The Vegetarian Mother

Occasionally a nursing mom will be vegetarian. Most vegetarian diets include animal protein and present no special problems in relation to breastfeeding. However, it is important to understand what foods she does eat, in order to assure proper nutrition. 

  • Semi-vegetarians avoid red meat but eat poultry, fish, milk products and eggs.
  • Ovo-lacto-vegetarians avoid all flesh foods (red meat, fish and poultry), but eat milk products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians avoid flesh foods and milk products, but eat eggs.

All of these diets include animal protein.

Diets that allow no animal protein, such as the vegan and microbiotic diets, are especially at risk of a B12 deficiency. This deficiency is often not shown in moms, but baby presents with symptoms of loss of appetite, regression in motor development, muscle atrophy, vomiting, and blood abnormalities. A B12 supplement of four mg per day will restore the level, as will adding fermented soybean foods or brewer’s yeast to her diet.

Vegetarian moms who do not consume milk or dairy products should be watchful of getting enough calcium. Mothers with low calcium levels are not affecting the calcium in their breast milk, but rather in themselves. Excellent sources of calcium include tofu, sesame seeds, spinach, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, Brazil nuts, blackstrap molasses, and of course, calcium supplements. These help obtain the needed 1,600 mg per day for nursing moms. Vitamin D deficiency, which can correspond with low calcium intake, will be easily corrected with just a few minutes of sunlight each day.

An additional note: research has found the milk of vegetarian mothers to be lower in environmental contaminants, such as PCBs, than the milk of other mothers. Environmental contaminants are stored primarily in fat, and vegetarian diets tend to be lower in fat than diets that include more animal products.