A balanced healthy diet is important for any breastfeeding mother (see tip on diet during breastfeeding). The nutrients and vitamins from the mother's diet are passed on through the breast milk to the baby to help strengthen it. It therefore follows that a deficiency of a specific nutrient can create problems for the baby’s development. Especially long-time vegetarians and vegans may be affected by a lack of nutrients.
A vegetarian diet can be very balanced, despite the absence of meat, because it contains products, such as milk and eggs, that are derived from living animals. This enables vegetarians in most cases to get enough of the nutrients they need. However, since more nutrients are required while breastfeeding, vegetarian mothers should make sure they’re getting enough dairy products and protein-rich foods, such as tofu and pulses. They will also need to get enough vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, if necessary in the form of supplements. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreparable damage to the central nervous system. Your doctor will be able to tell you whether you’re at risk of nutrient deficiency and what you should be paying particular attention to.
A vegan diet is free of all foods from animal origins, which also means it provides insufficient amounts of certain vitamins and nutrients. This applies particularly to long-time vegans, who may often be lacking iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc. A vegan diet is therefore not recommended for breastfeeding mothers because it can lead to serious developmental problems for the baby. It can take several years for your body’s reserves to be fully depleted. This means that you may well have enough nutrients during your first pregnancy or breastfeeding period and only experience a deficiency with the second or third pregnancy. If you nevertheless opt to breastfeed while on a vegan diet, it’s important to have your doctor check your diet and to take supplements to make up for any deficiencies.