Yes, You Can Raise Your Child Vegan

You don’t need to look for very long on social media to find lively discussions and debates about the amazing benefits of living a vegan lifestyle.  With people’s attention on health, the environment and animal welfare, many families are embracing a vegan diet to reflect their values and individual health beliefs.

Making this change as an adult is hard.  But embarking on this journey with a baby or toddler can be considered a level harder if you are not prepared.

But I have not been vegan long…

No matter where you are on the vegan lifestyle journey, you may have a few questions.  Particularly on the basics and practicalities of providing the right kind of nourishment.  It’s good to ask these questions, and no, you are not strange for wanting to embark on this journey. You will find lots on the internet of people saying it is crazy forcing your child to be vegan and that it is impossible. Dont believe them, it i much more common than you think and has many benefits.

There have been some very public concerns raised by health professionals and researchers about the potential lack of essential macronutrients, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals on a vegan diet.  The main concerns are calcium, vitamin D and B12, as animal products are the most abundant sources of these essential nutrients. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has deemed the diet safe for adults and children (Melina, Craig, & Levin, 2016).  However, it is vital that children are closely monitored by parents for appropriate nutrition, growth and energy levels (Amit, 2010).

As a parent, it is essential to access quality information to build on your knowledge and skills and be prepared to make a few modifications.  Like any other dietary restriction, it will take practice, trial and error and patience to raise your baby vegan.

Here are some tips and things to consider when starting out.

Have you considered breastfeeding for longer?

Breast milk is such a great source of nutrients for all babies.  But this is especially so for vegan babies and up until the age of 2 years.  You can look to  slowly move your child tosoy milk fortified with vitamins B12 and D to ensure they get adequate nutrients.  But avoid other plant-based milk due to the lack of protein and high sugar content.  These should never be considered a substitute for breast milk.

Research so you know where the vegan diet has shortfalls

In addition to calcium, vitamin B12 and D, vegan diets can potentially cause deficiencies in iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids if not appropriately supplemented.  This can effortlessly be achieved by giving a vitamin supplement, choosing fortified cereals and juices or offering plant-based alternatives.  To ensure your baby’s growth is on track, be aware of where your child is getting their nourishment from.

Consider talking to a health care professional about your baby’s needs and educate yourself about how deficiency symptoms may present.  Consider taking a food diary (both baby and yours if you are breastfeeding) when you talk to your healthcare provider.  That way, it is easy to see where the diet can be improved to ensure healthy growth and development.

Know where to get the nutrients

Protein

Children have slightly higher protein needs than adults and vegans have slightly higher protein requirements than non-vegans.  This is due to the bioavailability of the protein source.  However, complete protein needs can be met entirely through plant-based foods.   Appropriate protein-rich foods include beans, peas, lentils, ground nuts/seeds or thinly spread or well-blended nut or seed butters, tofu and other soy products.  

B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency can have severe and long-lasting side effects.  Vegans require a vitamin B12 supplement or regular consumption of foods fortified with vitamin B12 to meet their needs.  This could be a challenge with a baby.  Vegan breastfeeding mothers must make sure they are receiving at least 2.8mcg of vitamin B12 daily to safeguard themselves and baby.  You may need to talk with your health care provider for guidance on vitamin B12 supplementation.

Calcium

Calcium builds strong bones and teeth.  It is found in breastmilk, tofu, almond butter, tahini, beans, peas, lentils, and leafy greens.  

Vitamin D

This is an essential vitamin that is made in our bodies from exposure to sunlight, It is crucial for the absorption of other essential nutrients. To prevent deficiency, babies less than 12 months need 400 IU per day and 600 IU for toddlers between one and three years old.  Sources include vitamin D supplements, and fortified foods such as infant formula.

Iron

Iron is essential for baby’s growth and brain development.  It is a common deficiency in children worldwide. Vegans may require an intake of 1.8 times more iron due to the decreased bioavailability of non-heme iron in the body.  Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of iron. Sources include fortified cereals, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, broccoli, kale, and green beans.  Vitamin C rich foods that should be paired with iron-rich foods include tomatoes, citrus, melon, strawberries, papaya, and bell peppers.

Zinc

Zinc is vital for a strong immune system and supports the development and repair of body tissues.  Some great food sources include nuts and seeds, beans, peas, lentils, tofu and wheat germ.  

Omega-3

These fatty acids are essential for brain development and eye health. Vegan children need a higher requirement than non-vegan children as there only source is through plant-based foods.  Food sources include ground walnuts, flaxseed oil, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds, hemp seeds, and canola oil.  

Iodine

This element is critical for thyroid function, which helps the body use energy.  It’s only needed in small amounts, and it’s present in limited grains and legumes.  Iodized table salt is also a good source; however, this is not recommended for babies and young children.  You should consult a registered dietitian or healthcare provider to make sure that your child gets an adequate amount of iodine.

Multi vitamin-mineral Supplements

Many factors, like teething, inadequate sleep and growth spurts, affect how well a baby or toddler might consume their food on any given day.  Vegan children might benefit by taking a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement that is formulated for their age group.  Talk to your trusted healthcare provider to see if this is something that might be needed for your baby.

Your baby won’t be small forever, and growing children have a mind of their own when it comes to eating.  For vegan parents, that might mean they have to let their child eat a non-vegan diet at some time in their life.  But for now, bringing a baby up as a vegan, it is time to keep an open mind and fill your world with the love and laughter only a baby can bring.  Making sure that you are empowered with all the knowledge and skill to ensure they are growing to be a healthy and strong child.