No matter how much the world moves towards technology reliance and online culture, our deeper instincts and human needs change astonishingly little over time. Despite how much we have developed as human beings, and how able we are in many different ways, the needs we intrinsically hold as human mammals don’t alter generation to generation.
Maternal instincts are a strong example of the inbuilt designs that are part of keeping us alive.
No matter what culture you’re from, what religion you do or do not practice, and what media you consume, your instinct as a mother is incredibly powerful. It will dictate many of your choices in regards to taking care of your growing babies. You will want the very best for them, in order to keep them safe from harm or poor health. This is a ‘given’ for most parents.
Vegans choose to be vegans for a variety of personal reasons. For some, the decision to switch to a plant-based diet arose from health considerations only, or even for weight loss motivations. Others may have joined the fad after seeing the plethora of online ads and newsfeed promotions about its benefits. For others, the choice was purely based on rejecting modern farming and killing or enslaving animals for human consumption purposes.
For the cruelty considerate, choosing a vegan diet is all about avoiding unnecessary harm to living beings by living in a manner that avoids harm. When someone with this specific motivation becomes a mother, things become a little more complex as thought has to happen about what is best for a growing baby balanced with what choices remain cruelty-free beyond the family home environment.
Can vegan mothers breastfeed without causing harm to either their baby or the wider planet?
Babies certainly need a great deal of nutrients. They triple their birth weight within the first 12 months of their life. Breast milk makes up a large proportion if not the entirety of their food source during this period of life. Therefore, babies entirely rely on breast milk to provide all they will need to develop their vital skin, bone, blood, and organ tissues. Good meals are indeed vital for growing babies.
According to The Vegan Society, a totally plant-based diet can meet everyone’s nutritional needs, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Or even both. Their view is that a pregnant woman should review their diet in order to ensure they are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals they need throughout their pregnancy and beyond. They recommend this as part of prepregnancy planning and encourage vegan mothers and mother-to-be to continually check in on their health and wellbeing to notice any significant changes.
They go on to say that during the first 6 months of pregnancy, when exclusive breastfeeding is recommended, it’s important for mothers to stay hydrated, keep up their B12 intake, and ensure they have enough Vitamin-D. These recommendations are general advice for all breastfeeding mothers, not just those who are vegan breastfeeding. These are considerations that could be undertaken with both an animal product eating diet and a plant-based one.
There is much confusion that circulates online and in the discussion about whether a mother needs to ensure a so-called ‘perfect’ diet during pregnancy. The answer to this is no. Although better diets tend to optimize nutrition for a feeding baby, Mother Nature is relatively forgiving. Breast milk is designed to provide for and protect a growing baby, even in times of famine or poor health. This backs the theory that a vegan diet is not necessarily ‘damaging’ to a baby fed with a vegan mother’s breast milk.
The best milk available for a baby is the mother’s own. It has immunological protection like no other.
Essentially, research shows that even if a mother eats ‘badly’ then she will still produce good milk that her baby can benefit from. Their own physical health may be compromised from eating poorly but her body will continue to prioritize the wellbeing of her baby and take all it can to produce good feed for the mother’s baby. Poor diets are never recommended, but it’s important within this context of this particular debate to note this particular fact.
Here are some vegan baby formulas if having trouble with vegan breastfeeding.
Another element to consider within this frame of discussion is the effects of stress on a vegan breastfeeding mother and her baby. Stress can significantly reduce milk production, sometimes causing it to halt altogether. If a mother feels under immense pressure to eat in a way that makes her unhappy or that is dictated in a way that breaks her down, this can affect her production levels. It can also contribute to the likeliness of post-natal depression, which in turn can become a preventative to being able to feed properly and regularly.
According to research doctor and anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler, women throughout the world have continually produced an ample amount of quality milk while eating diets predominantly made up of rice and millet, few vegetables, and only the occasional portion of meat now and then. Essentially, entire nations regularly produce healthy, well-balanced babies who grow into strong children without their mothers needing to consume plates of meat or bottles of bovine sourced milk. Their very human breast milk is already wholesome enough on what is essentially a nearly vegan diet.
Are there any common issues that arise from vegan breastfeeding while eating a plant-based diet?
It is a misconception that vegan mothers produce lesser amounts of breast milk as any form of rule. However, there is a simple explanation that may account for this common misconception occurring so often. If a mother does not consume enough iron and becomes anemic, then her milk production levels may lower. Plant-based diets are often rich in iron, with the common presence of foods like spinach, kale. Furthermore, vitamin C consumption is often higher in vegans, which helps to iron production in the body.
However, if a vegan (or even vegetarian) mother is not consuming enough iron in her diet for any reason, then she may struggle with producing less breast milk for her feeding baby. The same is true of B12 and zinc, which can affect milk production if they are not plentiful enough in the mother’s diet, regardless of her own food and lifestyle choices on a daily basis.
There is a huge over-emphasis on the need for protein in our diets as a result of muscle building ‘health’ culture booming in sociocultural trends. The reality is that vegan breastfeeding mothers do not need to consume the extremely high protein-rich kinds of milk produced by cows to feed her baby. Ultimately, mammals are built to feed their own, to provide the nutrition they need to grow and maintain good health.
Check out our other vegan parenting articles: https://veganpantry.com/vegan-parenting/
Essentially, we are not feeding baby cows, therefore we do not need to pass down the nutrients from their milk to our own babies while breastfeeding. The same applies to chicken eggs and any other animal product. Although there are significant vitamin and mineral sources within some animal product foods, they are intended by nature for an animal that is not human. Therefore, we should not need to rely upon it to feed our own babies to a state of strong and healthy wellbeing.
When it comes to feeding our own children, whether at the breastfeeding stage or beyond, it’s important to ensure that we are as informed as possible about the true realities of what certain options implicate. Ultimately, we must make our decisions based on thorough research joined with personal beliefs and value systems. Parenting instincts are part of us for a reason – listen to your body, and hear what it’s telling you.
Feeding your baby should be a joy, as much as it can be, and in the way that works best for your growing family. It is a natural opportunity to connect and spend quality bonding time with your baby while ensuring they have the nutrient-rich feeds they need to grow and develop. Embrace the experience for all it can be. Your baby will certainly appreciate you doing so, in whatever way works best for you both.
If you feel the need to use baby formula instead of vegan breastfeeding we selected some vegan ones: https://veganpantry.com/vegan-baby-formula/
Katherine Dettwyler Quote