If you’re vegan and are planning to breastfeed or are already breastfeeding, there are several things you should bear in mind, to maintain both your health and that of your baby. Alison Stockton has spent the last 25 years supporting women in all areas of health and wellbeing. She is the Founder of Vibrant Balanced Health (www.vibrantbalancedhealth.com) and recommends the following if you choose to go down this path:
Breastfeeding mothers not only give food, security, protection, connections, and love to their babies, breastfeeding also supports the development of a stable immune system.
Vegan moms will need to be especially careful about their nourishing choices of food.
There is often contention from various research universities as to whether vegan diets are advisable for breastfeeding mums, however it is a humanitarian choice to decide for yourself to follow a plant-based diet, of course. Some experts in the US say vegan and vegetarian moms can breastfeed successfully if they are getting all their key nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ‘a well-planned nourishing vegan/ plant-based lifestyle can provide all the nutrients necessary for mother and baby to thrive during lactation.’
Some mamas may feel fantastic with their plant-based diet whereas others may feel exhausted and sluggish. It is important as a new mum you monitor your energy and mood to ensure your body and brain are also being nourished well. As the vessel of nourishment for your infant, so self-care is crucial, especially with your nutrition. You can’t keep going with an empty tank or poor-quality fuel. As a mum, when you nourish your body as well as possible, you are also ensuring that you give your baby the best quality milk possible for the infant's growth and development to thrive.
It can be exhausting trying to feed an infant and take care of yourself. Even brushing your teeth can seem to take too much time, but nourishment and nutrition is key at this early stage of life.
Preparation is key, and even more vital as a vegan, as the tendency to eat quick and convenient food can seem the best option when tired and when you have no free time (but this can cause more fatigue and lethargy). Time to call in some help to make healthy meals, or better still, prepare before them before your baby’s delivery.
It is also important to consider that breastfeeding mums should consume an extra 450 to 500 extra healthy calories a day! As well as plenty of fresh clean water.
Here’s what to look for as a new vegan mom wanting to thrive whilst breastfeeding:
Essential Fats from nuts, oils and avocados is crucial for the healthy development of both mum and baby
Omega 3’s such as Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 or ALA) come from foods such as ﬂax seeds, chia seeds, mung beans, walnuts. One teaspoonful of walnuts and mung beans or one teaspoonful of ground ﬂaxseed for example, will supply the daily requirement of ALA. Omega 3’s are essential for the development of the brain and nervous system. Also available from nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables, grains, and vegetable oils (olive & sesame) and avocado oil
Vitamin B12 is important for mum and cognitive development for infants but is difficult to source from a plant-based diet. A good supplement may therefore be required. It can also be found in chlorella powders, tempeh, and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin D is a crucial hormone in our body, and we improve our vitamin D levels when exposed to the sunshine. However, this isn’t always possible, especially in the UK.
Plant sources of vitamin D are legumes (beans), broccoli, and leafy greens, however the content is low, except for some wild mushrooms. A great tip is to pop your mushrooms into the sun for an hour or so, as they act like sponges to absorb Vit D. (RDA vary)
Phytonutrients and polyphenols found in vegetables, fruits and berries will also support oxidative stress, especially if you’re not having much sleep. They will support both you and baby with antioxidants.
Protein is a crucial building block for both you and your newborn. If a vegan meal plan is well mapped out then you can consume enough, however often this tends to be higher in carbs than protein, especially if looking for more convenient foods.
The average recommendation is 65 grams per day for the first six months, and 62 grams per day between six and 12 months. A varied vegan diet that includes a range of protein sources such as beans and grains and occasional soy, should provide plenty of protein for breastfeeding mothers. (This depends on your size, weight, and activity level, if like me you were back to the gym within a week you will need to consider your body weight.
E.g., if you are sedentary during this time, then a suggested recommendation of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight will work well. If you are a 65kg new mum, you would want to be having at least 55g per day. If you go back to the gym or home workouts, then you would up this to 1-1.25g per kilo).
It is totally safe to consume vegan protein powders and perfect to add to a smoothie if you are short on time and you need to get your calories, vegetables and nutrients and minerals in one blender for ease and time.
Iron Having enough Iron to avoid anemia is important. Eat legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, butterbeans) and lentils, dried raisins and apricots, organic tofu, green vegetables such as broccoli or Asian greens like bok choy, nuts, especially cashews.
(The mean iron absorption from a vegan diet is estimated to be 10% compared to 18% of a diet containing animal meat).
Zinc is important for supporting the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses (especially during these times of covid). The body also needs zinc to make proteins and healthy DNA. It is recommended to have 12mg a day.
Include beans, chickpeas, lentils, fermented tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground flax, ground hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sourdough bread and quinoa into your diet.
Iodine is important too. During pregnancy the thyroid, the gland which stores iodine, is more active, and if depleted, it should be increased during lactation to maintain enough stores. Breastfeeding mothers need enough iodine to meet their babies’ iodine needs as well as their own. Good vegan sources of Iodine are seaweed (such as kelp, nori, kombu, and wakame).
Magnesium is another essential mineral, German Nutrition Society (DGE) and the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB)* recommend that if you’re breastfeeding, you should have a daily magnesium intake of 390 mg, this looks like:
100g green beans = 25mg
100g tempeh = 81mg
100g banana = 27mg
100g chickpeas = 115mg
1 cup cooked quinoa = 118mg
B12 lactating vegan mothers should be encouraged to take an individual B12,
Lysine is an essential amino acid. It's like a cosy blanket wrapping around healthy cells and is crucial for protein synthesis. It will also support the immune system, but the human body can’t make it. Again, the best vegan sources are again legumes fermented soy products such as tempeh.
How to prep and make nutrition easy, buy in bulk, beans in cans or jars, pre-bake sweet potatoes and freeze, e.g., heat a precooked sweet potato, smash up an avocado, mix in some tomatoes (vit c) cucumber, add kidney beans, drizzle olive oil, kelp flakes and pepper and you have a nourishing quick meal.
For breakfast, blend up a super smoothie of banana, berries, oats, seeds, plant milk (vegan protein if you wish) and sip slowly. Batch cook vegetable soups, chickpea curries, baked butternut squash and there are some great vegan substitutions of meats, just be mindful as to how many additives are in the ingredients, they are not always the better option, yet some are particularly good.
Just keep it simple, delicious, and nutritious for you, and for the baby.
It’s important to make sure to incorporate enough iron, calcium, vitamin B12, protein, Omega 3 and zinc into your diet and Mama Baby will thrive.
*I do not advise taking any supplements without discussing with your physician and perhaps having a full nutrition blood panel run first.
Alison has a book launching soon containing lots of vegan variety recipes. More details can be found at www.vibrantbalancedhealth.com
RELATED: Seven ways to maintain a healthy gut
Our gut health is a vital part of our wellbeing – and if it’s not balanced, then it’s been shown to affect the whole body. Alison Stockton has spent the last 25 years supporting women in all areas of health and wellbeing. She is the Founder of Vibrant Balanced Health (www.vibrantbalancedhealth.com) and recommends the following seven steps so you can be, and feel in control, so you lead a vibrant life from the inside out...