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Baby

      Weaning your baby on vegetarian or vegan diet

      When you start to introduce your baby to solid foods, you need to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need to grow big and strong and develop healthily. Just like a non-vegetarian diet, your baby can get all the energy and nearly all of the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

      So how do you wean a baby on a vegan or vegetarian diet? Which vegetarian and vegan foods should you be offering? And what supplements should you be giving your baby?

      How do you wean a baby on a vegan or vegetarian diet?

      The same advice applies as for non-vegetarian diet. Once your baby’s showing all the signs they’re ready to wean, start at around 6 months by introducing single veggies. Once they’ve accepted savoury flavours, you can begin to introduce fruits too, followed by new food groups, textures and flavours.

      At first, breast milk or infant formula fulfils all their nutritional needs. But as they progress and become more reliant on food for their nutritional needs, a varied diet is key.

      Do not leave your little one unattended when eating and drinking 

      What are the key vitamins and minerals to be mindful of?

      If you’re raising your baby on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to take particular care that they’re getting enough Vitamin B12, protein , calcium, iron and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. It’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about any supplements you might need to give your baby to meet their recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals.

      From around 7 months, when you start introducing a wider range of foods, a vegan or vegetarian diet can sometimes be high in fibre, which can make your baby feel full up before they’ve taken on enough calories and nutrients to power all that growing and developing. If you're worried your baby’s not getting enough energy from this age, try offering them higher calorie foods like hummus, smooth nut butters or full-fat unsweetened yoghurt or yoghurt alternatives. You can also offer white bread and rice rather than wholegrain or brown varieties as they contain less fibre and therefore won’t fill them up as quickly.

      Vitamin B12

      Vitamin B12 is found in foods like eggs, cheese and milk and helps keep your baby’s nervous system healthy and also helps prevent a type of anaemia1.

      Plant-based foods don’t contain vitamin B12 unless they’re fortified1, so if you’re raising your baby on a vegan diet, you’ll need to make sure they take a supplement that contains vitamin B12 or eat foods that are fortified with B12.

      Good sources of B12 include:

      • Fortified breakfast cereals.
      • Fortified yoghurt and milk alternatives, such as soya, oat, coconut and almond drinks.
      • Yeast extracts which contain no added salt.
      • Nuts and seeds, ground or served as smooth nut butters, such as almonds, cashews, chia seeds and flaxseeds.

      Protein

      Proteins are essential for healthy growth. Made up of different amino acids, they’re found in every cell of your little one’s body and are essential for repairing damaged cells and building new ones2.

      Certain amino acids are considered an essential part of your baby’s diet as they can only be obtained from the foods they eat. Protein from animal sources, such as eggs, milk and cheese, contain the full range of these ‘essential’ amino acids2. However, if you’re weaning your baby on a vegan diet, they can get all the amino acids they need by eating a good variety of plant-based protein sources2.

      Good sources of protein include:

      • Dairy products like cheese and unsweetened yoghurt.
      • Eggs stamped with the red lion mark.
      • Lentils, pulses and beans.
      • Grains such as oats, barley, rice and quinoa.

      Calcium

      Calcium is vital for the healthy development of your baby’s bones and teeth. It’s needed by every single cell in your baby’s body, helping their muscles and nerves to function, aiding digestion and enabling blood to clot3.

      Good sources of calcium include:

      • Dairy foods such cheese and unsweetened yoghurts
      • Dried figs
      • Ground almonds, or smooth almond butter.
      • Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach or kale.
      • Beans, lentils and chickpeas.

      Whole cows' milk can be used in your little one’s meals from 6 months. However, it’s not suitable as their main drink while they’re weaning because it doesn’t contain enough iron4 and other important nutrients for healthy growth and development.

      It’s safe to give your baby unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as oat or almond milk, from the age of 12 months as part of a healthy, balanced diet. However, don’t give your little one rice milk until they’re at least 5 years old, as it can contain levels of arsenic that are harmful to your little one5.

      Iron

      Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin in your baby’s red blood cells, which carry oxygen around their body, and plays an important role in their immune system6.

      There are two types; haem iron (from animal sources) and non-haem iron (from plant sources).

      While non-haem iron is harder for the body to absorb, vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron. So combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods like red peppers and broccoli, or offering vitamin-C packed fruit like strawberries or kiwi fruit for dessert, will help your baby absorb more iron from their meals.

      Good sources of iron include:

      • Fortified breakfast cereals.
      • Beans, chickpeas and lentils.
      • Leafy green vegetables.
      • Dried fruit, such as figs and apricots.

      Remember, dried fruits are naturally sweet and sticky, so aim to serve them with meals rather than as snacks to help prevent tooth decay.  

      Omega-3 fatty acids

      Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid which is important for the development of your baby’s brain and vision and can only be obtained from their diet7.

      Good sources of omega-3 include:

      • Flaxseed (linseed) oil or ground linseeds.
      • Ground walnuts.
      • Ground chia or hemp seeds.
      • Eggs enriched with omega-3 that carry the red lion stamp.

      Vitamin supplements

      The Department of Health recommends that all little ones between the age of 6 months and 5 years are given a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D in order to meet their recommended daily intake8. Because infant formula is already fortified with nutrients, if your baby is having at least 500ml (about a pint) of formula milk a day, there’s no need to give them vitamin supplements.

      Vitamin supplements for babies are given in the form of drops – your health visitor can give you advice on the best vitamin drops to complement your baby’s diet.

      Vegan-friendly vitamin supplements

      Not all forms of vitamin D are suitable for vegans – so if you’re raising your baby on a vegan diet, look for a supplement containing Vitamin D2 which is vegan-friendly. Certain varieties of Vitamin D3 are derived from lichen and are also suitable for vegans9.

      If you’re raising your baby on a vegan diet, they may also need to take a supplement of vitamin B12 too.

      1. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Consumers. [Online]. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/ [Accessed January 2020]
      2. British Nutrition Foundation. Protein. [Online]. Available at: www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html [Accessed January 2020]
      3. British Nutrition Foundation. Dietary Calcium and Health. [Online]. Available at: http://nutrition.org.uk/attachments/205_Dietary%20calcium%20and%20health%20summary.pdf [Accessed January 2020]
      4. NHS. Drinks and cups for babies and young children. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/drinks-and-cups-children/ [Accessed January 2020]
      5. NHS. What to feed young children. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/understanding-food-groups/#milk-and-dairy-products [Accessed January 2020]
      6. British Nutrition Foundation. Minerals and trace elements. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/minerals-and-trace-elements.html?start=8 [Accessed January 2020]
      7. British Nutrition Foundation. N-3 fatty acids and health. [Online]. Available at: http://nutrition.org.uk/attachments/156_n-3%20Fatty%20acids%20and%20health%20summary.pdf [Accessed January 2020]
      8. NHS. Vitamins for children. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/vitamins-for-children/ [Accessed January 2020]
      9. The Vegan Society. Under-fives. [Online]. Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/life-stages/under-fives [Accessed January 2020]

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