Last week was World Breastfeeding Week and so I saw a lot of articles about breastfeeding, mostly very positive. But I was also sad to see a lot of negative comments and judgement about extended breastfeeding (which is not extended at all, of course, but is natural). Vegans don’t always breastfeed but I thought this was especially interesting and strange from a vegan point of view.Read More »
A question I get asked a lot is if vegans can use infant formula. Some vegans will have different opinions. This is just my opinion.Read More »
If you’re vegan, you’ve probably seen a few articles about vegan kids who got sick, or unfortunately some who died. And people commenting on them to say “I knew it! This proves being vegan isn’t healthy!” and accusing all vegan parents of child abuse and “forcing their decisions on their kids”. Maybe people send the articles to you or have told you, “I heard of a vegan kid once who got sick.” They’ll usually be brought up in any debate about vegan kids.Read More »
I haven’t blogged in what seems like ages, and the main reason is that we’ve been enjoying the sunshine and having lots and lots of barbecues (that and I was being lazy). It’s been such a fun way to spend time outdoors with the kids and they’ve loved it. This post might be a little late for people here in Ireland as it’s raining now, but we’ll get more sun, I’m sure! I really love vegan barbecues. I think they’re actually much better than meaty barbecues. There’s more variety, veggies are delicious barbecued, they’re healthier, and of course cruelty-free.Read More »
I sometimes get asked about vegan prenatal vitamins so want to write about what ones I take. These are available in Ireland and the UK but I can’t recommend any brands that are available in other countries unfortunately.
Pregnant people or people planning to get pregnant are generally advised to take folic acid supplements and to eat a fairly healthy, balanced diet, in particular containing plenty of iron, calcium, vitamin D and long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Vegans are advised by The Vegan Society to take vitamin B12 supplements and make sure they get good sources of vitamin D, iodine, calcium and long-chain DHA Omega-3 fats.
Throughout my pregnancies and breastfeeding I have taken vegan prenatal vitamins. There are several vegan supplements available for pregnancy and breastfeeding that I know of. I take Solgar Prenatal Nutrients. These are available in Ireland and the UK in health shops.
There are also other vegan pregnancy supplements that I know of, such as Viridian Pregnancy Complex and Terra Nova Prenatal Multivitamin Complex, which are available in health shops. These are reputable brands that my local health shop recommended to me.
The reason I chose the Solgar one is because I found the price to be the best value in my local health shop.
My doctor and dietician looked over the amounts of vitamins and minerals in this supplement and agreed that they were suitable.
Overall I’ve been very happy with them. They have helped to keep me healthy throughout two pregnancies and three years of breastfeeding. My vitamin and iron levels throughout this time were all good, except for a short time after having my second baby as I had a postpartum haemhorrage. But I got my iron levels back up to normal again taking these vitamins and an additional iron supplement for a while.
I found these vitamins to be very gentle on my stomach, unlike some other brands I’ve used that gave me stomach pains. They say they use a unique form of iron that is easily absorbed without gastrointestinal irritation. They are also gluten free, wheat free, yeast free, dairy free, and free from artificial preservatives, flavours and colours.
I did find the tablets a bit large and difficult to swallow when I was in early pregnancy as I had some nausea. But all prenatal vitamins that I’ve seen have been a similar size.
If you know of any other brands of prenatal vitamins that you would recommend that are suitable for vegans, please let me know in the comments.
Whether someone needs supplements or not depends on the individual. Certain groups of people are often recommended to take supplements, and people can be sometimes deficient in vitamins or minerals whether vegan or not. Some people may advise that kids should take a multivitamin, and some think that they will get everything they need from a balanced diet so how do you decide if they need to take supplements or not?
Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for vegans to make sure we get. Although anyone can be deficient in it, it is found mostly in animal products, so can be harder for vegans to get. The Vegan Society says that the only reliable vegan source of vitamin B12 is from supplements or fortified foods (such as some plant milks, fortified nutritional yeast, some breakfast cereals). The Vegan Society says that all vegans (and anyone over the age of 50) need to take B12 supplements or fortified foods, no matter their diet. They say that since it’s such an important vitamin, it’s not worth taking any chances. They also recommend that vegans make sure to get reliable sources of vitamin D, iodine,calcium and long-chain DHA Omega-3 fats. They suggest that taking a daily supplement can be a convenient way of making sure you get everything you need.
But what about vegan infants who are still being breastfed or formula fed?
