With the raising awareness on veganism among young adults, more families are choosing to raise their children vegan. Although this seems like the only ethical and ‘logical’ choice especially if the parents are also following a vegan diet, the decision must not be made lightly.
Proper planning and sound nutritional knowledge is required in order to ensure that a newborn is fed with ALL the nutrients it needs in order to grow into a strong, healthy, well-developed adult.
This detailed resource illustrates how the dietary needs of vegan infants (from 6 months to 1 year) and children aged 1-4 years can be met, alongside following appropriate advice about supplementation. Infants and young children need enough energy (calories) to grow and be active, and enough nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals) to ensure that they remain healthy, fight infections, can be active and learn effectively. Experts have calculated the amount of energy and the amounts of individual nutrients that they think infants and young children in different age groups need. These are known as ‘dietary reference values’. This free guide for vegan parents gives information on how these dietary reference values for infants and 1-4 year olds can be met in practice, and the sorts of foods and amounts of food that vegan children could be offered in early years and other settings.
In developed countries like the US and UK where food is plentiful and there is a wide range of options available to ensure a complete diet, it is perfectly possible for infants and children to get all the nutrition they need from a vegetable-based diet, but it does take thought and planning. Some essential nutrients are provided primarily by animal foods in typical western diets and therefore vegans must make sure they have adequate amounts of some unique foods that supply these nutrients, or choose fortified foods or supplements. We provide information on this in this piece.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Academy of Pediatrics have a statement that:
“Well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers.”
Vegan diets can be safely given to infants and children providing that care is taken that all nutritional needs are met. Parents and carers will benefit from advice from a health professional and should be particularly encouraged to seek guidance if using specialist vegan supplements of vitamin drops, to ensure the dosage is correct.
What does this Guide On Vegan Nutrition for Infants contain?
The Guide for Vegan Parents Contains:
a summary of the key principles of eating well for vegan infants and 1-4 year olds
some example meals and finger foods to show how the nutritional needs of vegan infants can be met
example breakfasts, snacks, savoury meals and desserts for 1-4 year olds, with recipes for the dishes shown in the photos, and
additional useful information for anyone supporting vegan under-5s.
How are the materials organized?
The Guide on Raising A Vegan Baby contains the following sections:
The first 6 months of a vegan baby offers advice on breastfeeding and explains why it is the best way of feeding all infants.
Vegan diet for babies from 6 months offers ideas for introducing foods other than breastmilk (or infant formula) to vegan infants. It gives ideas for first foods – vegetables, starchy foods, protein foods and fruits – as well as first finger foods.
Vegan diet for 7-9 month olds and Vegan diet for 10-12 month olds include photos of some example breakfasts, savory meals and desserts, with recipes.
Vegan diet for 1-4 year olds gives ideas for encouraging young children to eat well, with ideas for breakfasts, snacks, savory meals and desserts for 1-4 year olds, and recipes for the dishes shown in the photos.
The Additional information section contains:
Energy and nutrient requirements for 1-4 year olds
Good sources of vitamins and minerals, and
a Resources section with sources of further information.
Breastmilk provides all the nutritional needs for infants in the first 6 months of life and is the normal way for all infants to be fed. It is likely that parents who choose a vegan diet will be keen to breastfeed their children, and parents should be fully supported in this choice.
Storing expressed breastmilk safely
Mothers who wish to provide expressed breastmilk for their babies and children in early years or other settings should be encouraged to do so. Breastmilk must always be stored in a sterilised container. It can be stored:
for up to five days in the fridge at 4°C or lower
for up to two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge, or
for up to six months in a freezer.
If the milk has been frozen, defrost it in the fridge first. Once it’s defrosted, use it straight away. Do not re-freeze milk once it has been thawed.
Expressed breastmilk provided for babies in childcare should be clearly labelled with the child’s name and the date, stored in a refrigerator and only be used for that child.
Breastfeeding for Vegan Mothers:
Breastfeeding women should take a vitamin D supplement every day throughout the period during which they are breastfeeding, and this is particularly important for vegan mothers. Healthy Start vitamins are not suitable for vegan women but they are suitable for vegetarian women. The vitamin D supplement Vitashine is suitable for breastfeeding vegan women.
