For parents raising vegan babies, finding suitable alternatives to cow’s milk can be a stressful part of the already overwhelming choices they need to make regarding their new kiddos. We know that ensuring vegan infants receive the essential nutrients necessary for their growth and development is paramount, but information can be confusing and even conflicting at times. So here’s a quick summary!
Vegan babies should have breast milk or formula as their main drink for the first year. From 6 months, you can use unsweetened, calcium-fortified plant-based milk in cooking. Avoid soya formula under 6 months. At 12 months, introduce fortified pea or soy milk. Offer water from 6 months in open cups.
HOT OFF THE PRESS:
In the rest of this blog post, I’ll further explore the options available for vegan babies (which I’m using to describe kiddos under the age of one – more on toddlers in other posts to come!), focusing on what they can drink instead of the traditional dairy milk and infant formula.
Before we dive too deep, please note that even though I’m raising two healthy vegan kiddos, I am not a medical professional. This article was written based on evidence from reputable organisations and medical professionals (such as the First Steps Nutrition Trust, Plant-Based Juniors, Dr. Pamela Fergusson and The Children’s Nutritionist), but it isn’t a substitute for medical advice.
Breast milk or formula as the primary milk
Before delving into all the options, it’s essential to establish that breast milk or an appropriate first infant formula should remain the primary source of nutrition throughout the first year of a baby’s life, no matter what the rest of their diet looks like.
The option that is typically advised (and sometimes unhelpfully pushed…) is breastfeeding. Even though solids are typically introduced after six months, breast milk doesn’t lose its importance then. Both mother and baby benefit from breastfeeding for as long as they both desire to continue.
Breastfeeding may not work for some people – like me! In which case an infant formula milk would be recommended. You can read more about my experience with breastfeeding the first time round here. Or you can watch / listen to my experience the second time round below (starting at 42:30):
Homemade vegan baby formula: is it safe?
Certain parents may contemplate crafting homemade vegan baby formula to exert greater control over the ingredients. However, it is vital to approach this undertaking with care… Crafting a balanced and safe homemade formula is a challenging task, and errors could have grave repercussions on your baby’s well-being.
Paediatricians and experts vehemently discourage making/using homemade baby formula as it may lead to nutritional deficits, gastrointestinal issues, or, in severe cases, life-threatening conditions. Commercially available infant formulas are expressly formulated to satisfy the nutritional needs of infants and represent a safer choice.
Store-bought vegan infant formulas
Currently, there is no 100% vegan baby formula available in the UK, as even soya-based formulas may contain ingredients derived from animals.
For instance, SMA WySoy, one of the widely available soya-based formulas in the UK, sources its vitamin D from lanolin from living sheep’s wool. While SMA WySoy derives its essential omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, from algae and fungi, it may not be suitable for babies under six months (more on that below).
Outside the UK, there is a truly vegan formula, Premiriz Infant Formula, produced by the French company Premibio. This formula, based on rice milk, utilizes vegan sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Importing this formula into the UK can be expensive.
However, it’s crucial to note that rice milk should not be given to children under 4 ½ years due to the presence of inorganic arsenic. Research suggests that rice-based formulas contain levels of inorganic arsenic similar to standard infant formula in the UK.
Navigating the soya infant formula controversy
The use of soya infant formula has stirred controversy, especially for infants under six months of age. The British Dietetic Association updated its guidance in 2019 in light of new research findings.
Research from the early 2000s raised concerns about the use of soya formula for extended periods. Studies identified unusual testosterone levels in male marmoset monkeys and an increase in long, heavy periods in adult women who were fed soya formula as babies. As a precaution, the NHS advises against soya infant formula for babies under six months.
Newer research has shown that some parents still opt for soya formula due to perceived future health benefits related to phytoestrogen content. However, a significant review found no evidence of such benefits or a medical need for soya-based infant formula. Thus, some claim that its use should be restricted to exceptional circumstances under dietetic supervision.
However, I’ve only just read about all this now while researching the blog post. We gave SMA WySoy to our second child pretty much from birth and so far (touch wood!) he’s completely fine. The SMA website doesn’t mention the six month thing and only says:
Soya infant formulae are not recommended for preterm babies, those with kidney problems, or those with suspected or confirmed soya allergy, where medical guidance should always be sought.
If you’ve got any doubt, as with all child-related dilemmas, I’d recommend:
- Doing your research (which you’ve started now!)
- Speaking to several medical professionals (as they don’t always agree)
- Trusting your gut to choose what’s best for your child.
Plant-based milk alternatives for cooking
Once your baby reaches six months of age, you can begin incorporating unsweetened, calcium-fortified plant-based milk alternatives into their diet for cooking purposes (making porridge, etc.). Suitable options include soya, nut, oat, coconut, hemp, or pea milk. It’s crucial to confirm that the chosen milk alternative is enriched with calcium to meet your growing infant’s nutritional needs.
Try to avoid sweetened non-dairy milk alternatives, as they may introduce unnecessary sugars into your baby’s diet. We’re now trying to wean our boys off them, so learn from my “mistakes” and try to avoid them in the beginning.
I’d personally recommend an unsweetened soy milk, as it typically contains more protein than other milk alternatives. I like the Alpro soya no sugars, which you can get in most supermarkets here in the UK.
While plant-based milk alternatives can be used in cooking, they should not replace breast milk or formula as the primary milk source during the first year of life.
Transitioning to plant-based milk at 12 months
At 12 months of age, you can begin introducing plant-based milk, such as fortified soy milk as a drink (not just in cooking). You can also incorporate plant-based milk into various recipes, such as smoothies, porridge/oatmeal, and muffins, to diversify your baby’s diet. But more on that in the toddler posts!
Hydration: offering water
From 6 months of age, you can introduce your baby to drinking water from a cup or beaker. It’s best to use cups that are open-topped or have a free-running spout, as this reduces the need for sucking. Sucking drinks from a bottle teat or spout can lead to prolonged contact with teeth, potentially causing dental problems.
Under six months of age, babies may be given small amounts of boiled and cooled water in hot weather. Tap water is suitable for infants over six months.
This post was all about answering: what do vegan babies drink instead of milk?
In summary, as you explore the dietary needs of your vegan baby, remember that breast milk or formula remains the primary source of nutrition during the first year. Plant-based milk alternatives and water can be introduced at appropriate times, ensuring that your baby receives essential nutrients while adhering to a vegan lifestyle. Navigating the dietary choices for your vegan baby can be achieved with care and informed decision-making.
And in case no one told you today: you’re doing a great job! <3