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Case Studies of Vegan Children

Having been vegan for a number of years before I had my daughter, I was always curious when I met vegan families with young children. I found it hard to engage anyone in real discussion, however, which may stem from the fact that most often when parents are asked about their choice to follow a vegan diet, the questions are a veiled criticism. It is easy to find cases of vegan children with nutritional deficiencies, and this can make it seem as though this is an inevitability in all vegan families. Fortunately, this is not true. I wanted to share how Annabelle has fared thus far, and look at a few case studies that do exist.

Since the daddy is not vegan, it’s unlikely that Annabelle will remain vegan throughout early childhood. It’s very likely that she will want to try some of the things her daddy eats in the years to come, and I don’t intend to place undue restrictions on her when it comes to food. For now, however, I prepare all of our meals and everything I put in front of Annabelle is vegan. 

Our Diet
  • Prior to becoming pregnant, I had been vegan for six years. I continued a vegan diet throughout my pregnancy, and still do.
  • I supplemented with B12, when I remembered, which admittedly was not often enough. Since I use nutritional yeast liberally, my poor memory probably didn’t do me too much damage. I took no other vitamins or supplements prior to pregnancy.
  • When I learned that I was pregnant, I immediately began taking a vegetarian prenatal vitamin with B12 and iron.
  • Because I was vegan, my doctor gave me a referral to see a dietitian. I didn’t feel I needed it, but was not about to turn down a free service or be haphazard about the health of my unborn child, so I went. I learned a few tips for increasing my iron absorption, but otherwise was told my diet was excellent.
  • At her birth, I requested delayed cord clamping and cutting to ensure that Annabelle got the full benefits of her iron rich cord blood.
  • I continued to take a prenatal vitamin with iron and B12 as I breastfed Annabelle exclusively for the first seven months of her life. 
  • Because I was supplementing my own diet with vitamin D through my prenatal, and we spend plenty of time outdoors here at 14 degrees north of the equator, I chose not to give Annabelle Vitamin D drops as the AAP recommends.
  • At seven months, despite introducing some complementary foods, I continued to take prenatal vitamins. 
  • As Annabelle’s intake of complementary foods has increased, I have taken care to include foods rich in iron such as hemp seeds and blackstrap molasses every day and I have transitioned from the prenatal vitamin to Floradix liquid iron, which includes B12. I also take care to eat foods rich in iron each day and cook in cast iron often. For added B12, I continue to use nutritional yeast on both her food and mine.
  • Annabelle is still breastfed, at least five times per day, usually more.

Our Health

  • Lab work early in my pregnancy revealed that I was borderline anemic. This was not surprising, as my iron levels were never particularly high, and iron deficiency is common among the women in my family – including those who eat meat. I upped my iron intake.
  • Labs taken later in my pregnancy and on the day my daughter was born revealed that I was no longer anemic.
  • Annabelle was born at full term (40 weeks and 2 days), and at a normal weight (6lbs15oz). She lost only five ounces in the first days before my milk came in, and once nursing was well established she had perfectly normal gains.
  • Because of our vegan diet and my history of low iron, I requested that Annabelle’s iron levels be checked at 9 months rather than waiting until a year as the pediatrician normally would have done. Her iron levels were normal. 
  • At 12 months, Annabelle’s pediatrician requested that we check her calcium and phosphorous and Vitamin D levels. Again, everything came back normal.
  • At 14 months, Annabelle is energetic and happy and loves to eat her vegetables. She began walking before nine months, and continues to advance in all of her motor, communication, and self-care skills.
Vegan Children Elsewhere
I have written before about the consensus on vegan diets for children among the American Academy of Pediatrics, US Department of Agriculture, American Dietetic Association, and the American Heart Association: vegan diets are perfectly healthful and adequate as long as they are carefully planned.


A look at a few studies…

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at vegetarian diets and children and concluded that, If known pitfalls are avoided, the growth and development of children reared on both vegan and vegetarian diets appears normal.”

The growth and development of children born of vegan mothers and reared on a vegan diet has been studied longitudinally: All of the children were breast-fed for the first 6 mo of life and in most cases well into the second year of life. The majority of children grew and developed normally but they did tend to be smaller in stature and lighter in weight than standards for the general population. Energy, calcium, and vitamin D intakes were usually below the recommended amounts. Their diets, however, were generally adequate but a few children had low intakes of riboflavin and vitamin B-12. Most parents were aware of the need to supplement the diet with vitamin B-12. It is concluded that provided sufficient care is taken, a vegan diet can support normal growth and development.”

“Severe nutritional deficiencies developed in four infants from a new vegan religious community. They had received breast milk until the age of 3 months; thereafter, breast milk was supplemented with or replaced by extremely low caloric-density preparations. All of the infants had profound protein-caloric malnutrition, severe rickets, osteoporosis, and vitamin B12 and other deficiencies. One infant died, while the three others had an uneventful recovery. After discharge of the infants from the hospital, the community responded well to a modification of the infants’ diet, which did not violate their vegetarian philosophy. However, they refused to give their infants vitamin B12 on a regular basis.”
This appears to discuss a very similar population, if not the same one. 

