I was nervous about starting my vegan challenge as a breastfeeding mum 30 days ago. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find all of the essential vitamins and minerals that my body would need to create a good quality, satisfying milk. I quickly learnt however, that with a good varied diet including lots of mineral rich food, I would be OK, my milk supply and quality wouldn’t suffer. In fact, I can say that I actually get more vitamins and minerals now I am on a vegan diet than when I was on an omnivore diet.
Breastfeeding your baby has many obvious benefits to mum and child. A breastfed baby has a boosted immune system, reduced risk of developing diabetes, reduces the chances of sudden infant death syndrome, higher IQ rates, healthier joints and muscles, less chances of suffering with constipation and diarrhoea, fewer ear and eye infection, less likely to develop arthritis… the list goes on. For mum, reduced blood loss after birth and the uterus will contact back to pre pregnancy size quicker, reduced breast and ovarian cancer rates, lowers chances of developing osteoporosis, reduced diabetes risk, more sleep… need I go on?
Eating healthily during pregnancy and breastfeeding is essential, whether you are vegan or not. Your body needs to be happy and healthy to grow your baby, and keep your baby growing as it should. Many women take folic acid during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (many taking it during conception too) to ensure that baby develops a healthy spine and neural tube. Vegan Folic acid supplements are easily available, and naturally found folic acid can be sourced from green leafy foods such as spinach or spring greens, brown rice, fortified cereals, broccoli, asparagus, lentils, beans and pulses… to name a few. The name Folic Acid comes from folate – green leafy foods- foliage!
We are all advised to have our 5 a day of fruit and vegetables. When breastfeeding, it has been noted that this number should rise to 7 (Although I cannot remember where I first saw this piece of advice). 7 portions of fruit and veg really isn’t hard to achieve when eating a vegan that’s for sure.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should aim to include a portion of protein with each meal. For meat eaters, finding protein isn’t a biggie because meats include protein. But nuts, soy products, beans and peas all contain great levels of protein, and including a portion with each meal seems to happen easily with almost no second thought. The same rule of one portion of iron per meal is also recommended. Iron is also found in beans, legumes, dark green vegetables and soy products. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, so snacking on oranges, berries or tomatoes will really help. Try keeping a pack of frozen berries in the freezer, the make a sweet treat, last for ages and are a cheaper alternative to freash berries that will have to be eaten quickly. They also cool down a smoothie perfectly in the summer when thrown into the blender.
Calcium for strong bones (for you and your baby) is a biggie. As a vegan mother getting calcium for dairy products such as milk and cheese is out of the question. Calcium can however be found in tofu (yummy when scrambled and on wholemeal toast!), almonds, sesame seeds and tahini.
During pregnancy a woman’s immune system is lower, making the risks of falling ill higher (one reason why pregnant women are advised to avoid soft cheese and undercooked eggs). It is important that vegan and vegetarian mums wash their food thoroughly, especially when eating any raw foods to avoid listeria getting into the body, which can cause premature birth, or even miscarriage.
Veganicity have an amazing range of vegan supplements that are all 100% vegan, 100% animal friendly and 100% Vegan Society approved. This bottle of Veganicity Pregnancy Essentials is ideal for any vegan or breastfeeding mum, as it contains 25 vital vitamins and minerals in one convenient tablet, containing folic acid, vitamins C, D, E and B complex and Vegan D3. The tablets look a little big and daunting to take, but they are nothing unmanageable. You simply just take 1-2 tablets daily, with food. The Pregnancy Essentials tablets are also sugar free, gluten free, lactose free, yeast free and wheat free and contain no colouring and use minimum natural fillers and binders. Veganicity’s Pregnancy Essentials can be purchased from the Veganicity website and are £9.95 for 60.
Some of my favourite vegan breastfeeding grub:
Avocado’s. Oh man, so creamy! They are packed full of good fats. BURSTING with vitamin K, fibre and one avocado equals to about 22% of your daily Folic acid intake too! They also contain 60% MORE potassium than bananas. Amazing! They mix well into a yummy green smoothie, or you can whip out a mean guacamole!
Flax Seed. This bag of Milled Organic Flaxseed by Linwoods is a healthy superfood that can be added into sooooo many recipes, from smoothies to cupcakes and porridge to casseroles. Just 2 heaped dessert spoons provides you with 5.8g of Omega 3. Flaxseed is a convenient and quick source of iron, magnesium and calcium and is absorbed quickly into the body, meaning that you feel its benefit instantly! It’s also suitable for freezing, great for people like me who like to cook up batches of food for the freezer. A 425g bag of Linwoods Milled Organic Flaxseed is £5.99 and is available in Holland and Barrett.
Rolled Oats. Great for milk production, full of iron, filling, low fat and very versatile. Don’t just use it to make porridge, but throw a handful of raw oats into smoothies, make your own flapjacks or cereal bars and tie some up into a muslin cloth and throw in the bath when the dreaded chickenpox arrive (like they have this week in our own home).
Blueberries. Oh, they are like little sweeties! A tub of blueberries doesn’t last very long in our house at all. We all love them. I like to throw handfuls into smoothies and cakes (which I bake a lot). They are a superb antioxidant, and are packed with Vitamin A, calcium and potassium… which all go into make great milk.
So, there you have a brief lowdown on how being vegan and breastfeeding CAN work together, it isn’t hard with a little planning and patience to learn.
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