Last update Aug. 29, 2021

Vegetarian Diets

Likely Compatibility

Fairly safe. Mild or unlikely adverse effects. Compatible under certain circumstances. Follow-up recommended. Read Commentary.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Melina 2016), well-planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and can provide benefits for the prevention and treatment of various chronic diseases; they are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation and childhood and are environmentally sustainable.

But they must be “properly planned” (Melina 2016) as there may be difficulties in balancing them without experience and knowledge of nutrition (Brzezińska 2016).

In the vegan diet there is exclusion of meat, eggs, dairy and, sometimes, honey. Vegan mothers’ milk contain low concentrations of Vitamin B12 (Specker 1990).
In practice, many cases of megaloblastic anemia with severe impairment of physical and neurological development (including brain atrophy) in infants breastfed by vegan mothers who were not taking vitamin B12 supplements have been described for years and around the world (Kocaoglu 2014, Guez 2012, Mariani 2009, Roed 2009, Erdeve 2009, Lücke 2007, Baatenburg 2006 and 2005, Codazzi 2005, Wagnon 2005, Reghu 2005, Roschitz 2005, Weiss 2004, CDC 2003, Fogarasi 2001, Smolka 2001, Renault 1999 , Monfort 1993, Kühne 1991, Cheron 1989, Sklar 1986, Lacroix 1981).
Neonatal hypothyroidism has also been reported in infants of vegan mothers (Borak 2005, Shaikh 2003).

Vegetarian women, especially vegans, need regular and adequate sources of vitamin B12 during pregnancy and lactation (Melina 2016, Brzezińska 2016, LM AEP Committee 2012 p.7, Academy N&D 2010). If they are deficient, in addition to treating them, their nursing children should be treated with supplements as well(CDC 2003).

Vegetarian diets are very rich in phytates (Schlemmer 2009). The excess of phytates and dietary fiber hinders the absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium (Haase 2020, Lawrence 2016 p310).
Vegetarian lactating mothers should avoid excess phytate and bran, watch protein, calcium and iron intake, supplement with vitamin D and adequate sunlight, and vitamins B12 and B2. If the vegan mother does not take vitamin B12, the baby must be supplemented (Lawrence 2016 p310).

Infants and milk from vegetarian mothers (and especially from vegans) have lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and higher levels of Linoleic and α-Linolenic than that of omnivorous mothers (Melina 2016, Brzezińska 2016, Sanders 2009 and 1992), with no evidence of adverse effects on their health or cognitive function (Sanders 2009).

There is a higher concentration of selenium in the milk of lacto-ovo-vegetarian mothers than that of non-vegetarians (Debski 1989).

The taurine concentration in plasma and milk of vegan mothers was slightly lower than that of omnivorous mothers (Rana 1986).

The lowest levels of organochlorine contaminants were found in the milk of vegetarian mothers (Norén 1983).

See below the information of these related products:

  • Fytate; Phytate (Fairly safe. Mild or unlikely adverse effects. Compatible under certain circumstances. Follow-up recommended. Read Commentary.)
  • Vitamin B12 Substances (Safe substance and/or breastfeeding is the best option.)

Suggestions made at e-lactancia are done by APILAM team of health professionals, and are based on updated scientific publications. It is not intended to replace the relationship you have with your doctor but to compound it. The pharmaceutical industry contraindicates breastfeeding, mistakenly and without scientific reasons, in most of the drug data sheets.

Jose Maria Paricio, Founder & President of APILAM/e-Lactancia

Your contribution is essential for this service to continue to exist. We need the generosity of people like you who believe in the benefits of breastfeeding.

Thank you for helping to protect and promote breastfeeding.

José María Paricio, founder of e-lactancia.

Other names

Vegetarian Diets is also known as

Vegetarian Diets in other languages or writings:


Vegetarian Diets belongs to this group or family:


