A big concern for many new moms is whether or not their baby is getting enough to eat. The majority of breastfeeding moms do not need to follow a special diet, but sometimes due to religious or dietary practices, changes need to be made to ensure that you are getting enough vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and vitamin D.

Q: How do breastfeeding moms meet their nutritional needs while following a vegetarian diet?

A: Breastfeeding Tips for Vegetarians from Amanda Schantz, clinical dietitian at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center:

First, let’s take a look at the many different types of vegetarians. Vegetarians are generally described as people who do not eat meat. This includes red meat, chicken, and pork. Some vegetarians choose to eat fish and seafood, while others do not.  It is a very individual decision.

Lacto-ovo Vegetarians – People who follow the basic vegetarian diet of no meat, but consume dairy and egg products.

Ovo-vegetarians – Vegetarians who consume eggs, but eat no dairy products.

Note: It is very important to eat foods that contain calcium as part of a healthy balanced diet. Avoiding milk and milk products means you need to find your calcium source elsewhere. It is recommended for breastfeeding women to consume about 1,000 mg a day of calcium.

Some other sources of calcium include:

  • Collard greens: ½ cup is 178mg
  • Black-eyed peas: ½ cup is 185mg
  • Tofu: ½ cup is 253mg
  • Trail mix: 1 cup is 159mg
  • Orange juice: 1 cup is 350mg or 1 medium orange is 65mg
  • Almonds: ¼ cup is 94mg
  • Baked beans: 1 cup is 154mg

Lacto-vegetarians – People who follow the basic vegetarian diet and consume milk but no eggs.

Vegans – People who choose to eat no animal products including chicken, fish, dairy products and eggs.

Note: Vegans are the most likely group to run the risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Since vitamin B12 foods are mostly excluded, vegans may require supplements to meet their nutritional needs.

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, lactating mothers need about 2.8 mcg of vitamin B12 per day.
  • To meet this recommendation may be daunting. For example, a person would have to eat 23 cups of spinach per day to get their recommended intake of B12!
  • One of the only sources of vitamin B12 allowed on the vegan diet is cereal, which is fortified. It is recommended for vegan breastfeeding moms to continue taking their prenatal vitamin or take a regular adult multivitamin containing about 6 mcg of vitamin B12.
  • If you feel that you need additional vitamin B12 supplementation, please discuss this concern with your doctor before taking a supplement.

Sources of Vitamin B12 include:

  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Milk products

Do you have more questions about breastfeeding?

Shady Grove Adventist and Washington Adventist Hospitals provide a full spectrum of services for expectant moms, new parents and babies.

Register for an upcoming breastfeeding class or support group. Also available are a wide range of parent education programs, maternity tours, and infant care courses, to help every member of your family prepare for your new bundle of joy!


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