Vegan For Life
by Jack Norris, RD &
Ginny Messina, MPH, RD
Pregnancy, Infants, & Children
See Real Vegan Children for examples of vegan kids whose mothers had a vegan pregnancy.
- Expert Opinions on Veg Diets for Pregnancy, Infants, & Children
- Soy Formulas
This page features information about specific details about vegan diets for pregnancy, breastfeeding, and children that are not typically addressed elsewhere. It also contains links for more information.
For general, concise nutrient recommendations, please see Vegan Nutrition in Pregnancy and Childhood by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD and Katie Kavanagh-Prochaska, RD.
Specific vitamin B12 recommendations for children of different ages are listed here.
In their 5th Edition (2004) of the Pediatric Nutrition Handbook, the American Academy of Pediatrics says:
Children exhibit good growth and thrive on most lacto-ovo vegetarian and vegan diets when they are well planned and supplemented appropriately. (Chapter 12: Nutrition Aspects of Vegetarian Diets, p. 194)
In their 2009 Position Paper, Vegetarian Diets, the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada state:
Well-planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation. Appropriately planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth.
Deva Nutrition has a Vegan Prenatal Multivitamin
Unfortunately, two of three studies of vegetarian mothers showed an increased risk of having a boy with hypospadias. You can read more about that research in the article Hypospadias and Vegetarian Diets.
- Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book (2011) - Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
The American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that well-planned vegan diets can satisfy the nutrient needs and normal growth of infants (1).
Breast-feeding is the best option when possible. Vegan parents should not try to make their own infant formulas as this often leads to poor child development. Although more research is desirable, it appears that soy infant formulas are generally safe. See below for information regarding soy formulas.
It is important for child development that the mothers of exclusively breast-fed infants ensure they are getting a reliable supply of vitamin B12.
Breast milk is low in vitamin D and varies according to the mother's intake/sun exposure. According to some experts, dark-skinned, breast-fed babies should be given vitamin D supplements (2).
In 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics raised its recommendations for infants from 5 µg (200 IU) of vitamin D per day to 10 µg (400 IU). They stated, "It is now recommended that all infants and children, including adolescents, have a minimum daily intake of 400 IU of vitamin D beginning soon after birth." (4)
For more information see:
- Vegetarian Infants - PDF from the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
- Feeding Vegan Kids by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- May 2002 VRG-News by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- Vitamin A and Breastfed Babies by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
A food writer, Nina Planck, occasionally writes articles to dissuade parents from feeding their infants and children a vegan diet. Here are two responses to her articles from experts on vegan nutrition for infants and children:
- Vegan Children: Response to NYT Op-Ed, by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets, by Ginny Messina, MPH, RD
If you need to feed your baby formula, soy formulas are available. Unfortunately, they all contain vitamin D3 (which comes from lanolin in sheep's wool or from fish). As of June 2007, the following brands were vegan except for the vitamin D3:
- Bright Beginnings Soy Pediatric Drink - vitamin D synthesized from animal cholesterol.
- Enfamil ProSobee and Enfagrow Toddler Transitions Soy - vitamin D from lanolin; DHA from microalgae; ARA from fungi.
- Parent's Choice Soy Infant Formula sold only at WalMart - vitamin D from lanolin.
- Baby's Only Organic Soy Formula - vitamin D from lanolin.
- Ross Labs Similac Isomil - vitamin D from lanolin.
- Nestle Good Start Supreme Soy DHA DHA & ARA - vitamin D from lanolin.
Click here for thoughts on the subject of trying to be 100% vegan.
The short answer is that it is just as safe as cow's milk formula. Research shows that you should choose a soy formula with DHA. Soy formula is not intended for pre-term infants.
For more information see the Infant Formula section of Soy: What's the Harm?
- Feeding Vegan Kids by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- Raising Vegetarian Children (book) by Joanne Stepaniak, MS ED and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children eat no more than .23 g of fiber per pound of body weight per day. Vegan children can easily exceed this limit. They might come closer to recommendations by eating half of their servings of grains as refined grains (e.g., white pasta, white rice, white bread) (3).
Vegan children who do not eat much because they get full easily may benefit from eating some low-fiber foods such as refined grains, peeled fruits and vegetables, and added oils (3). Nuts and nut butters can also increase their calorie and protein intake. For younger children, be sure to chop or grind nuts well enough to prevent choking.
4. Wagner CL, Greer FR, and the Section on Breastfeeding and Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2008;122:1142-1152. | link (PDF)