Plant-based diets may be healthy for adults, but we investigated to see if it’s actually safe for babies.  

By Lauren Wicks
April 12, 2019

After a “palace insider” told Woman’s Day Prince Harry and Meghan Markle plan to raise their baby vegan, the Queen of England was reportedly outraged at the notion. While there are too many unnamed sources for us to lose sleep over Meghan and the Queen’s relationship, it did make us wonder—is it safe to raise a vegan baby?

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and The American Academy of Pediatrics both agree  well-planned vegan diets are healthy for infants and toddlers. However, the organizations also agree there are several important facets to ensure your child is being properly nourished—watch out for nutrient deficiencies, consider breastfeeding longer than six months (if possible), and make sure your child is consuming enough calories.

Watch out for nutrient deficiencies.

While news stories about mothers endangering their children by feeding them extremely restricted vegan diets do pop up from time to time, a study from the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. found nutritional deficiencies and failure to thrive are the exceptions, not the rule when it comes to raising a vegan child. However, the authors of the study do encourage working closely with a pediatrician to ensure your child is being properly nourished throughout these crucial developmental stages.

The major nutrient deficiencies to watch out for are Vitamin B12, protein, zinc, Vitamin D, calcium, and iron—the latter three are actually common deficiencies for toddlers in the U.S. regardless of their diet. Supplementation may be necessaryVitamin B12 in particular—once a child is no longer being breastfed. It would be also be beneficial to consult a registered dietician for healthy meal ideas, sample meal plans, and supplementation advice for your child.

The AAP advises supplementing your child with 400IU Vitamin D each day until weaned—but this should continue for vegan babies, as they are not obtaining Vitamin D from fortified milk products. One may also want to consider supplementing with calcium and iron, or find sufficient fortified foods.

Another equally important part of the equation is the mother’s diet. A mother can only provide as many nutrients in her breast milk as she herself possesses, and she may also want to work with a doctor or dietitian to ensure she’s providing her child with everything necessary for proper growth and development. The NIH advises supplementing with DHA—an omega-3 fatty acid—during this time.

Consider a longer breastfeeding period, if you can.

We’ve all heard the term “breast is best,” and that’s especially true for vegan babies! Most babies do best with breast milk in their first six months of life, but mothers raising a vegan baby may want to continue upwards of a year to ensure proper nutrition. Cow’s milk, soy milk, rice milk, and homemade formulas are not acceptable for babies as they have improper macronutrient ratios and provide insufficient nutrition. But if you can’t—or don’t want—to breastfeed, that’s okay. There are still some vegan-friendly options out there.

There are several brands selling vegan infant formula in Europe that will ship to the U.S., and Nestle is reportedly working on a vegan infant formula with plans to sell stateside. Just be sure to do your research to determine if a formula provides the complete nutrition your baby needs.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says vegan infants may be weaned with soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamins B12 and D after 12 months.

Ensure your baby is consuming enough calories.

Feeding your child a variety of plant-based food is crucial to make sure they are meeting their energy intake requirements. Diets rich in whole, plant-based foods are often high in fiber and can fill babies up quickly without providing many calories.

The National Institute of Health advises the following caloric requirements for the first year of a child’s life:

Males

  • 1 to 3 months: 472-572 calories per day
  • 4 to 6 months: 548-645 calories per day
  • 7 to 9 months: 668-746 calories per day
  • 10 to 12 months: 793-844 calories per day

Females

  • 1 to 3 months: 438-521 calories per day
  • 4 to 6 months: 508-593 calories per day
  • 7 to 9 months: 608-678 calories per day
  • 10 to 12 months: 717-768 calories per day

Based on your child’s age and size, there are some even more specific recommendations, which you can find here. It might be worthwhile to keep a food journal or use a nutrient-tracking app as your baby develops to ensure they are getting exactly what they need for proper growth and development.

The bottom line: All children are at risk for nutritional deficiencies if not fed a proper diet, and vegans especially need to ensure their baby is following a well-planned diet for complete nutrition. Scheduling regular checkups and consulting a dietitian will help give you the tools you need for a happy and healthy herbivore baby!

 

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