Vegan mothers who are breastfeeding should also make sure they include sufficient vitamin B12 and iodine in their diet, either through suitable foods that contain these nutrients – for example, for vitamin B12, foods fortified with the vitamin or, for iodine, certain seaweeds which are a naturally good source and contain a safe amount of iodine – or from a supplement.
Breastmilk is a safe, healthy, fully sustainable resource and women should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding throughout the first year of their baby’s life, and for as long after that as they choose to. Continued breastfeeding has health advantages for mums and babies and, while this may be more unusual in countries like the UK, breastfeeding up to 2 years (and beyond if desired) remains the global recommendation.
It is now recommended that all breastfed babies have a supplement of 8.5-10 micrograms of vitamin D a day from birth (or in some areas, from 1 month). This is particularly important if the mum is thought to be at risk of low vitamin D status (because she did not take vitamin D in pregnancy, because she has been shown to have low vitamin D status, because she rarely exposes her skin to sunshine, or because she is considered at clinical risk for another reason).
Healthy Start vitamin drops will be suitable for use from birth from 2018/2019, but vegan families may not want to use these for their infants as they include vitamin D sourced from sheep’s wool lanolin.
Baby DDrops contain 10 micrograms of vitamin D and the manufacturer suggests that the drops can be put directly on the breast when breastfeeding. However, parents are advised to put the drops on a sterilized spoon to give to their infant as this can be a safer way of getting the right dose. The manufacturers say the vitamin D is sourced from sheep’s wool lanolin, but that animals are not harmed in the process.
A number of other supplements are marketed as suitable for vegan infants – for example, Abidec and BioCare Baby A, C, D Plus drops. These supplements contain a range of other nutrients as well as vitamin D, but neither provide the new recommended dose of 8.5-10 micrograms of vitamin D.
If there is any concern about vitamin D intakes specifically then vegan vitamin D supplements are available and families should talk to their pharmacist or GP.
Families are strongly advised to seek advice from a health professional to ensure they do not provide harmful doses of any nutrients to infants.
Vegan Infant formula
There are no infant formulas suitable for vegan infants currently on the market, because, even if they contain no animal-derived ingredients (for example, if they are made from soya rather than cows’ milk), the vitamin D that is added to them will have been sourced from sheep’s wool lanolin.
Soya-based infant formula
Soya-based infant formula is suitable for vegetarian infants, but should not be given to any infants under 6 months of age, nor used as the main milk drink for infants up to 1 year of age, unless recommended by a health professional. Although these milks are available, there is no evidence that they prevent allergy or food intolerance. They are not recommended for infants who have cows’ milk intolerance, as these infants may be, or may become, allergic to soya protein. Soya-based formulas are more likely to cause dental decay, as they contain glucose rather than lactose. Also, there are some concerns about high levels of phyto-oestrogens which can pose a risk to future reproductive health.
There is not enough research conducted on the safety of such baby formula, and therefore we do not recommend using such for your baby. Any milk alternative made from rice must be avoided for children under 5 due to the arsenic content.
Making up infant formula safely
It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when making up infant formula, because milks that are too concentrated can provide too many calories and too little fluid, and milks that are too dilute may not provide enough energy (calories) and nutrients. There is evidence that many people do not make up infant formula correctly. If milks are made up to be more concentrated than they should be, this can lead to overweight or potentially dangerous dehydration.
Powdered milks must be made up safely, as they are not sterile.
Which milks are suitable from 6 months to 1 year of age?
The main milk drink throughout the first year of life should remain breastmilk or an appropriate infant formula if parents are happy to use one. It is important to dispel the myth that breastmilk is not important in the second 6 months of life: both mum and baby will benefit from breastfeeding for as long as they both wish to do so.
Unsweetened calcium-fortified soya, nut, oat, coconut or hemp milk alternatives can be used in cooking for infants from 6 months of age. Always check that any milk alternative used is enriched with calcium. Avoid using sweetened non-dairy milk alternatives. Milk alternatives are not suitable as the main milk drink in the first year of life.