  1. Haase H, Ellinger S, Linseisen J, Neuhäuser-Berthold M, Richter M; German Nutrition Society (DGE).. Revised D-A-CH-reference values for the intake of zinc. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2020 Apr 23;61:126536. Abstract Full text (link to original source)
  2. Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Abstract Full text (link to original source)
  3. Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding. A guide for the medical profession. Eighth Edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2016
  4. Brzezińska M, Kucharska A, Sińska B. [Vegetarian diets in the nutrition of pregnant and breastfeeding women]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2016 Abstract
  5. Kocaoglu C, Akin F, Caksen H, Böke SB, Arslan S, Aygün S. Cerebral atrophy in a vitamin B12-deficient infant of a vegetarian mother. J Health Popul Nutr. 2014 Abstract
  6. Guez S, Chiarelli G, Menni F, Salera S, Principi N, Esposito S. Severe vitamin B12 deficiency in an exclusively breastfed 5-month-old Italian infant born to a mother receiving multivitamin supplementation during pregnancy. BMC Pediatr. 2012 Abstract
  7. CLM - Comité de Lactancia Materna de la AEP. Preguntas frecuentes sobre lactancia materna. Folleto. 2012 Full text (link to original source) Full text (in our servers)
  8. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Vegetarian Diets during Lactation. Resources for Consumers. 2010 Full text (link to original source) Full text (in our servers)
  9. Erdeve O, Arsan S, Atasay B, Ileri T, Uysal Z. A breast-fed newborn with megaloblastic anemia-treated with the vitamin B12 supplementation of the mother. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2009 Abstract
  10. Sanders TA. DHA status of vegetarians. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2009 Abstract
  11. Schlemmer U, Frølich W, Prieto RM, Grases F. Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Sep;53 Suppl 2:S330-75. Abstract
  12. Mariani A, Chalies S, Jeziorski E, Ludwig C, Lalande M, Rodière M. [Consequences of exclusive breast-feeding in vegan mother newborn--case report]. Arch Pediatr. 2009 Abstract
  13. Roed C, Skovby F, Lund AM. [Severe vitamin B12 deficiency in infants breastfed by vegans]. Ugeskr Laeger. 2009 Abstract
  14. Lücke T, Korenke GC, Poggenburg I, Bentele KH, Das AM, Hartmann H. [Maternal vitamin B12 deficiency: cause for neurological symptoms in infancy]. Z Geburtshilfe Neonatol. 2007 Abstract
  15. Baatenburg de Jong A, Bekhof J, Zwart P, Langenhorst VJ, Roorda RJ. [Developmental delay in breastfed children due to inadequate diet of the mother]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2006 Abstract
  16. Roschitz B, Plecko B, Huemer M, Biebl A, Foerster H, Sperl W. Nutritional infantile vitamin B12 deficiency: pathobiochemical considerations in seven patients. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2005 Abstract Full text (link to original source) Full text (in our servers)
  17. Codazzi D, Sala F, Parini R, Langer M. Coma and respiratory failure in a child with severe vitamin B(12) deficiency. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2005 Abstract
  18. Wagnon J, Cagnard B, Bridoux-Henno L, Tourtelier Y, Grall JY, Dabadie A. [Breastfeeding and vegan diet]. J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris). 2005 Abstract
  19. Borak J. Neonatal hypothyroidism due to maternal vegan diet. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Abstract
  20. Baatenburg de Jong R, Bekhof J, Roorda R, Zwart P. Severe nutritional vitamin deficiency in a breast-fed infant of a vegan mother. Eur J Pediatr. 2005 Abstract
  21. Reghu A, Hosdurga S, Sandhu B, Spray C. Vitamin B12 deficiency presenting as oedema in infants of vegetarian mothers. Eur J Pediatr. 2005 Abstract
  22. Weiss R, Fogelman Y, Bennett M. Severe vitamin B12 deficiency in an infant associated with a maternal deficiency and a strict vegetarian diet. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2004 Abstract
  23. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).. Neurologic impairment in children associated with maternal dietary deficiency of cobalamin--Georgia, 2001. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2003 Abstract Full text (link to original source) Full text (in our servers)
  24. Shaikh MG, Anderson JM, Hall SK, Jackson MA. Transient neonatal hypothyroidism due to a maternal vegan diet. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Abstract
  25. Rachmel A, Steinberg T, Ashkenazi S, Sela BA. Cobalamin deficiency in a breast-fed infant of a vegetarian mother. Isr Med Assoc J. 2003 Abstract
  26. Fogarasi A, Neuwirth M, Békési A, Bocskai E. [Macrocytic anemia and neurological signs due to vitamin B-12 deficiency in a breast-fed infant of a strict vegetarian mother]. Orv Hetil. 2001 Abstract
  27. Smolka V, Bekárek V, Hlídková E, Bucil J, Mayerová D, Skopková Z, Adam T, Hrubá E, Kozich V, Buriánková L, Saligová J, Buncová M, Zeman J. [Metabolic complications and neurologic manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency in children of vegetarian mothers]. Cas Lek Cesk. 2001 Abstract
  28. Renault F, Verstichel P, Ploussard JP, Costil J. Neuropathy in two cobalamin-deficient breast-fed infants of vegetarian mothers. Muscle Nerve. 1999 Abstract
  29. Monfort-Gouraud M, Bongiorno A, Le Gall MA, Badoual J. [Severe megaloblastic anemia in child breast fed by a vegetarian mother]. Ann Pediatr (Paris). 1993 Abstract
  30. Sanders TA, Reddy S. The influence of a vegetarian diet on the fatty acid composition of human milk and the essential fatty acid status of the infant. J Pediatr. 1992 Abstract
  31. Kühne T, Bubl R, Baumgartner R. Maternal vegan diet causing a serious infantile neurological disorder due to vitamin B12 deficiency. Eur J Pediatr. 1991 Abstract
  32. Specker BL, Black A, Allen L, Morrow F. Vitamin B-12: low milk concentrations are related to low serum concentrations in vegetarian women and to methylmalonic aciduria in their infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Abstract
  33. Cheron G, Girot R, Zittoun J, Mouy R, Schmitz J, Rey J. [Severe megaloblastic anemia in 6-month-old girl breast-fed by a vegetarian mother]. Arch Fr Pediatr. 1989 Abstract
  34. Debski B, Finley DA, Picciano MF, Lönnerdal B, Milner J. Selenium content and glutathione peroxidase activity of milk from vegetarian and nonvegetarian women. J Nutr. 1989 Abstract
  35. Sklar R. Nutritional vitamin B12 deficiency in a breast-fed infant of a vegan-diet mother. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 1986 Abstract
  36. Rana SK, Sanders TA. Taurine concentrations in the diet, plasma, urine and breast milk of vegans compared with omnivores. Br J Nutr. 1986 Abstract
  37. Norén K. Levels of organochlorine contaminants in human milk in relation to the dietary habits of the mothers. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Abstract
  38. Lacroix J, Macher MA, Badoual J, Huault G. [Complication of a vegetarian diet in a breast-fed girl (author's transl)]. Arch Fr Pediatr. 1981 Abstract

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