Vegetarian mothers may often wonder if they are getting necessary nutrition while breastfeeding their baby. Answering this question properly can be a bit difficult since there are actually a lot of different kinds of vegetarians. For example, ovo-lacto vegetarians will not eat any kind of flesh foods (including fish) but eggs and milk are consumed, while vegans will eat no meat or fish and also no eggs or dairy products.
One of the most important vitamins to pay attention to if you are vegetarian is B12. Without sufficient B12 in your diet, babies may have some serious health issues, including a reduced appetite, slow motor development, weakness or leathargy, and in serious cases even vomiting and developing serious blood problems. Mothers of babies with vitamin B12 deficiency may not actually show these symptoms themselves either.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is of most concern to vegan mothers. Vegetarians who do consume dairy and eggs will likely get the vitamin from these sources, but vegans will not. To get enough B12 in their diet, vegans do have other options such as eating certain fermented foods and certain yeasts. Supplements are another option for some vegans.
Calcium is another concern, especially for vegan mothers or vegetarians who do not consume dairy foods. Fortunately, calcium is available in many vegetable sources, including certain greens like bok choy (227 grams a cup), turnip greens, broccoli, collards and spinach, as well as many nuts (including sesame seeds, Brazil nuts and almonds) and blackstrap molasses. For many of these foods, the calcium provided is actually much higher to what you would find in an equivalent amount of milk.
Some studies have suggested that the breast milk of vegetarian mothers is often low in Vitamin D as well. However, if your baby has frequent sun exposure, supplements will likely be unnecessary. That said, mothers who have dark skin or live in Northern latitudes may still want to talk to their doctors about supplements.
There are many health advantages as well to having a vegetarian diet when breastfeeding, both for you and your child. As long as you make the effort to make sure you receive adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, in the long run your diet will likely be a good health decision for both you and your child.