Is it acceptable to feed your baby a vegan diet? It has been shown that for adults, following a vegan diet may reduce the risk of certain illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. However, parents may question whether it is possible to raise a happy, healthy baby on a vegan diet. As the diet of your infant during the first year of their life has important implications for their growth and future health, it is important to provide your baby with good nutrition.
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is different from a vegetarian one, in that it is stricter in its exclusion of animal products. A vegan diet does not allow for any animal products whatsoever, including milk, eggs, honey, gelatine, and cheese.
To go vegan, or not to go vegan.
There is controversy around the issue of feeding babies a vegan diet. The Food Standards Agency does not recommend vegan diets for babies, as it can be tricky to provide them with the sufficient energy and nutrients essential for their growth.
Firstly, a vegan diet may not provide enough calories for you rapidly growing baby. If you decide to feed your baby a vegan diet, you need to ensure that it contains enough calories in order for your baby to gain enough weight.
In addition, feeding your baby a vegan diet may mean their intake of other important nutrients are restricted. Doctors feel that it is necessary for babies to receive a sufficient amount of animal protein in their diet. By excluding animal products from your babies diet, your baby may be at risk for protein deficiency. Furthermore, babies on a vegan diet may be deficient in iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, or calcium.
However, this is not to say that it is not possible to feed your baby a vegan diet. It is possible for your baby to develop and thrive on a vegan diet, if you ensure your baby receives all the nutrients necessary for their optimal development. This means ensuring your baby gets enough foods containing the essential nutrients protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D that may otherwise be lacking in a vegan diet. It is therefore important that if you do choose this approach, you research and thoroughly plan your baby’s diet. Vitamin and mineral supplements are an option.
Hints and tips
If you are going to feed your baby a vegan diet, there are some tips to follow:
- Breastmilk is the best possible food for a vegan baby. Breastfeed your baby for at least the first 4 months, but for a year or longer if possible.
- Vitamin B12 is very important for your baby’s development. If you are not taking a vitamin B12 supplement while breastfeeding, your baby may need to be given a vitamin B12 supplement.
- When you start to feed your baby solid foods, try the following: infant rice cereal fortified with iron, mashed up organic vegetables and fruits, and cooked rice and pasta.
- Vegan sources of protein to feed your baby are soy yoghurt, mashed tofu, mashed, cooked beans, or seed and nut butters.
- To ensure your baby gets enough calcium, give your baby juice fortified with calcium, broccoli and other high-calcium green leafy vegetables, or think about giving your baby a calcium supplement.
Making the decision to feed your baby a vegan diet is a big responsibility. Talk to your GP or a nutritionist first, so that you can be sure you are doing the best thing for your baby.