Vegetarian mothers usually show concern about breastfeeding their infants and whether their breast milk is nutritionally adequate for the infant’s needs. But a vegetarian mother’s breast milk is not much different in nutrition than that of a non-vegetarian mother’s breast milk. Vegetarian diet can include variations; the first is Vegan which includes no flesh foods (red meat, poultry, and fish), milk products or eggs. Ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes no flesh foods but milk products and eggs are included. Lacto-vegetarian diet does not include flesh foods or eggs but milk products are included. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, vegan mothers just need to make sure they take enough proteins as well as vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium and zinc so that their breast milk contains all of these vitamins and minerals.
Vegetarian mothers need not be concerned too much about their diet, they should just supplement for the important vitamins that vegetarian diet does not provide that is, vitamin B12, calcium and zinc. Supplementation for vitamin B12 is most important to avoid any sort of deficiency in the mother or the baby. A vitamin B12 deficiency includes symptoms like loss of appetite, regression in motor development, lethargy, muscle atrophy, vomiting or blood abnormalities and a general failure to thrive. Breastfed infants of vegan mothers are especially at a risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if their intake of vitamin B12 is low. Vitamin B12 deficiency in mothers can cause anemia and nervous system damage. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency in mothers include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, poor memory, sore tongue, confusions, hallucinations and personality changes. Mothers can add fermented soybean foods, breakfast cereals, plant milks and yeast to their diets as well. It is a good idea to ask your doctor, health care provider or dietician about alternatives to B12 supplementation for the breastfeeding mother and the baby. Mothers whose diet does not include milk or diary products should take care to eat food items rich in calcium. Food items like bok choy, a type of cabbage, ground sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, tofu, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, kale, almonds and Brazil nuts contain calcium. Make sure to ascertain from your dietician about the amounts of these food items to take so as to consume the appropriate amounts of calcium. Calcium is usually more important for the mother’s health than it is for the baby’s health. Vegetarian mothers consume a diet that is also low in vitamin D but for breastfeeding mothers, a supplement of vitamin D is not necessary since the mother and baby can get enough vitamin D from exposure to the sun. However, breastfeeding mothers in areas where is there is less sunlight or where women wear enveloped clothing must take care about their vitamin D intake.
An item in the diet of a breastfeeding mother can cause minor problems in the health of the baby; it could be gassiness or even colic. Sometimes diary products can also be a cause for these and similar problems. If you think a particular food item is causing a problem for your nursing child, eliminate that from your diet for a couple of weeks and notice the difference; if there is a positive one than you can avoid that food item for the rest of your breastfeeding period. Fortunately for breastfeeding vegetarian mothers, their milk consists of lower environmental contaminants than the milk of non-vegetarian mothers. Since environmental contaminants are stored in fat and vegetarian diets contain much less fat than the diet containing animal products, so there is a very less chance of transferring contaminants into human milk.
Vegetarian mothers need not be challenged or alarmed by the overwhelming challenges that their diet might pose to their breastfeeding requirements. The only thing that vegan mothers need to take care of which is also true for all breastfeeding mothers is to consume a diet consisting of all healthy food items in moderate amounts. They should take plenty of fluids and avoid harmful things like alcohol, nicotine or drugs. Vegan mothers must compensate for the lack of vitamins like B12, D and minerals like calcium, iron and zinc in their diet by taking supplements or fortified foods. For mothers really concerned about meeting the nutritional needs of their baby, they can feed expressed milk of a non-vegan friend or relative, who uses a manual or electric breast pump such as Medela Style Advanced to store and feed milk to the growing child. However, in such a case, the mother should make sure that the woman supplying breast milk is healthy enough to feed her baby.