A vegan diet for infants is not dangerous

I received a comment today on my post A plant-strong life from a guest to this blog. Although the tone of the comment was neither kind nor constructive, it brings to the forefront a concern that many of our dear friends and family have expressed.

I wanted to post the comment and my reply here, because there is some information that those of you interested in plant-strong living may find helpful, and reassuring given our particular situation.

The comment:

That’s a really scary diagnosis for your son. While being vegan is a choice for you, it’s not healthy for a growing infant. He is obviously missing nutrients – you’re literally failing him to thrive. Please rethink your choices for the sake of your son, or someone from the state will force you to.

My reply:

Thank you for your concern, but you should know that our son’s pediatrician has never been concerned that we are vegan. His growth pattern has been the same since he was born.

Since this may be the your first visit to this blog, I also would like you to know that my son’s pediatrician has assured us that both his head circumference (aka brain size development) and height are on a perfect course for his age, and have been for his entire life. Her best guess, as I said in an earlier post to which this one was linked, is his low weight is related either to genetics, as I was very small as an infant, or to the congenital heart murmur discovered at his nine-month well baby checkup. We are awaiting results of related follow-up tests now. As she has explained to us, certain heart murmurs change the way the blood carries oxygen throughout the body, which in turn, can cause a child to be under-weight. Our son also has had complete blood work on a few occasions for reasons unrelated to his size and all levels have each time been completely in the normal range. He is not lethargic and there other than his size there are no indications that he is delayed in any way.

My husband and I take our son’s nutrition and care very seriously. We know what nutrients are in which fruits and vegetables. We know how to make sure he eats protein. And he eats until he is full, typically much more than the recommended amounts of each type of food for his age group.

For the first seven months of his life my son was exclusively breast-fed, until the surgery to repair my separated pelvis required that I stop to allow my hormones to return to non-pregnancy levels and allow for better healing. For the first four months of his life, and throughout my pregnancy, I ate the standard American diet, with the exception that I already loved fruits and veggies. Personally, I am much more concerned about the nutrition he received during that time than I am now. When I switched to a plant-based diet, I saw a substantial increase in my milk production, which allowed me to freeze more milk and allowed my son one feeding of breast milk daily until he was more than 8 months old. Today, the formula he gets (at least 24 ounces daily, as recommended for his age) has the recommended amounts of AHA, DHA and iron.

My husband and I are glad that our son has tried, and enjoys, a wide variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes, tofu and polenta. He enjoys avocado and as soon as he is one-year old he will be introduced to peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts and pecans.

I understand that you may not have been reading this blog from the beginning and you may not know me or my family, but your accusation that raising a vegan child is a danger or risk to that is child false. Yes, it takes work to make sure your child gets a balanced diet, but don’t all children deserve that?

More more information about diets for vegan babies, please visit the following sites, and share them with others:
http://www.vrg.org/nutshell.kids.htm
http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/parenting/
There also are dozens of vegan and vegetarian related parenting blogs and resources online.

I realized after posting this reply that the primary concern for many would be B12 deficiency. This is because changes in soil composition over time mean that B12 is the ONLY vitamin or mineral the human body needs that is not naturally found in any plant.

I want to address this concern specifically here. According to the CDC, there have been at least 30 American infants since 1980 with vegan mothers who experienced “very serious B12 deficiency.”

In our case, our midwives recommended a B vitamin complex for me in the several months immediately postpartum. Those we were not vegan at the time, this was recommended to me to help elevate my mood because of baby blues. I took it daily for at least four months and always took a multivitamin during and after pregnancy. Today, his daily intake of formula includes almost 1 microgram of B12, more than the .5 daily that he needs.

Don’t get me wrong, if the blood tests the Little Guy has had showed any problems, or if any future evaluation requires a change in his nutrition, my husband and I would take steps to correct it immediately. It is simply not true that a vegan diet is not safe for a baby. As I said in my original reply to the commenter: Yes, it takes work to make sure your child gets a balanced diet, but don’t all children deserve that?

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