It is particularly important that rice milk alternative is not given to children under the age of 5 years, as it has been shown to contain traces of arsenic. Drinking rice milk alternative may mean that very young children exceed their tolerable daily intake for arsenic.
Introducing foods to complement breastmilk or infant formula from 6 months
Complementary feeding is the term given to the introduction of foods other than breastmilk (or infant formula) to an infant. In the US and most Western countries it is recommended that this process starts at about 6 months of age. In the first 6 months of life, infants can get all the fluid and nutrients they need from breastmilk (or from correctly made up infant formula), and there is no need to introduce other foods before an infant’s gut and swallow reflexes are fully ready. If parents or carers think an infant needs complementary foods before 6 months (about 26 weeks) of age, they should talk to a health visitor or another qualified health professional.
Foods that MUST NOT be given in the first 6 months
If introducing complementary foods before 6 months of age, there are some particular foods that must be avoided.
As well as all the other foods and drinks not recommended in the first year of life, vegan infants under 6 months should not be given any of the following foods:
foods containing gluten – such as bread, pasta or chapattis
nuts and seeds – including peanuts, peanut butter and other nut spreads.
Most infants are introduced to complementary foods both by being offered small tastes of new foods on a spoon, and by being encouraged to hold foods that they can taste themselves. In ‘baby-led weaning’, food is not given to the baby on a spoon at all. Instead, babies are encouraged to explore for themselves all the food on offer to them and to eat whatever they can get into their mouths independently. Those who promote baby-led weaning suggest: that babies who are spoon-fed may be given more to eat than they would choose; that spoon-feeding purées delays the experience of chewing; that babies fed food they dislike on a spoon may become fussy eaters; and that allowing full independence in eating encourages the development of a range of motor skills.
Many of the ideas from baby-led weaning already form part of the good complementary feeding practices currently recommended. Encouraging babies to be involved in meal times, to eat similar foods to those enjoyed by others at the table, to hold finger foods and spoons and to try to feed themselves are all recommended practices. Offering babies tastes of foods on a spoon is also, however, a good way for many babies to experience a wide range of tastes and start to replace some of the energy and nutrients they get from milk, with energy and nutrients from other foods. Babies may spit food out when they first try it as the taste and texture may be unfamiliar, but trying a whole range of tastes and textures during the second 6 months of life is important if we want children to eat a range of different foods as toddlers. Few people would disagree with many of the principles of baby-led weaning, but with babies who may be less independent in their eating, offering foods on a spoon at meal times as well can be encouraged during the first year of life to make sure that they eat well and get all the nutrients they need.
Drinks – and how to give them
From 6 months of age, infants should be introduced to drinking from a cup or beaker, and from the age of 12 months they should be discouraged from drinking from a bottle. It is best to use cups that are open-topped or which have a spout that is free-running, so that there is no need to ‘suck’. Sucking drinks from a bottle teat or spout means the drink spends more time in contact with the teeth and this can lead to dental problems. Baby cups can be useful for introducing drinking from a cup, as they can be held easily and offer a small volume of liquid.
Water given to children under 6 months should be boiled and cooled first, but tap water is fine for all infants over 6 months of age.
There is no need for drinks other than water in the first year.
Soft drinks, ‘no added sugar’ drinks, low-sugar drinks, low-calorie or diet drinks, tea, coffee, rice milk alternative, rice drink and any drinks with additives MUST NOT be given to infants.
Baby teeth matter
It is important to protect a baby’s teeth from about 6 months of age or when teeth first appear.
Never offer anything other than milk or water in a bottle.
Never dip dummies in anything sweet.
Be careful with sweet foods and avoid those with added sugar and fruit juice.
Processed fruit baby foods in pouches and jars are often high in free sugars, so use of these should be limited.
Never let babies suck directly from baby food pouches.
Brush baby’s teeth twice a day every day as soon as teeth appear, using a small smear of baby-safe toothpaste.
Introducing first foods to a vegan baby: a simple guide
First foods for babies over 6 months of age can include a wide range of unprocessed foods: vegetables, potatoes, cereal foods (such as rice, oats, polenta, semolina, pearl barley), pulses (peas, beans and lentils), tofu, ground nuts and seeds, and fruits.