Do you see what I see? I have to think that the health of the children in the last study had a lot to do with the cessation of exclusive breastfeeding after just three months. In any case, a look at all of this information leaves one with a few impressions: Vegan diets can provide adequate nutrition for children, and in fact do provide it for many. There is also the potential for severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies, though these are not unique to vegan children. It is crucial that vegan parents consider “common pitfalls” and plan meals in order to avoid them.

Are you a vegan or vegetarian family? How do you plan your meals to avoid “common pitfalls? I would love to hear your story, too.

13 Responses to Case Studies of Vegan Children

  • Dani says:

    Yes, we are Vegan although I have to admit that I am 95% Vegan only. *blush* I am on the fence about eggs and I am known to indulge in a Muffin and a hot chocolate at Starbucks (made with Soy milk but still not Vegan :( )

    Lime is only 8 1/2 months and doesn't eat yet (100% ebf) but she'll be 100% Vegan. If she ever wishes to eat meat etc then she may do so. I will not stop her.

    When we got pregnant I expected questions and interference from the medical side but nobody said anything.

    She was born small (4lbs 13ozs) which apparently meant people could give me 'advice' and question my judgment saying things like: don't you think that eating meat or drinking milk would've helped her growth? Uhm, no actually.

    She's still only 15lbs but is happy and healthy and if I remember I do take my prenatal vitamins. I had to take some Iron during pregnancy due to low Iron count and her blood sugar was low after birth but apart from that I was told my health and diet are fine.

    I could eat much healthier though as I have a sweet tooth and eat way too many sweet things :( I don't want her to do that so WILL have to cut it down/out before she knows what I'm doing. *sigh*

    Nev

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    I'll confess that I have a sweet tooth, too! I've been trying to cut out sugar and opt for natural sweeteners at least and we'll take it from there. I have found some delicious looking raw dessert recipes that I'm hoping will help the transition!

  • April at Frugally Green Mom says:

    I am amazed by how harshly people look at vegan diets, while many meat eaters have diets that are much less healthy.

  • Heather @ Montessori Buddy says:

    I am not a vegan or vegetarian, but it's been on my mind a lot lately because of the impact eating meat/poultry has on the planet. It's interesting to hear your perspective. Thanks for sharing all this insight. : )

  • kelly @kellynaturally says:

    I have been vegetarian for 20 years, my husband and both of my children are also vegetarian. I consider us to be "non-strict" vegans – meaning, we keep substitutes at home (coconut milk, etc.) but eat some dairy/eggs in other situations. I breastfed my first child for 4 years, my second for 3; they are both in great health! Thank you for this excellent post!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    and of course the blame is placed on veganism, rather than on the person with a poorly planned diet. Fortunately many of us know better!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    It's great to hear how your children have thrived, too, Kelly. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for sharing!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    You're most welcome. Thanks for your comment!

  • Kristy Dolha says:

    It's interesting…because of your diet, it sounds like you actually pay a lot more attention to you daughter's nutrition than those on a "regular" healthy diet (at least certainly more attention than my kids get!). Kind of ironic that can lead to skepticism from others…I suppose people do love to be the parental critic! Keep up the good work, mom!

  • Amy Higham says:

    I am vegetarian, but my husband is not. My son will eat some meat, as per husband's request (and prepared by husband!), but it won't be a central part of his diet. I feel like I have a pretty healthful diet, but am not as mindful about some nutrients as I would like to be, and am trying to be more aware of things like iron and calcium as my son starts eating solid foods.

    How do you eat the molasses? The only things I ever use it for is gingerbread and barbecue sauce, neither of which are ideal everyday foods for a baby!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    You're too kind, Kristy! Thank you!

  • Melissa Kemendo says:

    Amy, it sounds like you're in a similar boat to my husband and me. He's a meat eater, too.

    I use a bit of blackstrap molasses to sweeten oats or other porridge-like breakfast dishes. I also use it in muffins that I'll make for breakfast. Most recently I fixed some zucchini bread in muffin form with blackstrap molasses as the sweetener.

  • Myola says:

    I am glad that their is an open discussion about the topic. As an infant (1981-82) my mother was vegan on a macrobiotic diet and I got really sick with a B12 deficiency. I was 100 percent BF (because I was to weak to eat) until 11 months old when I was hospitalized and received a blood transfusion. She immediately added animal products back into our diet. I think these situations are totally avoidable, and luckily people are more educated on the importance of supplements. Omnivore children also can be malnourished, my kinesiology teacher in university had a theory that most over weight people were vitamin deficient.
    As long as we have an open and honest conversation I think it’s great. I think the best case scenario is if we all stop choosing teams, and start working together to make sure children of all economic levels have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, that would be a great start! Lets get out and garden!

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