Well-planned diets free from animal products are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.
If you’re concerned about meeting your own or your children’s nutritional needs, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist with experience in plant-based diets.
It’s easy to have a healthy pregnancy without consuming animal products. This is a really important time to eat nutritious food, but your overall calorie intake should only increase modestly during pregnancy. All pregnancy women need to choose their meals wisely. Ensure you eat a wide variety of whole plant foods, and avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar.
For ideas on how to plan healthy meals that ensure you get all the nutrients you need during pregnancy, check out this guide.
As in pregnancy, it is important to maintain a healthy diet during breastfeeding. Breast milk production requires even more calories than pregnancy, so you may need to boost your food intake a little. During the first six months, you need 500 more calories than you did when you were pregnant.
If you do not breastfeed, soy-based formula is nutritionally adequate and, unlike cow’s milk formulas, can be easy on your baby’s digestive system. A standard soy milk is an insufficient nutritional source for infants. Babies also need about two hours a week of sun exposure to make vitamin D.
When starting to introduce complementary foods, it’s important that your little one gets enough iron because by about six months your infant’s iron stores will be used up. From six-12 months, infants need about 6 to 11mg of iron per day. Plant-based sources include pulses (dried beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas), nuts, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and fortified foods, like bread and cereal products.
You can aid iron absorption by also including breast milk, fruit and fermented vegetables. Limit your baby’s intake of foods like chocolate and tea as they can make it harder for your baby to absorb iron. Infants who consume cows’ milk are at a greater risk of iron deficiency and anaemia.
Some parents weaning their children onto a vegan diet chose to supplement some nutrients, particularly vitamin B12 (an infant should get 0.5g per day from 6 months). Want to learn more about how to ensure your baby is getting all the right nutrients? Check out this guide and scroll down to the “Infants” section.
Children have high calorie and nutrient needs, but their stomachs are small. Offer your children frequent snacks. Quality is important! Skip refined grains and fruit juices and instead offer calcium-fortified plant-milks, fibre rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Teenagers have the same high energy needs and often busy schedules! Keeping delicious healthy, low-fat snack choices on hand will help prevent excess weight gain and health problems later in life.
For meal and snack ideas, plus meal planning tips from childhood to adolescence, check out this guide and scroll down to the “Food groups” section.
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