Breastmilk and infant formula
Breastmilk is the best food for an infant. This is true whether you have a vegetarian, vegan or traditional diet yourself. In order to ensure sufficient vitamins and minerals in your breastmilk, you should take certain dietary supplements while breastfeeding (in Norwegian). The best thing is for the baby to get breastmilk for their entire first year of life and ideally also during the second year of life.
If, for various reasons, the baby cannot be given breastmilk or requires more milk than you can produce, you need to give the baby infant formula. Regular infant formula is made from cow’s milk. There is also infant formula available that is made from soy milk. If soy-based infant formula is not available when the baby needs it, you need to give your baby infant formula made from cow’s milk.
Soy-based infant formula can be used for babies from vegan families, but such infant formula must not be given to premature babies. In rare cases, soy-based infant formula has been found to trigger soy allergies in babies at risk. This is why you cannot buy soy-based infant formula at Norwegian pharmacies.
Infant formula (made from cow’s milk or soy) has a nutrient composition that has been adapted to the needs of the baby. Infants must not be given homemade infant formula made from plant-based drinks or other products.
Infants that require more milk than breastmilk must be given infant formula. They must not be given soy milk, oat milk, almond milk, rice milk or other plant-based drinks. If infants are given such drinks instead of breastmilk or infant formula, the baby could become severely malnourished, become very ill or die.
From around six months of age, the baby will need other food in addition to breastmilk or infant formula.
Recommended daily intake of key nutrients for infants
- Vitamin D: 10 micrograms
- Vitamin B12: 0.5 micrograms
- Iodine: 50 micrograms
- Omega 3 fatty acid, DHA: 100 milligrams
A lack of one or more nutrients can lead to serious and long-term consequences in a baby’s development. This includes the development of the brain and nervous system. It is therefore necessary to provide some vitamin and mineral supplements. For further details about nutrients, please see the national professional guidelines for infant nutrition (helsedirektoratet.no, in Norwegian).
Key vitamins and minerals
All breastfed infants should be given a vitamin D supplement. If your baby breastfeeds and you have a vegan or vegetarian diet, the baby may also need vitamin B12 and iodine supplements. There are few sources of vitamin B12 and iodine in a plant-based diet. It can therefore be difficult to get enough without taking dietary supplements or using enriched products. If you get too little of these nutrients, the contents of your breastmilk will not be enough to cover your baby’s needs.
It is sufficient to give your baby a vitamin D supplement if you regularly take a multivitamin (multivitamin and mineral supplement) over time. The supplement needs to contain vitamin B12 and iodine. You also need to regularly check your B12 status (via blood tests). This only applies as long as you are exclusively breastfeeding or as long as your baby gets a lot of breastmilk.
If you breastfeed but have not taken a daily multivitamin (containing vitamin B12 and iodine) regularly over time, you should make sure that your baby gets a supplement containing vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iodine. Such supplements can be given from around one week of age. There is a liquid vegan multivitamin available specifically intended for infants (OVEG Mini. This can be ordered online).
As the baby begins to eat solids, breastmilk will become a gradually less important source of nutrients. It is recommended that babies that primarily eat a vegan diet be given a liquid multivitamin containing vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iodine as a minimum.
Omega 3 fatty acid, DHA
Breastmilk contains a lot of the long-chain Omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is important to the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. The Omega 3 content in breastmilk can be increased by taking an algae oil supplement (vegetable-based Omega 3).
When your baby has turned six months of age and starts to have more solids and less breastmilk, the baby should consume around 100 milligrams of the Omega 3 fatty acid, DHA per day. This can be given in the form of vegetable-based omega 3 (algae oil). Algae oil is available as a liquid or as capsules. Capsules can be purchased at the pharmacy.
Babies that are given infant formula only (soy-based or cow’s milk) do not need dietary supplements. Infant formula has been designed to meet the needs of infants and contains all nutrients the baby requires, including Omega 3. Babies that get some breastmilk and some infant formula may need a dietary supplement, depending on the amount of breastmilk they get.
When your baby is around six months old, other food will be gradually introduced alongside breastmilk or infant formula (in Norwegian). A natural start can be to introduce thin porridge, mashed potatoes or vegetables that can be mixed with breastmilk or infant formula. The diet of young babies should be based around foods with high energy, protein, vitamin and mineral content.
Porridge can be made from any grain, but it is important that you use wholegrain flour. Millet and oat flour contain a lot of iron, which the baby needs. If you choose to make homemade porridge from scratch, it is important to use iron-rich grains. Soften the grains or flour for at least an hour before cooking (or overnight) to break down the phytic acid in the flour, which can inhibit iron absorption. Serve fruits, juice or vegetables containing vitamin C together with the porridge to increase iron absorption.
Dinner should include foods that are good sources of protein and iron. This could include:
- Well-cooked beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas (legumes)
- Soy products (such as tofu)
- Natural rice
- Plant oils (such as rapeseed oil, olive oil and walnut oil)
Be careful adding salt and sugar for young babies.
Bread can be introduced when the baby is able to chew pieces of bread. Use wholemeal bread with soft plant margarine and/or spreadable toppings. Vegetable toppings that can be suitable for children include:
- Mashed avocado
- Nut butters
- Almond and sesame tofu
- Soy cheese
- Vegetarian pâté, bean pâté and lentil pâté
For babies with a lactovegetarian or lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, cheese and egg can be good sources of energy and nutrients.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit makes a great dessert, snack and supplement to other food. Fruit and vegetables contain relatively little energy (calories) and fill up small stomachs. It is therefore important to make sure that young babies do not eat too much fruit and vegetables, as they will take up space from other important foods such as wholegrain products, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Plant-based drinks and rice cakes
From the end of the baby’s first year of life (around the age of 10 months), some plant-based drinks can be used in cooking. You can start to give your baby some plant-based yogurt (limited to around 0.5 dl per day until they turn one year of age).
Rice-based drinks (and rice cakes) should not be given daily to children under the age of six, as these products contain a relatively high level of inorganic arsenic, an element that can have a negative impact on health.
Growth and development
In order to grow and develop optimally, children require adequate energy and nutrients from their diet. Strict unilateral diets should not be given to children.
Breastmilk or infant formula will also provide your baby with an important nutrient supplement after the age of one. After the baby turns one year of age, they can gradually transition to the family diet.
Some studies may indicate that children who eat a vegan diet grow more slowly. Keep a careful eye on your child’s weight development. If weight gain is too slow, you should make sure that the baby receives more breastmilk or infant formula, more meals and more fat in their diet.
Excess weight is less common in children who eat a vegan diet.