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When it comes to making choices for our children, reliable source information is key. The modern churn of popular opinion and internet commentary mixing together can make decision making difficult at the best of times. But when it comes to our babies, we want to know we are taking the best possible options available to us.
But what about the milk or dairy-free formula we feed them? What about the meals we feed them long before they are old enough or able to hold a knife and fork in their hands for themselves?
We all know veganism is a movement that is showing no signs of slowing down. It has become the food trend and the lifestyle change of modern choice – and for good reason. The ethical and ecological reasoning behind making vegan lifestyle choices are ever-present and numerous. Social media channels and blogging have brought the cruelty-free movement into the Western spotlight and it has transformed many of the consumer industries as we know them today.
With more vegan dining and supermarket options than ever before, adopting a way of life that doesn’t involve animal products is easier than ever before. It’s more accessible than it has ever been, with even the budget brands launching products to compete on the market.
There are a rare few vegans who have never consumed any animal products – these ‘purists’ are on the whole rather rare and far between. For the most part, statistics tell us that the majority elect to become vegan themselves, from personal choice rather than born tradition. In this manner, many vegans choose a cruelty-free way of life on an independent basis, based on their own preferences and self-discovered beliefs. It is an individual process of identity finding in this way.
However, some vegans decide that it is right for their family to adopt a vegan way of life also, which will inevitably change the number of born vegans there are. Many parents are now choosing to build home environments for their families that are free from animal products. This inevitably implicates various aspects of a collective lifestyle, including the meals eaten by the children in the vegan home. For many of these families, this choice can include the diet of their children from birth onwards.
In fact, if insider rumor is to be believed then even royalty are following suit on this one. Reportedly Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle are raising their child with a completely vegan way of living – including the milk he drinks!
There are also parents who choose to raise their babies with a dairy-free formula for reasons other than a vegan lifestyle or ethical choice. The use of soy-protein based baby formula is popular also with parents of babies who suffer from gas, fussiness, and colic. It is thought that making the switch from regular dairy-based formulas to these alternatives can steadily relieve these presenting symptoms.
Humans have actually been using alternatives to breast milk for thousands of years. Chronically low breast milk production for some women and even fatality during childbirth have contributed to a natural need for a second option throughout history. We have come a long way since the earlier formula mixtures, however, which mainly constituted water, wheat flour, and potassium bicarbonate!
However, some skeptics still question whether there really are adequate substitutes for a mother’s breast milk, or indeed the most popular second option of cow’s milk. In reality, there is no research currently published that proves that a soy alternative baby milk formula is in any way harmful or any less nutritious to an infant.
Alternative kinds of milk commonly have glucose, fructose and/or galactose added to them which break down into the nutritional building blocks of carbohydrates that are present in human breast milk. What can be harmful, is too much of these ingredients as they are too high in sugars for a healthy growing baby. Choosing the right product for your baby is about making the right choices for their nutrition, and so this is something to consider when choosing a branded product of any kind that you are going to introduce at any stage of a child’s development.
Vegan baby milk hasn’t had quite the same press and media coverage as other vegan consumer items out in the market, but it is starting to make waves in the eco-retail worlds. Specifically, the vegan formula is not yet out on the market. The USA is yet to have an entirely plant-based baby formula for vegans to buy for their babies. But before that happens – which undoubtedly it will – there is a range of ‘almost’ products that are available.
So, why exactly doesn’t the US offer any 100% plant-based formulas? Well, federal regulations are responsible for that one. In order for baby formula to be legally sold on the market, manufacturing companies are required by law to add Vitamin D3. This ingredient, also called Cholecalciferol, is derived from sheep’s wool.
Vegan baby milk substitute
Depending on your personal definition of veganism, you may deduce that dairy and egg-free formulas are in fact vegan. For some vegans, veganism is a lifestyle that aims to reduce the amount of harm to animals caused, and soy baby formula is one of those options. This is very much down to the individual and is very much a case by case basis that determines this choice and preference.
Many vegan parents might be passionate about animal welfare but may have concerns about the nutritional completeness that soy formulas offer their babies. Many of the soy formula alternatives state clearly that they are not intended for babies under the age of either 9 or 12 months. This is the age from which many babies start to wean, and it’s from this stage that the alternative formulas are recommended.
