Breastfeeding on a Vegetarian, Vegan, or Other Diet

Healthy Eating Tips for Semi-Vegetarians, Pescetarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans

Hand with pen making a check mark in a box that says Vegan
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You don't need to eat meat or animal products to breastfeed. Vegetarian, vegan, and other similar types of diets are often very healthy and full of nutrition. If you've been following a vegetarian or vegan diet for a while, you may already know how to get all the nutrients you need without eating any meat or other animal products. As long as you're getting enough protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals, you do not have to worry about the quality of your breast milk. However, depending on the specific type of diet you follow, you might need to take additional supplements to be sure you're getting the vitamins and minerals that you may be missing through your meals. You can talk to your doctor, a dietitian or a nutritionist about your eating habits to be sure you are getting enough nutrition for you and your baby.

Vegetarian Breastfeeding

Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you follow, you may or may not need to take extra supplements. Here are the kinds of diets and the nutrients they provide and lack. 

  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Lacto-ovo is the most common type of vegetarian diet. A lacto-ovo vegetarian does not eat any meat or fish but does eat eggs and dairy products. Since eggs and dairy products contain protein, vitamins, and minerals, you may not need to take any additional vitamin supplements if you follow this type of diet.
  • Lacto Vegetarian: A lacto vegetarian diet is a plant-based diet that includes dairy products, but not eggs. Many dairy products are fortified with vitamin D. They are also an excellent source of protein and calcium. The addition of dairy products into your diet gives you the vitamin B12 that you need and makes it easier to get enough calories each day.
  • Ovo Vegetarian: An ovo vegetarian eats eggs but not meats or dairy products. Eggs contain many nutrients. They are also a good source of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, riboflavin, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Tips for Breastfeeding on a Vegetarian Diet

Here are some tips for vegetarian breastfeeding: 

  1. Be sure to get enough calories and protein each day.
  2. If you eat dairy products, choose products that are fortified with Vitamin D.
  3. If you eat eggs and are in good health, it is considered safe to eat one cooked egg each day.
  4. Talk to your doctor about your diet to see if you need to take any additional vitamins or supplements.

Vegan Breastfeeding

A vegan diet is based solely on plant products, and a vegan doesn't eat any animal foods at all. A vegan diet is a purely plant-based diet without meat, fish, dairy or eggs. Vegan eating is very healthy. But, while you're breastfeeding, you have to be more careful about getting all the calories and nutrients that you need.

Diet Tips for Vegan Breastfeeding

While a vegan diet is healthy, some vitamins and nutrients are more difficult to get when you eat a strictly plant-based diet. Here are some tips for vegan breastfeeding, the foods that you can eat to get the nutrients you need, and the supplements you may have to take to fill in the gaps. 

  1. Pay special attention to getting enough calories and protein each day. Most plant foods are low in calories, so you need to make sure that you eat enough to meet your daily calorie needs. Protein is also very important. You can get enough protein each day by eating beans, lentils, rice, nuts, nut butter, whole grain bread, and dark green vegetables.
  2. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is only found in animal products. If you're vegan, you may not be getting enough of this important vitamin. So, to prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency, you can use products fortified with B12 such as soy foods, meat substitutes, and brewer's yeast. But even with the addition of B12 fortified foods into your diet, it's likely that you will still have to take a supplement while you are nursing. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
  3. Without dairy products, you will need to get calcium from other sources. You can find calcium in many vegetables, especially dark leafy greens. You can also get calcium from beans, fortified orange juice and soy products, or through a calcium supplement.
  1. If you spend a little time outdoors each day, you may be able to get enough vitamin D. However, excess sun exposure can be dangerous. Plus, depending on your skin tone and the climate in which you live, the sun may not be a dependable source of vitamin D. You should talk to your doctor about your specific situation, and whether or not you need to take a vitamin D supplement.
  2. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 essential fatty acid that is found mostly in fish, is needed for the healthy development of your baby's brain and eyes. Plant sources of omega-3, such as flaxseed, hempseed, and walnuts, contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Your body converts ALA into DHA, but only in small amounts. Talk to your doctor about taking a daily omega-3 vitamin, especially while you are pregnant and breastfeeding.
  3. Get enough iron from whole grains, tofu, mushrooms, nuts, leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified bread, and cereal. Eating foods high in vitamin C along with these foods will help you absorb more of the iron.
  1. Iodine is important for the health of your thyroid gland. Using iodized salt or eating seaweed can provide you with iodine. If you don't use these products, you could take a supplement. Be sure to talk to your doctor about how much iodine you get in your diet. You don't want to get too little iodine, but you don't want to get too much, either.
  2. Many plants contain zinc, but the zinc from plants is not absorbed as well as the zinc from animal products. So, you have to eat more foods that are rich in zinc each day. You can get zinc by eating nuts, seeds, beans, grains and leafy green vegetables.
  3. Your breastfed baby may also need Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D supplements. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about your diet.

Breastfeeding and Almost Vegetarian Diets

There are other types of diets are similar to vegetarian diets. 

  • Semi-Vegetarian: A semi-vegetarian is not a vegetarian, but has a diet that is mostly plant-based with the occasional addition of meat and other animal products. If you are a semi-vegetarian, and you eat a well-balanced diet, you should be able to get all the nutrients and calories that you need each day.
  • Pescetarian: A pescetarian diet is similar to a vegetarian diet because pescetarians do not eat beef, pork or poultry. It differs from a vegetarian diet, however, because it includes fish. Fish is an excellent source of protein. It also contains many vitamins, minerals, and the essential fatty acid omega-3.

Tips for Breastfeeding on a Semi-Vegetarian or Pescetarian Diets

Here are some healthy eating tips for those who follow semi-vegetarian and pescetarian diets:

  1. Eat a variety of healthy foods.
  2. Get enough protein and calories each day.
  3. You should be able to get the nutrition you need without the addition of vitamins and supplements.

 

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