Nowadays, many people are turning vegan. People who follow a vegan diet, eat plant-based foods and avoid eating animal foods and dairy products. Following a vegan lifestyle can be beneficial for adults, but is it suitable for a baby? Find out!
Is a Vegan Diet Safe for Your Baby?
Yes, it is absolutely safe for babies to follow a vegan diet. But as parents, you will have to pay extra attention to your baby’s diet to ensure that his nutrient requirements are met properly. A vegan diet lacks all types of non-vegetarian food and dairy products like milk, cheese, butter, which are important for a child in his growing years. So you must feed him healthy and nutritious food.
How Can Your Child Benefit from Following a Plant-based Diet?
Listed below are the benefits of a plant-based diet for your baby.
- A vegan diet lacks saturated fats and cholesterol and is therefore healthy. In the long run, a vegan child will be at a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc.
- By following a vegan diet, a child will learn the importance of eating healthy from a very young age.
- Children who follow a vegan diet from a young age develop a liking for green, leafy vegetables.
Are There Any Risks Involved?
A vegan diet may be beneficial for a baby, but it has its risks too. Let us discuss the risks associated with this diet on babies.
- Children, especially below the age of 3, require a lot of calories to get the energy to play, run, and be active. A vegan diet which is devoid of milk and milk products like ghee, butter, curd etc. may lack this.
- It lacks the main source of rich protein like meat and poultry products which is important for a child’s growth.
- Since milk and milk products are a complete “no-no” in a vegan diet, there can be a deficiency of calcium in a vegan child.
Precautionary Tips to Consider While Raising a Vegan Baby
Here are some precautionary tips to consider when raising a vegan baby:
- It is important to breastfeed a baby until he turns 6 months of age. However, vegan moms who may not be able to breastfeed may have to give formula milk to their babies. The only dairy-free alternative for infants is soy formula. If a vegan baby is allergic to soy, then he will have no other alternative without dairy. So, you must look for options for your vegan baby.
- You must give Vitamin B12 supplements to your baby right from his birth after consulting a paediatrician. The recommended dose of Vitamin B12 supplements for babies between the ages of 0 and 6 months is 0.4 mcg/per day. And the recommended dose for babies between the ages of 6 and 12 months is .05 mcg per day. Moreover, in case the mother is breastfeeding the baby, a daily dose of 2.6 mcg of B12 is recommended.
- Since breast milk alone won’t be sufficient to meet the requirements of Vitamin D of a baby, you should sunbathe your baby for 30 minutes, 5-6 times a week for a couple of months.
- Once a baby turns 4 months of age, you can give iron drops since by then the iron present in the mother’s breast milk decreases.
- Once your baby turns 6 months of age, you can even introduce semi-solid foods to your baby – you can give him iron fortified cereals. Between the ages of 7 and 9 months, you can give him mashed vegetables or tofu scramble, finger foods, purees of veggies, fruits and legumes and non-dairy yoghurt.
- You can even give hemp seeds and chia seeds to your baby between the ages of 9 and 10 months. You can add chia and hemp seeds in purees and yoghurt.
- From the 11th month onwards, you can start with dal and rice and vegetables.
Nutrient Requirements of Vegan Babies
Here are some of the nutrient requirements of vegan babies.
Protein is an important nutrient that a baby needs in his growing years. Some of the vegan foods which are rich in protein are legumes, nuts, tofu, soy milk and butter made of nuts and seeds. Introduce these foods to your baby to meet his protein requirements.
2. Vitamin B12
A deficiency of Vitamin B12 could result in anaemia, hypotonia, and developmental delays in infants. To make sure that your baby gets his daily dose of Vitamin B12, you can give him Vitamin B12 supplements or give him foods fortified with B12. Breastfeeding vegan mothers also need to take a daily supplement of Vitamin B12.
Calcium is an important mineral, which helps in the formation of strong bones and teeth. You must make sure that your baby gets his daily dose of this mineral. If your baby is vegan, you should include tofu, almonds, sesame butter, legumes, green leafy vegetables, and black-strap molasses in his diet to ensure that he gets an adequate amount of calcium.
4. Vitamin D
Deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets, a condition in which the bones become soft and weak. Also, the minerals calcium and phosphorus are absorbed in the body only if the body has an adequate amount of Vitamin D. To meet the requirements of Vitamin D of your vegan baby, you can sunbathe him for 30 minutes every day. However, some fortified formula milk can also meet the daily dose of Vitamin D in infants.
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for vision development and brain development in infants. You can give chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, etc to your vegan baby.
This mineral is important for better immune strength. It also helps repair body tissues and absorb the energy from foods. Vegan foods that are rich in zinc include tofu, legumes, seeds and nuts. So introduce these foods to your child.
Iodine is important to fight bacteria and virus and to prevent growth disorders in infants. There is a little amount of iodine in legumes and grains. So it is suggested that you consult a paediatrician for iron supplements that you can give to your baby.
Tips for Making Baby Food for Vegan Babies
It is important to give healthy vegan food to your little one, but preparing it the right way is also important. Listed below are a few tips that you must keep in mind while preparing a vegan meal for your little one.
- Apart from giving fortified vegan baby formula, you must give semi-solid foods to your infant from 6 months onwards.
- All the fruits and vegetables should be washed well before cooking them or before giving them to your baby.
- Before giving any fruits and vegetables to your baby peel them properly and also deseed them.
- Do not add extra salt or sugar in infants’ food.
- Do not give honey or corn syrup in the first year of his birth.
- An adequate amount of all the required nutrients should be included in the daily diet of an infant. You may seek a dietician’s help to make a healthy vegan meal plan for your baby.
As a mother, you know best what works well for your baby. Therefore, give a healthy mix of all the vegan food items to your baby and make sure that his growth is on right track.