A lot of my followers and readers are turning to more of a plant-based diet, including for their kids. Therefore, for a while I’ve wanted to write about Weaning a Vegan Baby to support families who are planning to do this but are worried about getting it right for their baby. I’ve therefore got the help of Registered Dietitian Kate Roberts from @vegan_kids_dietitian to write this blog for families who are weaning on a vegan diet.
How to wean a vegan baby?
With a bit of planning weaning an infant onto a vegan diet is completely safe and healthy and has been endorsed by the British Dietetic Association1.
There aren’t really any differences in the early stages of weaning. The veg-led approach that Charlotte often recommends (see blog on Veg Led Weaning) is a great approach to start with for all infants, and after that a vegan baby can be introduced to fruit, grains, protein containing foods and iron-rich foods as the next steps in their weaning journey. By one year of age we’re ideally aiming for a baby to be eating similar foods to the rest of the family and having a varied and balanced diet.
Nutrients to be aware of with vegan weaning:
Charlotte has written before about balancing vegetarian meals for toddlers, and the concept with weaning a vegan baby is similar. There are a few foods and nutrients you need to be a bit more careful and aware of to ensure that your baby’s diet is balanced and includes all nutrients they need to grow and develop well.
I’ve listed the nutrients to be aware of when plant-based weaning below:
Vitamin D should be supplemented from birth in all breastfed babies and when formula intake drops below 500ml per day2.Vitamin D2 is the vegan form of this supplement (a lot of D3 is derived from lanolin in wool). There are a number of supplements suitable: Vitashine vitamin D2 spray, Nature and Nurture vitamin drops, Abidec and Dalivit.
Vitamins A and C should also be supplemented from 6 months along with vitamin D2. Nature and Nurture, Abidec and Dalivit contain these, are vegan and are widely available. See Charlotte’s blog on vitamins for babies and toddlers for more info.
Iodine is needed to regulate thyroid hormones which control processes such as growth and brain development. It is transferred through breastmilk, but mum needs to ensure she is meeting the higher requirements needed of 200mcg per day3. The only natural vegan source of iodine is seaweed, however daily seaweed is not advisable as amounts are not regulated and an excess of iodine can cause hyperthyroidism. Plant-based dairy alternatives are sometimes fortified with iodine which is useful, and supplements are available. Multivitamins aimed at breastfeeding tend to contain 150ug of iodine and therefore more needs to be consumed either in a plant-based milk that is supplemented (these usually contain 22.5ug of iodine per 100ml or with an extra supplement For more about iodine, see Charlotte’s blog on the subject.
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for brain development. The three main omega-3s are: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentonoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). ALA is found in walnuts, rapeseed oil, chia seeds, linseeds and hemp seeds. EPA and DHA can be converted from ALA in theory, however the human body cannot efficiently convert them and therefore supplementation is highly recommended for pregnant women, infants and children on a vegan diet. There are a wide range of algae supplements available, I would recommend selecting one that contains both EPA and DHA. You can buy capsules and cut them open or buy liquid to add to food. Plant based Infants from birth-12 months need 0.5g of ALA per day4.
Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin which is needed for red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis. It is found naturally in animal products, a lot of foods are supplemented with vitamin B12 such as plant-based milks, nutritional yeast, marmite, plant spreads and some vegan cheese alternatives; always check the labels. If a reliable source cannot be provided daily supplementation is recommended5. From 6-12 month the RNI for infants is 0.4mcg per day.
Iron – All vegan infants need a diet rich in iron from around 6 months. A source of iron is recommended at every meal along with a good source of vitamin C to help with absorption, see below for ideas of vegan iron sources.
Protein and Calcium – These are both commonly worried about but actually easy to get through a baby’s breastmilk or formula and a variety of weaning foods. It is worth also remembering that daily requirements of protein are much lower than the general population eats.
Iron-Rich Weaning Foods
- Chick peas
- Kidney beans
- Nutritional yeast
- Dried apricots
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Vegan Breakfast Cereals
- Pea protein
A few excellent sources of calcium:
- Plant based dairy alternatives
- Tofu set with calcium carbonate
- White beans
- Chick peas
- Chia seeds
- Sweet potato
In summary, weaning children onto a vegan diet is easy, safe and economical as long as you give the key nutrients proper consideration. If you are concerned it’s best to speak to your GP or HV and ask for a referral to a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian.
Follow @vegankidsdietitian for simple and helpful information on vegan and plant-based weaning.
Here are some helpful guides: