby

January 27, 2020

Raising a Vegetarian/Vegan Baby

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 [1]

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. [2] 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. [3] 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. [4]

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. [5] 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. [6] 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. [7]

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. [8]

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: 

V 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[9]
  • Red blood cell and anemia prevention
  • Reduces risk of macular degeneration

Have a blooming’ day!
Sarah & Karen


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

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

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

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

[5] 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

[6] 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.  

[7] 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. 

[8] 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 

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

Remember…don’t hog the blog! Use code BLOGHOG to enjoy 15% OFF your purchase of baby’s first cookbook.

P.S. If you’d like to support us, you can buy a book, say hello on Facebook or follow us on Instagram. If you liked this blog, share it with a new mom. Reading this for the first time? Subscribe and receive a complimentary digital download of our ‘Love Me Forever’ Digital Print.

Also in Hello Mama!

How to Make Finger Foods
How to Make Finger Foods

May 25, 2020 0 Comments

Okay, so now that you know your infant is ready to progress to textures, what are the best finger foods to offer your baby? It is recommended to avoid foods high in sugar, such as store-bought food pouches that do not offer the nutritional benefits that come from fresh foods. Finger foods should also be soft, easy to swallow and cut into bite sizes. Also, offering finger foods promotes self-feeding and gives infants a chance to develop autonomy.

Read more

The Importance of Texture in Your Baby’s Diet
The Importance of Texture in Your Baby’s Diet

April 27, 2020 0 Comments

It seems to be well documented that infants are ready for complementary foods at around 6-months of age; however, the importance of introducing different textures around 9-months is not as well known. It makes sense that this transition should naturally occur if the goal for infants is to enjoy a variety of foods and textures by one year of age; [3] but how are we supposed to know when—and why our infants are ready for this progression? According to an expert panel review, introducing finely chopped foods at around 9-12 months is recommended (provided that your infant shows signs of developmental readiness).

Read more

Breast Milk Donation and Why this is Important
Breast Milk Donation and Why this is Important

March 30, 2020 0 Comments

The importance of breast milk for infants has been well documented and breastfeeding is considered the gold standard for essential nutrients and protective agents. But what happens when a mother and baby are unable to breastfeed? There can be several reasons for this, including premature birth (which may be secondary to the shortened period of the mother’s changes in her mammary glands), the stress associated with premature birth, or other causes. Human Milk Banks are a wonderful option for babies unable to breastfeed, especially those in critical care in the NICU. Essentially, they can provide important microorganisms when breastfeeding is not an option.

Read more