Never add salt, sugar or artificial sweeteners to foods for infants.
Naturally sweet fruits (such as apples or bananas) or vegetables (such as carrots, sweet potatoes or butternut squash) should be used to sweeten foods rather than adding sugar.
If using commercial foods, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. However, these foods are usually expensive, less nutritious, sweet and bland in taste and too smooth compared to foods you can easily make yourself.
The only drinks that are recommended for infants in the first year are breastmilk or an appropriate infant formula, and water.
Unsweetened calcium-fortified soya milk alternative can be used in cooking for vegan children from 6 months, but should not be used as the main milk drink until after 1 year of age. Breastmilk or an appropriate first infant formula should remain the main milk drink from 6-12 months of age.
Foods and drinks that are not suitable in the first year of life
Foods that are not suitable
Ready meals or take-away foods
•Savoury or salty snacks
Very high-fibre foods (such as high-bran-type cereals)
Any foods with special ingredients, designed for adults – for example, low-fat or low-sugar products, or fortified products
Artificially sweetened foods
Foods with the additives E102, E110, E122, E124 and E211
Honey (Most vegans avoid honey, but it is particularly important not to give it to babies.)
In addition, avoid whole nuts or chunks of food such as apple that might be a choking risk.
Drinks that are not suitable
Soft drinks, squashes, fruit juices or cordials, either with or without added sugar
Drinks with added caffeine or stimulants •Artificially sweetened drinks
Drinks with the additives E102, E110, E122, E124 and E211
Rice milk alternative or rice drinks •Any types of tea or coffee •Alcohol
How much food to offer to vegan babies
The aim of first foods is to get infants used to new tastes and textures. Every baby will be different, and some will enjoy food from the beginning, some may help themselves to food straight away and be independent eaters quite quickly, and some may manage several spoons of newly introduced foods, while others will take longer to get used to new tastes.
Breastmilk or an appropriate infant formula will provide the majority of energy (calories) and nutrients when complementary foods are first introduced. The amount of food can be gradually increased over the first few weeks until babies are managing to eat in a pattern similar to that shown for infants aged 7-9 months in next pages of this guide. Babies will automatically drink less milk as their food intake increases.
Some babies will be ready and eager to hold food, feed themselves and enjoy a variety of foods of different textures from 6 months of age. Some babies may need more encouragement to start on solid food, and offering smooth or mashed food on a spoon may be useful to get them accustomed to new textures and tastes.
It can be useful to start new tastes with savoury vegetable flavours, as evidence suggests that babies introduced to single vegetable flavours over the first few days of complementary feeding are more accepting of vegetables in meals later on.
Avoid using pouches of ready-made puréed food, as these often mix up flavours and offer predominantly sweet tastes. They are often lower in nutrients than home-prepared foods and have a very smooth texture that most babies don’t need if they start eating at 6 months. If using these foods, never let the baby eat directly from the pouch.
Never add any foods to a baby’s bottle (such as cereal or rusks) as this can cause choking and confuse a baby’s appetite.
At 6 months, babies should be able to sit up with some support and they should be in a sitting position when they are offered food.
If you are offering a baby food on a spoon, sit opposite or close by and make eye contact as you do so. This means you can follow the baby’s cues on when they are ready for the next spoonful.
Avoid distractions at mealtimes, such as sitting a baby in front of a television, phone or tablet. Mealtimes are an ideal opportunity for interacting with baby and making conversation.
Offer small amounts of food before milk feeds at mealtimes, and give individual tastes to start with, focusing on savoury foods.
Don’t be surprised if the baby initially spits the food out or appears to dislike it. New tastes take a little getting used to and you may have to offer a food between five and ten times before it becomes a favorite.
Never force babies to eat. Allow them to go at their own pace, to handle food, and to start to feed themselves as soon as they wish.
Safety at mealtimes
Always stay with babies during meals and keep an eye on what they are eating to make sure they don’t choke.
If using a highchair, make sure the baby is safely strapped in.
To learn in more detail What Foods To Give To Vegan Babies and How, please proceed to the next page of this guide:
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