In some countries, such as here in Ireland, where we don’t get much sun, it is recommended to give all infants vitamin D supplements, whether breastfed or formula fed. Most vitamin D drops for infants come from sheep’s wool so are not suitable for vegans, but there are some that are suitable for vegans. (I’ll put a link further down.)
Infant formula contains added vitamins and iron but what about breastfed babies?
La Leche League International says, “if a breastfeeding mother is getting an adequate supply of vitamins in her diet, her milk will contain adequate nutrients in the perfect balance for her baby. If your baby is healthy and doing well, there is no need for vitamins, iron, or other supplements in the early months.”
Kellymom says, “Vitamin and mineral supplements are not generally necessary for the average healthy, full-term breastfed baby during the first year.” and “It is recommended that mothers who do not eat animal proteins or who are otherwise at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency get adequate amounts of vitamin B12 during pregnancy and lactation via supplements or fortified foods.”
So vegans who breastfeed should make sure to take a vitamin B12 supplement, but vegans do not generally need to supplement their baby until they are at least over 12 months.
For the first two years of Rian’s life I didn’t worry about supplementing (apart from vitamin D) as he still got quite a lot of breast milk. He also drank some fortified plant milks and had them in food, and had some fortified nutritional yeast. But when he cut down on breastfeeding, I started thinking about supplements.
I didn’t worry much about most vitamins, iron or calcium since he had a varied diet which I’m sure provided a lot of these already, but I knew he probably needed B12 supplements, as well as iodine and vitamin D. I decided to give him a multivitamin formulated for children, just to reassure myself that he was getting everything he needed.
There are different brands of vegan kids’ vitamins but these are the ones I give to Rian, Natures Plus Animal Parade (sugar free). They say vegetarian on the bottle, but on their website it says they are vegan. Not all of the Animal Parade vitamins are listed as vegan on the website, but these sugar free ones are, so look out for that, if you’re getting them. They are also gluten free so that’s handy for people who have to avoid gluten. They are suitable from 2 years up, and are chewable and fruit flavoured. Rian loves them and calls them sweets, although he knows he can only have two a day or they would make him sick (they do contain iron, so be careful to keep them out of reach of children and only give two a day). He also loves that they are animal shaped and colourful and plays little games with them before eating them, saying “hello pink kitty, hello orange lion”. (Hmm, that sounds a little evil, maybe that’s not very vegan after all!)
I find it very convenient to be able to give him chewable vitamins, and ones that he likes the taste of. I can just hand them to him. In the past I’ve used liquid or powdered vitamins for him and have found that I wasn’t as consistent about giving them to him, especially if I was busy, as it was a little bit more of a hassle.
These vitamins seem to be working for him, and we have had no reason to think he might be deficient in anything. At some point in the future I will ask my doctor to do blood tests to make sure he’s ok, just for reassurance, but I’m not worried about it. He is full of energy and not pale or tired.
Nature’s Plus Animal Parade also make a vegan vitamin D3 liquid supplement for infants. I bought these in my local health shop.
I was not paid for this blog post and didn’t receive any free samples, and don’t necessarily endorse this product over other supplements. I just wanted to let people know of one vegan option available, that works for us. If anyone has any other recommendations for vegan supplements for kids or adults, please let me know in the comments.
People often assume that a vegan diet would not be appropriate for very young children, especially babies and toddlers. But in fact many dieticians and health groups say that babies and toddlers can safely be raised on a vegan diet. Many of us vegan parents around the world are raising vegan babies and toddlers. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Academy of Pediatrics say, “Well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.”
I am not an expert but have raised a vegan child through the baby and toddler years (he’s now 3), and am doing it again with my 11 month old. Like many vegan parents, I’ve done a lot of research into raising a vegan child, and have learned that it’s not only possible, but it doesn’t take that much extra effort.
The First Year
Breast milk and/or formula usually provides most of what a baby needs for the first 12 months. And yes, breast milk is vegan, and vegans’ breast milk is just as good as non vegans’. Of course not everyone can breast feed and some people may choose not to. The next recommended choice would be donor breast milk but if that is not available then infant formula would be necessary. As far as I know there is currently no 100% vegan infant formula available. There are soy formulas that are properly formulated for infants, although they generally contain either fish oil and/or vitamin D from sheep’s wool. Many vegans believe that if formula is needed then it is morally acceptable for vegans to use it. I think of it as the same as necessary medications and sometimes it is necessary to use it. Homemade formulas are not medically recommended.
The World Health Organization recommend exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months, and to continue breastfeeding, along with solid food, for two years or as long as the parent and child want. The main milk source for the first 12 months should be breast milk and/or formula. Plants milks designed for adults like soy milk, almond milk, etc. can be introduced in food at about 6 months but should not be given as a drink to replace breast milk or formula.
