Monday, September 1, 2008

Feeding Vegan Infants

Since I am vegan and have a new baby, probably my last, I thought an interlude on early vegan nutrition and human breastmilk was in order. Whether you're vegan or just curious about how a vegan diet works, here is how it can begin.

There is really only one viable option for feeding a vegan infant, and that is human breastmilk. No vegan formulas exist in the United States (there is a soy-based vegan formula available in the UK and Australia). Of course with so many well-known disadvantages for formula-fed babies, breastmilk is the logical choice.

Besides a diet containing ample healthy fats for proper growth, babies and young children require a dietary form of cholesterol. Breastmilk is the perfect source. By age 2-3 the human body produces its own cholesterol and dietary cholesterol is not necessary.

"For their first two years, children need dietary cholesterol to form myelin nerve coatings. Breast milk is high in cholesterol. After age two, cholesterol requirements decline, and children can make all the cholesterol they need in their livers. Studies of school-age vegetarian and carnivorous children found they have the same cholesterol levels. 17 In general, vegetarian children have a higher ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids in their diets. Their lower level of saturated fats could lead to healthier adulthoods." - Marilyn Sterling, R.D.

The average human child weans somewhere between age 2.5-7 years old worldwide, around the same time that molars erupt and the majority of people begin to produce fewer lactase enzymes and lose the ability to properly digest lactose, a sugar present in all mammal milk and some vegetables. (Here is more info on nutrition for vegetarian children.)

But what if you cannot breastfeed due to some physical issue? Or have tried inducing lactation prior to adoption and have not produced a full supply? Or you are male (although some men are successful in inducing lactation if they feel it is prudent to do so)? Or you are taking medication unsafe for breastfeeding? Or breast surgery compromised your ability to lactate?
Or what if for whatever reason, you have tried even the most expensive prescription formulas and you have a baby who cannot tolerate them? Or has reflux/GERD?...or you are vegan, unable to breastfeed, and do not want to feed your baby a formula full of animal products and corn syrup?

There is the option of human donor breastmilk. Breastmilk donors typically undergo the same bloodtests as a blood donor, and then some, to assure their milk's safety. Resources like MilkShare have been instrumental in increasing recent awareness of this option. Donors and recipient families typically find a match via the MilkShare Yahoo! Health Group. And many babies receive milk through more casual arrangements via family, friends, health care providers and mothers' groups.

I have been a milk
donor for 3 babies,
some of whom did
not tolerate dairy
products well. Frozen
milk can even be
packed well and
shipped via the USPS!
(our freezer, packed with milk to donate)

If you have extra milk
in your freezer, or have
an ample supply and
have thought about
pumping, consider
donating it to the many
babies in need. Breastmilk
is essential to optimal
health in infancy and
early childhood. (Donor milk in a cooler ready for a trip to its new home)


Tammi said...

Thank you for this!! I am vegetarian slowly working my way towards vegan and it's been on my mind a whole lot lately so thanks for those links.

I have been recently thinking about pumping to donate. I feel breast is best even if you aren't the one producing the milk! On a similar note I found this this today. :)

Megan said...

I am donating for my second baby right now. Its a great feeling.

veganf said...

Tammi - What an awesome article. I wonder if she's only looking for British participants.

Michelle said...

i also pumped to donate, for an adoptive mom trying to induce lactation.. she used donor milk to supplement until her supply got up :) it's a lovely experience on both ends!