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Vegetarian Diets for Pregnancy and Children

Ask the Experts!

“Don’t kids need milk to be healthy?”

Humans are the only creatures that drink milk from the mother of another species. It’s as unnatural for a child to drink the milk of a cow as it is for a dog to nurse from a giraffe! Human children have no nutritional requirements for cow’s milk and grow up healthy and strong without it. Cow’s milk (and the products made from it) is laced with foreign, frequently allergy-inciting, bovine protein and often contains hydrocarbon pesticides and other chemical contaminants, as well as health-endangering saturated fat. Clinical experience suggests that cow’s milk is linked to numerous common health problems (runny noses, allergies, ear infections, recurrent bronchitis, asthma, etc.) that often keep people returning to their doctors’ offices, instead of to their jobs or classrooms. Parents should feel good about giving their children the many nutritious, tasty, nondairy alternatives instead.

Michael Klaper, M.D., nutritional expert and author of Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet

A healthy plant-based diet is the perfect solution for these vital stages of life.

Pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants, and children benefit from a vegetarian diet. All are especially sensitive to dietary dangers, so it makes extra good sense for them to avoid the fats, drugs, hormones, pesticides, and other pitfalls of meat and dairy products.

Pregnant Women

Vegan women are generally healthier than their carnivorous and dairy consuming counterparts and are therefore already well on their way to trouble-free, easy pregnancies.

A study of 1,700 pregnancies at The Farm, a large vegan community in Tennessee, showed that vegan mothers-to-be have a record of safety that would delight obstetricians.

Only one in 100 women delivered their babies by Caesarean section, and in 20 years, there was only one case of pre-eclampsia (a condition involving hypertension, fluid retention, urinary protein loss, and excessive weight gain), which occurs in at least 2 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. Other studies have found similar results.

Special Needs During Pregnancy

All pregnant women need to consume extra protein. There’s plenty to be found in plant foods such as tofu, tempeh, beans, nut butters, and mock meats like veggie burgers and soy sausage, and these foods don’t come with the artery-clogging cholesterol and saturated fat found in animal products.

For calcium, pregnant women should eat plenty of green leafy vegetables such as broccoli or kale. The calcium from most green vegetables is actually more absorbable than the calcium in cow’s milk. Another reason to avoid cow’s milk: The protein in it can cross the placenta and even enter a woman’s breast milk, possibly sparking the production of antibodies that lead to insulin dependent diabetes. Other plant foods rich in calcium include soy milk, almonds, figs, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, tahini, and calcium fortified fruit juices.

Expectant mothers also should consume plenty of iron, folic acid, and vitamins, including D and B12—all of which a well-balanced vegan diet and routine prenatal vitamins will provide.

Vegetarian Children

“Well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of the lifecycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence”
    —The American Dietetic Association’s position paper on vegetarianism

It’s never too early to learn healthy eating habits. According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, at least 60 percent of children and young adults have early athero-sclerotic damage.

Wholesome plant-based foods make for strong, healthy bodies with a great head start in life.

In the seventh edition of his world famous Baby and Child Care, America’s most respected pediatrician, the late Dr. Benjamin Spock, recommends that parents raise their children on a vegan diet. “We now know that there are harmful effects of a meaty diet,” wrote Spock.

“Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods rather than meats have a tremendous health advantage. They are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer ... I no longer recommend dairy products ... [T]here was a time when cow’s milk was considered very desirable. But research, along with clinical experience, has forced doctors and nutritionists to rethink this recommendation.” Many children are subtly or violently allergic to milk proteins. Sniffles and intestinal distress dismissed as colds and colic can actually be signs of lactose intolerance. Pediatricians often find that chronic ear infections and respiratory problems are aggravated when milk is part of a child’s diet.

Drinking milk has also been linked to asthma and intestinal bleeding and is suspected of triggering juvenile diabetes, a disease that causes blindness and other serious effects. Some children’s bodies reject cow’s milk protein as a foreign substance and produce high levels of antibodies to fend off this “invader.”

Unfortunately, these antibodies also destroy the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas, leading to diabetes.

Children can get all the calcium they need from plant foods like broccoli, chickpeas, almonds, black beans, tahini, dried figs, collards, kale, cornbread, tofu, and fortified soy milk and orange juice—without the risk of developing serious health problems that could plague them for a lifetime.

Expert Advice

All the protein and other nutrients needed for growth and health are found in plant products, so don’t feel pressured by well-meaning relatives or uninformed doctors. There are excellent books written by physicians and parents that make it easy to follow good examples:

Dr. Attwood’s Low-Fat Prescription for Kids by Charles Attwood, M.D. (Penguin Books, 1996)
Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (7th edition) by Benjamin Spock, M.D., and Steven J. Parker, M.D. (Pocket Books, 1998)
Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Michael Klaper, M.D. (Gentle World, Inc., 1987)
Vegetarian Baby by Sharon Yntema (McBooks Press, 1991)
Vegetarian Children by Sharon Yntema (McBooks Press, 1995)
The Vegetarian Mother and Baby by Rose Elliot (Pantheon Books, 1997)
Vegetarian Pregnancy by Sharon Yntema (McBooks Press, 1994)