There is some concern about soy for babies but it seems to be unproven. This is a good link about soy myths and misinformation.
It’s recommended to introduce solid food to babies at about 6 months. This can be in the form of purées, finger foods or a combination. For vegans, this could include fruit, vegetables, grains like porridge or rice, beans, and other family foods as long as they are fairly healthy and not a choking hazard (and if there’s no reason to worry about allergies). A lot of people worry about breastfed babies not getting enough iron. However anaemia in uncommon in breastfed babies. Breast milk does contain iron, which is in lower amounts than in formula, but it is more easily absorbable. People may worry that vegan babies in particular won’t get enough iron but there are many plant based sources of iron, such as dark green vegetables, nut butter, beans and grains. This is a great link about iron in breast milk and whether iron supplementation is needed.
The Second Year and Beyond
If people choose to, they can continue to breastfeed throughout the second year and for as long as they want. Breastfeeding continues to be beneficial for as long as it continues. In the second year and beyond, breastfeeding provides calories, protein, healthy fat, calcium, iron, vitamin A, folate, vitamin C and can provide most of the vitamin B12 requirement, so is very beneficial for vegan children and non-vegan children alike.
After 12 months, other drinks, such as water and plant milks, can be introduced, while continuing to breast feed if desired. Some plant milks may not be suitable as a main milk source before two years of age as they might not contain the right amount of calories and nutrients. Alpro have a toddler soya milk that is suitable as a main milk from 12 months onwards. Other plant milks like soya, almond, coconut, oat or hemp milk, can be given as a supplementary drink from 12 months. Rice milk is not recommended for children under 5 years of age. Plant milks are not a necessity, if you choose not to give them, especially if breast feeding, as a child can get what they need from food and water, but they can help provide extra nutrients and are often fortified with vitamins and calcium.
After 12 months a vegan toddler will probably be eating much the same meals as the rest of the family, including fruit, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds and nut butters. Most vegan foods should be suitable except for choking hazards, such as whole nuts, whole grapes and popcorn. A balanced varied vegan diet (with breast milk or fortified plant milk if you want) can provide all of the necessary nutrients, including protein, fat, iron, calcium and vitamins.
In some countries, like Ireland, it is recommended to supplement all babies with vitamin D, whether vegan or not. This is often from sheep’s wool so is not vegan, but there are vegan vitamin D supplements for infants available too like this one.
Other than this, breast fed or formula fed babies do not generally need supplementation during the first year as they’ll get everything they need from breast milk and/or formula and food.
Breastfeeding parents are often advised to take a supplement for breastfeeding or to continue taking their prenatal vitamins throughout breastfeeding. Vegan breastfeeding parents in particular are recommended to take vitamin B12 supplements. There are vegan supplements available for pregnancy and breastfeeding, like this one.
If breastfeeding then breast milk and other foods will provide many of the necessary nutrients throughout the second year and beyond, including some B12.
The Vegan Society recommends that all vegans, get a good source of vitamin B12, from supplements or fortified food.
I go into more details about supplementing vegan kids in this post and talk about the supplements we use.
Raising my Vegan Kids
I was able to breastfeed both of my kids so knew they were getting everything they needed. I think infancy and toddlerhood will be the time that I worried least about their diets as they were breastfed. And nobody could say they needed cows’ milk when they were getting human milk or that there was something they were lacking that was only in animal products.
I introduced solid foods at about 6 months for both of my kids. I gave them healthy family meals and they ate very well from the start. I didn’t worry too much about them getting enough nutrients as they were still breastfeeding but they did eat very healthily as well.
I supplemented my babies with vitamin D drops from birth onwards. Rian ate some fortified foods and was breastfed so I didn’t worry about B12 until he was about two years old. I then chose to start giving Rian a vegan multivitamin supplement as it’s recommended that vegans supplement vitamin B12, and for my own peace of mind, although I am sure that he gets many of the vitamins and minerals from his diet anyway. My kids both eat a wide variety of plant foods and have a balanced diet.
Rian is thriving on a vegan diet, even when he got a bit fussier as a toddler, he reached all his milestones for growth, weight and development. Oran is thriving too and I’m confident that a vegan diet will fulfill his needs throughout toddlerhood and beyond.
I don’t find it difficult to raise babies and toddlers on a vegan diet. It doesn’t require hours of planning to make sure meals are balanced. It just requires a little bit of research, and eating a fairly healthy and balanced diet, and supplementing certain nutrients if necessary.