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Vegan Breastfeeding Diet

author image Amy Liddell
Amy Liddell has been writing on health and medicine since 2004. She is also a biomedical scientist and studies human cancer. Her articles have appeared in scientific journals, medical textbooks and on health-related consumer websites. Liddell holds a Doctor of Philosophy in biological and biomedical sciences from Harvard University.
Vegan Breastfeeding Diet
Breastfeeding mother. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

All breastfeeding mothers have enhanced nutritional requirements, and vegan mothers may need to pay extra attention to their diets. According to physicians at Children's Hospital Boston, breastfeeding women should consume at least 2,000 calories per day. For most women, this translates to approximately 500 extra calories per day or 200 more than they required during pregnancy. A well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is certainly compatible with breastfeeding. Mothers who adhere to a vegan diet should be sure to include sources of protein, calcium, vitamin B-12, vitamin D and iron.


Bok choy.
Bok choy. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

All adult women need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium, the equivalent of about three glasses of milk, per day. According to International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Kelly Bonyata, breastfeeding mothers do not need additional calcium, but vegan mothers should ensure they meet the recommended levels. Non-animal sources of calcium include bok choy, blackstrap molasses, tofu, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, kale, almonds and Brazil nuts. Enriched orange juice, soymilk, enriched soy products and calcium supplements can also help vegan mothers boost the amount of calcium in their diets.

Vitamin B-12

Soybeans provide Vitamin B-12.
Soybeans provide Vitamin B-12. Photo Credit: Igor Dutina/iStock/Getty Images

Vitamin B-12 deficiency sometimes occurs in individuals following a vegan diet because of the absence of animal protein. According to La Leche League, symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency in infants may include loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and muscle atrophy. Fermented soybean foods and yeast are an alternative source of vitamin B-12. Breastfeeding vegan mothers should consult with a health care provider to determine whether their diet contains enough vitamin B-12 from non-animal sources. Doctors can prescribe supplements for either the mother or the infant.

Vitamin D

Sunlight provides Vitamin D.
Sunlight provides Vitamin D. Photo Credit: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin important for the formation of bone and the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestine. In infancy and childhood, vitamin D deficiency results in rickets, a disease marked by bone deformities. Vegans and omnivores alike receive most of their vitamin D through exposure to ultraviolet B rays in sunlight. However, during winter in northern latitudes these wavelengths are not in sunlight. In addition, darker-skinned individuals require more sunlight exposure to produce sufficient vitamin D. In these cases, a pediatrician may recommend a vitamin D supplement of 5 micrograms per day for the infant.


Beans provide protein.
Beans provide protein. Photo Credit: Robyn Mackenzie/iStock/Getty Images

Certified lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata notes that the recommended intake of protein for nursing mothers is 65 grams per day for the first six months, and 62 grams per day between six and 12 months. A varied vegan diet that includes a range of protein sources such as soy products, beans, and grains should provide plenty of protein for breastfeeding mothers.


Powder iron supplement.
Powder iron supplement. Photo Credit: marekuliasz/iStock/Getty Images

Breast milk is low in iron, but the infant readily absorbs the amount of iron it contains. The iron in breast milk is sufficient for infants throughout the first 4 to 6 to six months. Many pediatricians recommend iron supplements for infants beginning at age 6 months.

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