Last updated May 2018
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.
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.
- Pregnancy and the Vegan Diet—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book (2011)—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
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).”
- Vegetarian Infants (PDF)—Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
- Feeding Vegan Kids—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- Vitamin A and Breastfed Babies—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
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—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- The New York Times, Nina Planck, and Safety of Vegan Diets—Ginny Messina, MPH, RD
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.
- Iodine and Young Children—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- Feeding Vegan Kids—Reed Mangels, PhD, RD
- Raising Vegetarian Children (2002)—Joanne Stepaniak, MS ED and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD
- Vegetarian Resource Group’s Facebook group for parents of vegetarian or vegan children
Fiber and Children
Fiber recommendations for children vary depending on their age.
|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.
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)
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.