Just as it is possible to eat a raw vegan diet when pregnant, it is also possible to eat a raw vegan diet while breastfeeding. The nutrient that is usually found wanting is Vitamin B12, but Vitamin B12 deficiency is not solely the domain of those who eschew meat and animal products. A Tufts University Study in Boston found that low B12 levels were common in the entire US population, and approximately 39% of Americans were B12 deficient. And this proved to be true even among individuals who were consuming three times the recommended daily recommended allowance of B12! This data was backed up by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which also found that deficiency greatly varied depending on age.
Currently, less than 5% of the American population is consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet. And even if all of those people were B12 deficient, which they are not, that would not account for the remaining 34-35% of the population. In addition, medical experts have acknowledged that those who suffer from a B12 deficiency, more often than not, consume processed foods, aspirin, and prescription drugs, all of which are known to interfere with B12 absorption. You can reduce your chance of becoming deficient by avoiding antacids as well. If you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux it would be best to use hydrochloric acid supplements. Hydrochloric acid is crucial for the absorption of B12.
Even prominent breastfeeding organization, La Leche League International is in favor of vegan mothers breastfeeding, and have stated, “When a diet does not contain any [meat or animal products] (such as in the case of vegan and some macrobiotic diets), a mother needs to be sure to include vitamin B12 into her diet in some way. Many vegetarians use a supplement for their vitamin B12 intake.” Other medical professionals, such as Dr. Vivian V. Vetrano, do not advise supplementing, unless blood tests prove that there is an actual deficiency. Breast milk may also be tested for nutrient deficiencies. The good news is, a deficiency in B12 and all other vital nutrients is easy to remedy.
Breastfeeding mothers produce and transfer custom-designed antibodies to whatever infectious agent is present in the environment. This is a major advantage to the child. And according to La Leche League International “Research has shown that milk produced by vegetarian women has lower levels of environmental contaminants (such as PCBs) than that of other women. These substances are stored principally in the fatty tissues of the body, and vegetarian diets tend to contain less fats than diets with more animal products.” Good news for both vegetarian and vegan moms.
There are other, more mundane, concerns for raw vegan moms to worry about: Consuming enough calories for two, which will insure their newborn’s consistent weight gain, and replenishing their calcium and iron reserves.
A raw vegan diet is lower in calories than a cooked vegan diet, even when one is consuming the same foods, which I explained in The Raw and the Cooked: Why All Calories Are Not Equal. So, of course, you must eat more while breastfeeding. Most doctors do not recommend counting calories, but the general consensus averages out to between 300 to 600 more calories each day, while breastfeeding.
During the baby’s first year, he/she will grow a foot in height and almost triple in weight, and the nutrients most needed to help baby grow and develop to fullest potential are the same ones that mom will need to heal and recover fully. Eating raw whole foods will actually insure that mother and child get more nutrients than they would if the mother ate a diet high in cooked food. And one of the most needed nutrients, at this time, does not absorb well in pill form. I’m speaking of calcium.
Calcium and Magnesium – I’ve grouped these two together because of their ying-yang relationship. For example, calcium stimulates nerves and magnesium calms nerves; calcium makes it possible for muscles to contract and magnesium relaxes muscles; calcium helps to form blood clots when one is injured and magnesium promotes blood flow to prevent excessive clotting, which could lead to heart attack or stroke. Without magnesium, calcium cannot be properly absorbed and utilized. For equilibrium, the body needs a ratio of 2:1 calcium to magnesium. Thankfully, this dynamic duo can be found in green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, almonds and more.
The Recommended Daily Allowance of calcium for nursing women is 1,000 mg per day, the same amount recommended for pregnant women. You can consume more than the RDA, as long as your intake is less than 2,500mg. And Dr. Carolyn Dean recommends 600mg of Magnesium to nursing mothers in her book, The Magnesium Miracle. To maintain equilibrium, you would need to consume 1200mg of calcium.
Studies have shown that women who replenish their bone calcium levels while breastfeeding record a lower incidence of hip fracture and osteoporosis later in life when compared to those who do not. This renewal of bone density proves to be essential in maintaining bone mass and a high activity in the bones. Studies have also shown that when nursing mothers increase their magnesium, potassium and iron intake, it can help both mother and child sleep better.
Iron is another mineral that often gets depleted during pregnancy. In the mother, at least. According to Ian J. Griffin, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, UC, Davis School of Medicine, in the few, randomized, controlled studies addressing this issue, iron deficiency is unlikely in full-term, breastfed infants during the first 6 months of life, because the infants’ body iron stores are sufficient to meet their requirements. After six months, however, many infants exhaust their stores and become dependent on a secondary iron supply. The breast milk of a raw vegan mother is bound to full of iron, as the best sources of iron are dark leafy greens – a raw vegan staple. You will also find iron in dried fruits like prunes, and raisins, bean sprouts, lentils, chickpea sprouts, and artichokes.
By consuming these foods, the mother will also improve and speed her own recovery, which is especially important if she has undergone a cesarean section. Fortunately, the foods that contain the highest concentrations of calcium, magnesium and iron also contain the highest concentrations of the nutrients that are considered most effective for speeding wound healing and connective tissue repair. But nearly all vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, macronutrients like protein and fiber and essential fatty acids will help the healing process.
The nutrients getting the most attention in the animal research studies on healing include vitamin C, flavonoids, vitamin A, protein, and zinc. The best sources of these nutrients are broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, and berries. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any human studies on this topic. But, if there is any doubt about the veracity of the animal studies, ask anyone who’s been raw vegan for a while. They can tell you just how rejuvenating and healing a raw, whole food diet can be.
Breast feeding is also a great opportunity to bond with your child and help insure proper mental and emotional development. Numerous studies have demonstrated that breastfed children are generally smarter than babies who are fed formula, and now there’s a study that has shown breastfed children do better socially and economically as well. The study, published in BMJ journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, June 24th, 2013, revealed that children who were breast-fed moved higher up in social class than their counterparts.
The study involved 17,419 children born in 1958 and 16,771 kids born in 1970. Regardless of when they were born and when other factors were discounted, the children who were breast-fed, for at least four weeks, were more likely to move up in social status than those who did not get breast-fed. Breast-feeding increased the odds of a higher social position by 24% and reduced the chance of downward movement by about 20%. However, the researchers noted that they aren’t certain if it’s the breast milk itself or the skin-to-skin contact and bonding that helped children move up the social ladder.
This study reminded me of a quote by Grantly Dick-Read, a British obstetrician and a leading advocate of natural childbirth: “A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three.” This study seems to have proven that those three factors can actually affect the course of a child’s life well into adulthood. The study’s author, Amanda Sacker, has said, “Breast-feeding not only gives children a good start in life, but also boosts chances of a healthy and successful adulthood. For most women, breast-feeding offers them a simple way to improve their child’s life chances.”
But mothers should not feel pressured to breastfeed. It may not be right for them or their child. And some women, due to extenuating factors, such as heart disease, transferable illnesses, and breast reduction and augmentation surgeries, cannot breastfeed. And outside of those factors, some women, for unknown reasons, simply cannot produce breast milk or produce very little. But if a mother can, it is important that she do so by choice, since the bonding of mother and child may be the true benefit of breastfeeding. If the mother resents this “duty” it may do more harm than good. All mothers should investigate breastfeeding for themselves and do what they believe is best for themselves and their child.
Note: You should always consult with your doctor before making an drastic dietary changes while breast feeding.