For those breastfeeding their child exclusively, the amount of calcium in a mother’s milk is unaffected by a vegan diet. The baby takes priority and the mother essentially foregoes her calcium from her own bones during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This can be an ideal bridge point for transitioning an infant from birth to the age from which they are ready for fortified soy-based formula products.
Generally, it would be deduced by many vegans that if a mother is eating a diet that includes any animal products of any kind, then she is essentially feeding her unborn or breastfeeding baby those same animal products derived nutrients within her natural milk, therefore making it a non-vegan food source. It would be unlikely that a mother would be raising their baby as a vegan when they do not adopt a vegan diet themselves however, so typically this is not an issue!
According to the medically informed views of The American Academy of Paediatrics, “Soy protein-based formulas in the United States may account for almost twenty to twenty-five percent of the total formula market”. This makes for very compelling evidence in the ‘for’ argument for alternative kinds of milk for vegan babies, in rising popularity alone. They add on to this researched statement that, “there is no conclusive evidence from animal, adult human, or infant populations that dietary soy may adversely affect human development, reproduction or encoring function.”
Dairy-Free Baby Formulas Available
There are a number of baby formulas on the American consumer market now that cater for vegan families. These are a few examples currently being sold:
• Enfamil ProSobee (Currently the most widely used and most popular soy formula brand)
• Similac Soy Isomil (One of the most popular products on the USA market)
• Gerber Good Start Soy (Popular with those choosing alternatives due to allergy issues)
• Parent’s Choice Soy (Walmart’s own branded baby formula)
• Earth’s Best Organic Soy Infant Formula (100% organic produce for ethically minded families)
Of course, some children continue to have formula as a part of their regular and daily diets for longer a period of time than just their early infancy. For many children, it supplements their nutritional intake alongside their solid food diets. It is often also a soothing element for them, enjoyed at bedtime or at quiet times. But is a soy alternative still enough for a growing child, when contrasted with the cow’s milk that has until now been the most common option for American families?
Keeping vegan babies healthy
The answer to this is yes. We now know that twenty to forty percent of adult bone mass is a result of lifestyle, which includes diet and exercise. Calcium intake is directly related to bone density. But cow’s milk – despite consumer advertising and historic popular culture trends – is in fact not the only source of it for humans!
Soy-protein alternative milks can be just as rich in the bone-building nutrients that growing humans need as cow’s milk has been. In fact, soy milks have recently been validated by many nutritional scientists as recommended and encouraged for use over other plant-based kinds of milk due to its high present levels of proteins. These proteins are exactly what babies and small children need in order to grow and develop healthily and happily.
Ultimately, it was only strong advertising over several years that taught the Western world that we all need a glass of cow’s milk each day to grow big and strong. All of our human dietary requirements can be met sufficiently without ever consuming a single drop of non-human or plant-based dairy products. The important thing is to focus on what is necessary from a dietary perspective, aligned with the beliefs and values of each family, case by case.
Something to bear in mind is that although it’s extremely important to make educated, informed choices about what to feed your baby, it is also crucial to understand that the overall health and wellbeing of the child is contributed to beyond their early months of life. Yes, do make every effort to buy and use the alternative baby formulas that are right for your baby from those listed above. Or indeed from your own research, as there are others newly arriving on the market alongside imported products from elsewhere globally. But do not lose sight of the fact that the foods your child consumes beyond the early years are equally as important.
It can feel like parenting a vegan family is a choice-making minefield. There is so much conflicting advice scattered throughout the internet which makes consumerism a little challenging – particularly, it seems, when it comes to buying food products that will be of benefit both to our babies and to the wider world that we have brought our children into. After all, isn’t this why you are here reading this article?
When making choices as a vegan parent for a vegan baby, it can be of great benefit to consult a trusted, qualified nutritionist that specializes in plant-based health and lifestyle. Doing so can smoothly remove much of the late-night pondering anxiety that new parents may have about this issue. It can also ensure that you select the right products for both you and your child. If you are unsure who to turn in order to find a specialist of this kind, then any national vegan society or credible plant-based health organization will be able to point you in the appropriate direction.
No one ever said being a good parent would be easy – but the fact that you are reading this article in these moments demonstrates your desire to try. And that, in itself, is good parenting at it’s simply very best.
We compiled a list of Vegan Children’s Books you may be interested in.