Things you need to know if youre raising your infant as a vegan – Marin Independent Journal


Posted: November 18, 2019 at 4:52 am

A woman recently told me that she was raising her infant as vegan. I pointed out that her breastfeeding baby is technically not vegan, her son is clearly feeding on an animal product. She argued that breast milk doesnt count. I asked if human products dont count, can vegans still say they are vegan if they partake in cannibalism? Rolled eyes signaled the discussion was over, but questions came to mind.

When do children need milk? Do they need dairy? When is it OK to stop?

We know that 20% to 40% of peak adult bone mass is a result of lifestyle. Diet, exercise, strength and medications all influence bone mass. Calcium intake is directly related to bone density. In addition to its calcium content, dairy products are also rich in vitamins. Milk contains vitamins A, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B12 and vitamin D. It also has magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that 2-year-olds have 2 to 2 cups of dairy per day, depending on how many calories in their diet they are having. Some years ago, the USDA retired the food pyramid and now their website creates individualized recommendations based on age and calorie goals as a starting point. The USDA dairy recommendation includes a written description that includes choosing fat-free milk or soy milk. It is keeping up with the changing diets of our population. The reason it recommends soy milk over other plant-based milks is because the protein level is higher in soy milk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that there is a potential for malnourishment on restricted diets, but research also points out that true malnourishment is quite rare. One way to avoid potential vitamin or mineral deficits is for vegan mothers to breastfeed their babies longer than average, even up to a year, as breast milk is better balanced than many vegan infant formulas (this is in the process of changing). The AAP recommends reading the fine print on any milk substitutes or formulas, as many of them are not recommended for children under 9 or 12 months.

For those vegans breastfeeding a child, the amount of calcium in milk is unaffected by a vegan diet. The baby takes priority and a mother will give up calcium from her bones during pregnancy and during breastfeeding. This is a great bridge for getting an infant from birth to the age of fortified soy-based formulas.

Once children are old enough to eat food, it is important to know what they need in their diet. A pure plant diet requires a little calorie counting and knowledge about the bioavailability of some vitamins and minerals. Plant-based diets are typically lower in calories, making it possible to satisfy a childs appetite, without providing enough calories and nutrients. For instance, vegans require almost two times the iron intake of non-vegetarians because of how the body absorbs iron. Dietary fiber and tannins can decrease iron absorption, whereas vitamin C can increase it. Babies and toddlers should get about half their calories from fat. Cholesterol is important during the first couple years of life. These are reasons to consult with a dietitian before weaning from breastfeeding.

In the end, you dont need to drink that glass of milk to grow up big and strong. All of the dietary requirements can be met without ever having a drop of (non-human) dairy products. But, just like a woman will change or supplement her nutrition during pregnancy, a newborn baby needs diet adjustments through the toddler years and beyond to maintain a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals.

Dr. Salvatore Iaquinta is a head and neck surgeon at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael and the author of The Year They Tried To Kill Me. He takes you on the Highway to Health every fourth Monday.

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Things you need to know if youre raising your infant as a vegan - Marin Independent Journal

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