Last update Aug. 29, 2021
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Melina 2016), well-planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and can provide benefits for the prevention and treatment of various chronic diseases; they are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation and childhood and are environmentally sustainable.
But they must be “properly planned” (Melina 2016) as there may be difficulties in balancing them without experience and knowledge of nutrition (Brzezińska 2016).
In the vegan diet there is exclusion of meat, eggs, dairy and, sometimes, honey. Vegan mothers’ milk contain low concentrations of Vitamin B12 (Specker 1990).
In practice, many cases of megaloblastic anemia with severe impairment of physical and neurological development (including brain atrophy) in infants breastfed by vegan mothers who were not taking vitamin B12 supplements have been described for years and around the world (Kocaoglu 2014, Guez 2012, Mariani 2009, Roed 2009, Erdeve 2009, Lücke 2007, Baatenburg 2006 and 2005, Codazzi 2005, Wagnon 2005, Reghu 2005, Roschitz 2005, Weiss 2004, CDC 2003, Fogarasi 2001, Smolka 2001, Renault 1999 , Monfort 1993, Kühne 1991, Cheron 1989, Sklar 1986, Lacroix 1981).
Neonatal hypothyroidism has also been reported in infants of vegan mothers (Borak 2005, Shaikh 2003).
Vegetarian women, especially vegans, need regular and adequate sources of vitamin B12 during pregnancy and lactation (Melina 2016, Brzezińska 2016, LM AEP Committee 2012 p.7, Academy N&D 2010). If they are deficient, in addition to treating them, their nursing children should be treated with supplements as well(CDC 2003).
Vegetarian diets are very rich in phytates (Schlemmer 2009). The excess of phytates and dietary fiber hinders the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium (Haase 2020, Lawrence 2016 p310).
Vegetarian lactating mothers should avoid excess phytate and bran, watch protein, calcium and iron intake, supplement with vitamin D and adequate sunlight, and vitamins B12 and B2. If the vegan mother does not take vitamin B12, the baby must be supplemented (Lawrence 2016 p310).
Infants and milk from vegetarian mothers (and especially from vegans) have lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and higher levels of Linoleic and α-Linolenic than that of omnivorous mothers (Melina 2016, Brzezińska 2016, Sanders 2009 and 1992), with no evidence of adverse effects on their health or cognitive function (Sanders 2009).
There is a higher concentration of selenium in the milk of lacto-ovo-vegetarian mothers than that of non-vegetarians (Debski 1989).
The taurine concentration in plasma and milk of vegan mothers was slightly lower than that of omnivorous mothers (Rana 1986).
The lowest levels of organochlorine contaminants were found in the milk of vegetarian mothers (Norén 1983).
Suggestions made at e-lactancia are done by APILAM team of health professionals, and are based on updated scientific publications. It is not intended to replace the relationship you have with your doctor but to compound it.
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