Fostering a Gentler, Healthier and more Compassionate World for all Living Beings

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Vitamin B12 and vitamin D are key nutrients for a young infant being exclusively breast fed by a vegan woman. Mothers whose diets contain little or no vitamin B12 will produce milk with very low levels of vitamin B12 (13). As this vitamin is important for the developing nervous system, it is crucial for the infant to have a reliable source of vitamin B12. Some vegan women opt to use a vitamin B12 supplement while others rely on fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals, fortified yeast extracts, non-dairy milks and some soya products in order to meet both their own and their baby’s need for vitamin B12. If the mother’s diet does not contain a reliable daily source of vitamin B12, the child itself should receive a daily source of vitamin B12.

The vitamin D content of breast milk varies with the mother’s diet and her sun exposure, although vitamin D levels in breast milk are usually quite low. All children below three years of age have a high requirement for vitamin D to enable calcium deposition in bone. The Department of Health therefore recommends that vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D be used for all children from 6 months to 5 years of age, whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. [Note that Healthy Start vitamin drops for children and Health Start vitamins for women contain vitamin D3 and are not suitable for vegans.]

Readers may also have heard of docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, a fatty acid which appears to be important for eye and brain development and is found primarily in animal foods. However, vegans can make DHA from another fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, which will be contained in the breast milk if the mother’s diet includes good sources such as flaxseed oil, ground flaxseed and rapeseed oil. Reducing the use of other oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil and limiting foods containing hydrogenated fats will also help the breast fed infant to make more DHA. These oils contain linoleic acid and hydrogenated fats contain trans-fatty acids which interfere with DHA production.

Unfortunately there is currently no infant formula available which is suitable for vegans. There are soya formulas on the market, but these are not vegan as they are fortified with vitamin D3, which is made from lanolin (a grease produced by sheep’s skin and extracted from their wool). The vegan-suitable formula which was previously available, Heinz Nurture Soya (formerly Farley’s Soya), is no longer manufactured as Heinz no longer produce any infant formulas. On no account should soya milk, nut milk, rice milk, oat milk, pea milk or other home-prepared “formulas” be used as these do not contain the appropriate ratio of nutrients and can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions.
 

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