Pregnancy, Infants, and Children 2


Last updated May 2018

Contents

Introduction

This page features information about specific details about vegan diets for pregnancy, breastfeeding, and children that are not typically addressed elsewhere. For general information, see Vegan Nutrition in Pregnancy and Childhood by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD and Katie Kavanagh-Prochaska, RD. Our Daily Needs page contains specific recommendations for all ages.

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 2016 Position Paper, Vegetarian Diets, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says:

It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes

See Real Vegan Children for examples of vegan kids whose mothers had a vegan pregnancy.

Pregnancy

Pregnant vegans should make sure they have a reliable supply of vitamin B12 and iodine (see Daily Needs) and choline.

Deva Nutrition has a Vegan Prenatal Multivitamin.

A systematic review of vegan and vegetarian pregnancies published in 2015 concluded that “vegan [and] vegetarian diets may be considered safe in pregnancy, provided that attention is paid to vitamin and trace element requirements [mainly vitamin B12 and iron].” The authors acknowledged that there were a limited number of studies of vegan and vegetarian pregnancy. They focused on vegan and vegetarian diets that were chosen freely and not linked with limited access to food or with poverty (5).

Two of six 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.

More information:

Infants

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that well-planned vegan diets can satisfy the nutrient needs and normal growth of infants (1).

It’s important for child development that the mothers of exclusively breast-fed infants ensure they’re getting a reliable supply of vitamin B12.

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.

Breast milk is usually low in vitamin D. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants be given a vitamin D supplement providing 400 IU/day beginning soon after birth (2). One study found that lactating women who took a vitamin D supplement containing 6,400 IU of vitamin D3 had breast milk that contained enough vitamin D to meet their infants’ needs (6). This could be an alternative to giving the infant a vitamin D supplement.

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 (2).”

More information:

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:

Safety of Soy Formulas

The short answer is that soy formula is just as safe as cow’s milk formula, but it’s not intended for pre-term infants.

For a review of the research on the safety of soy formulas, see Soy Part 2—Research.

Children

More information:

Fiber and Children

Fiber recommendations for children vary depending on their age.

Fiber Recommendations4
Age Fiber
g/day
1-3 years 19
4-8 years 25
Boys, 9-13 years 31
Girls, 9-13 years 26
Boys, 14-18 years 38
Girls, 14-18 years 26

Vegan children often get this much, or even more fiber. There is no official upper limit on fiber; however, sometimes young children whose stomach capacity is small, can fill up on high fiber foods and not get enough calories. Very high fiber diets can interfere with absorption of minerals like iron and zinc.

If a child’s growth is within the normal limits and he or she is eating a variety of foods, it’s not likely that excess fiber is something to be concerned about. If a health care provider is concerned about the child’s growth being lower than expected and the child is eating a lot of high fiber foods—whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables—it may be helpful to reduce fiber somewhat.

For example, having the child eat some low-fiber foods such as refined grains, peeled fruits and vegetables, and added oils could help (3). Nuts and nut butters can also increase children’s calorie and protein intake. For younger children, be sure to chop or grind nuts well enough to prevent choking.

Most children don’t need high fiber supplements—check with the child’s health care provider before using these.

Vegan children who do not eat much because they get full easily can 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.

References

1. Mangels AR, Messina V. Considerations in planning vegan diets: infants. J Am Diet Assoc. 2001 Jun;101(6):670-7.

2. 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. (PDF)

3. Messina V, Mangels AR. Considerations in planning vegan diets: children. J Am Diet Assoc. 2001 Jun;101(6):661-9.

4. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Washington, D.C.:National Academies Press; 2002.

5. Piccoli GB, Clari R, Vigotti FN, et al. Vegan-vegetarian diets in pregnancy: danger or panacea? A systematic narrative review. BJOG 2015;122(5):623-33.

6. Hollis BW, Wagner CL, Howard CR, et al. 2015. Maternal versus infant vitamin D supplementation during lactation: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 136(4):625–34.


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2 thoughts on “Pregnancy, Infants, and Children

  • VeganMom

    Hello Veganhealth team!

    Firstly, thank you very much for all the information you are putting out there for the public to look up and learn – it’s invaluable and much needed in today’s world of industry-sponsored, contradicting virtual information.

    Can you please elaborate on your statement regarding the fiber intake of infants: “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children eat no more than .23 g of fiber per pound of body weight per day”. I find it hard to believe that we should ‘limit’ the intake of fiber for our children. Our ancestors had substantially higher intakes of fiber with their diets, humans who live in more rural regions in Africa or Asia (so are not eating a “Western” diet) have substantially higher intakes of fiber – and that is generally associated with being ‘healthier’.

    Can you please explain this? TIA.

    • JackNorrisRD Post author

      VeganMom,

      We’ve updated information on fiber for children and have confirmed that there is no official upper limit on fiber. Thanks for asking about this.

      From a practical standpoint, there is a limit to how much fiber a small child can eat. The average 2-year old’s stomach can hold about 1-1/2 cups of food at a time. If they start their meal with a large salad (mostly lettuce), they simply won’t have enough room for the other food that they need to provide calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Adults have a larger stomach capacity so can better tolerate large amounts of fiber. Often in traditional societies, children receive breast milk for a longer period of time than they commonly do in our culture. Breast milk is a concentrated source of calories and nutrients that is easily digested.

      Children may also be fed cereals or other weaning foods that are a good source of calories. Children do benefit from eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and other high fiber foods. They also need enough calories to support normal growth.

      We suggest that fiber be limited for young children if their growth seems to be compromised. Poor growth can indicate inadequate calories and/or a lack of nutrients.