Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Feeding a Vegetarian Baby

Since before he was born, the topic of Wesley's diet has been discussed thoroughly. My husband and I follow different diets: I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning that I do not eat meat but I will eat eggs & dairy, and Kevin is pretty open to anything. I've always just imagined that my child would also be a vegetarian, being that he was born to a non-meat-eating mother, but that seems naive and a little unfair. When I was growing up, my parents were very supportive of my dietary choices, even when they didn't understand or necessarily agree with them. This afforded me the opportunity to discover what was right for me. I've been a vegetarian, a vegan, a meat-eater, and a picky eater before settling on where I am now. I had to go through that process for myself. The tricky part for us was deciding how we would feed Wesley until he was capable of making those decisions on his own.

The first six months were easy - he was breastfed and thereby a vegetarian by association. The closer we got to the age when he would start on solid foods the more certain I felt I would prefer he not be introduced to meat until he was old enough to choose it for himself. It's hard to define what age that will be, whether he will verbalize that he would like to try it or just point & whine at whatever Kevin is eating, but I trust that we will know in the moment. There is also the chance that he'll never want to try meat (I'm hopeful). In the meantime, we're very mindful that he eats a well-balanced diet that fulfills all the nutritional requirements for a vegetarian baby.

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about how much protein a baby needs. Generally, a person needs to eat more protein during periods of rapid growth & development (like puberty). Infants 6-12 months old need about 0.75 grams of protein per pound per day (eg a 20lb baby would need 15g/day). That amount decreases to about 0.6g/lb/day between 1-6 years. Babies get most of their protein from breastmilk &/or infant formula but as they start to wean they need to make up for it in solid foods. 
 {avocado, whole grain toast with hummus; shelled edamame; cooked quinoa (which I mix in to his pureed veggies)}
Complete proteins, which provides all amino-acids, include: eggs, dairy, soy, & quinoa.
Incomplete proteins, which need to be combined to provide all amino-acids, include: lentils, beans, chickpeas, oats, rice, and wheat.

Iron-fortified infant formula continues to provide bottle-fed babies with all the iron they need for their first year but after about 6 months breastfed babies will need to supplement with iron-rich foods. The most typical source for iron is iron-fortified infant cereals, which provides 100% of the DNV of iron for babies. In addition, dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and beet greens are also a good source of iron, as well as beans & tofu. Iron is best absorbed from raw foods and better still if accompanied by foods rich in Vitamin C. 
{infant rice cereal with orange segments; oat cereal with banana slices}

Vitamin B12
Also known as cobalamin, Vitamin B12 is the most difficult nutrient to get through a vegetarian diet. Of the top ten foods rich in Vitamin B12, numbers 9 & 10 were eggs & dairy, respectively, and the rest were meats. The best source of Vitamin B12 as a vegetarian is fortified cereals. Fortunately, most (not all) of the iron-fortified infant cereals are also high in Vitamin B12, but be sure to check the labels.  
 {broccoli & cubed cheese}

I've done a lot of reading about vegetarian diets for babies and breastfeeding mothers, I've also sought advice from our family physician and dietician. All the information I've provided is based on that research along with my own personal opinion. I believe it's important to always do what feels right for you and your family so please know that this post is only to satisfy inquiring minds and not meant to be preachy in the least. 


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