How to Eat a Vegetarian Diet While Breastfeeding

They say you are what you eat. Because what you eat has nutrients that are essential to keeping you alive as well as healthy and happy.

And what you can eat can affect your breast milk. And in turn, your breast milk can affect your baby’s health and growth.

No matter what kind of diet a breastfeeding diet a mother follows, she needs to be careful that she is getting all of the necessary nutrients for her baby. Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you follow, you might need to take supplements to make sure you get all the nutrients you and your baby need.

Read on to learn what type of nutrients you need on a vegetarian diet while breastfeeding.

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Breast milk is made up of a whole bunch of ingredients, including carbohydrates, white blood cells, stem cells, hormones, enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, fat, antibodies, and protein. (1)

Some of these ingredients are guaranteed to be inside of your breast milk regardless of your diet because they are present and drawn from the body. And some of these nutrients must come from your diet.

Nutrients that must come from your diet because your body cannot make or can store in large quantities include iron, vitamin B12, DHA, iodine, and zinc.

If your diet does not include foods that would include these nutrients as stated in the section below, then you might need to take a supplement. Depending on how deficient you are in a particular nutrient, your baby might need a supplement as well.

Nutrient Deficiencies and a Vegetarian Diet

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If you are concerned about getting enough nutrients; minerals, vitamins, proteins, calories for you, and your baby, then you should have a conversation with your doctor. Or you could talk to a nutritionist or a dietician. Based on your eating habits, they can order specific tests to make sure you are getting enough of the following:

1. Vitamin B12

This is a vitamin that can only be found in animal products. If you are eating any other type of animal products (eggs, milk, cheese, or any other dairy products, poultry, or fish) then generally you will be getting enough vitamin B12.

But if you have a B12 deficiency, then you and/or your baby might need a supplement. In that case, you should speak with your own doctor as well as your baby’s pediatrician. (2)

If however, you are eating a vegan diet while breastfeeding, then you will need to make sure you get enough of vitamin B12 to prevent you and your baby from becoming deficient. There are vitamin B12 supplements you can take as well as fortified foods that you can eat.

You can consume products that are fortified with vitamin B12 such as brewer’s yeast, meat substitutes, and soy products. Sometimes you have to eat fortified food as well as take a supplement. Make sure to consult with your doctor.

Sometimes a breastfed baby needs to take a vitamin B12 supplement as well, so make sure to speak with your baby’s pediatrician.

2. Calcium

This element is not produced by the body, even though it is stored in large quantities. The only way to get calcium is from what you eat.

Most people get calcium from dairy products. Depending on what type of vegetarian diet that you eat, you should get enough calcium in your diet. The recommended intake for a breastfeeding mother is 1,300 milligrams per day.

If you are eating a vegan diet then you will need to find other sources of calcium to get your recommended intake per day. Calcium can be found in many vegetables, including dark leafy greens, as well as soy products, fortified orange juice, and beans. You might need to consult with your doctor to make sure that a calcium supplement is not necessary.

3. Vitamin D

Every woman, including breastfeeding woman, need 600 international units (IU’s) of vitamin D per day. Studies show that if a breastfeeding woman has a deficiency in this vitamin, not only is she deficient, but her baby is as well.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to get vitamin D by spending some time outside. But be careful because excess sun exposure is dangerous.

But most women will count on the food that she eats to provide adequate levels of the vitamin. Cheese, fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon), egg yolks, and fortified foods like some dairy products, orange juice, cereals, and soy milk have vitamin D.

You should talk to your doctor about your situation to determine if a vitamin D supplement is necessary. It is important to talk to your baby’s pediatrician as well to see if your baby needs a supplement.

4. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 

This is an omega-3 essential fatty acid found mostly fish that is critical for the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. (3)

Does Your Vegetarian Diet Have Nutritional Concerns?

If you have been eating a vegetarian or vegan diet for a while, then you might know how to get the nutrients that are necessary for your body without eating meat or possibly all animal products. There a number of different vegetarian diets that are either lacking in certain nutrients or provide certain nutrients.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian 

  • The most common type of vegetarian.
  • They only eat eggs and dairy products.
  • They don’t any meat or fish.
  • Eggs and dairy products contain protein, vitamins, and minerals.
  • You might not need any supplements on this type of diet. But if you have any concerns, you can check with your doctor.

Lacto Vegetarian

  • This diet eats no meat, fish, or eggs, but dairy products are consumed.
  • Dairy products are frequently fortified with vitamin D
  • Dairy products are an excellent source of protein and calcium and give you vitamin B12.

Ovo Vegetarian

  • This diet does not eat meat or dairy products but does eat eggs.
  • Eggs are a fantastic source of protein, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, riboflavin, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Semi-Vegetarian

  • A mostly plant-based diet with the occasional addition of meat and dairy products.
  • If you follow this diet and eat balanced, you should be able to get all the nutrients your body requires.

Pescetarian

  • This diet excludes beef, pork, and poultry, but eat fish.
  • Fish is an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals.

Vegan

  • A purely plant-based diet; does not include any meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, or any other animal-derived products.
  • A healthy diet where some vitamins and minerals are harder to come by.
  • Check with your doctor to see if you need a supplement of vitamin B12, zinc, iron, and DHA.

Wrapping Up

When following a vegetarian or vegan diet while breastfeeding, make sure you are getting every nutrient. Depending on your particular diet, you might need to take a supplement. If you have any concerns, you should reach out to your doctor so they can test you and see if you are deficient in any nutrients.

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