We’ve talked before about the importance of nutrition in your postpartum period. But mamas who don’t eat meat are a whole other kettle of, uh, legumes.
Without eating animal products, it can be tough to ensure you’re getting the right nutrients your body needs to heal, produce quality breast milk and deal with the rude shock of motherhood (with the accompanying sleep deprivation, stress etc.).
In this guide, we’ll outline key considerations and options for vegan moms, discussing what to include in your postpartum diet and the best vegan postpartum recipes to have on hand.
Is it healthy? Vegan food in your postpartum
It can be, yes. When done right.
Some medical professionals may warn you off a vegan diet during pregnancy or postpartum due to the increase in nutrients your body requires. But the American Dietetic Association says that, when well planned, eating meat-free can be “appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
The key is to plan ahead.
That might mean slightly adjusting your diet to ensure you’re getting the right kinds of plant-based foods. Or, you might ask your doctor to prescribe some vitamin supplements to top you up on the nutrients a vegan diet is short on. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that women who don’t consume animal products have limited amounts of B12 in their bodies – which isn’t great. It can lead to neurological damage in breastfed babies, who rely on their moms’ milk being nutritionally fortified.
So the moral of the story is: Plan ahead and decide with your care team what healthy vegan foods and nutritional supplements you’ll need in your postpartum diet. Preparation is best for you and your baby.
Postpartum nutrition considerations for different types of vegan diets
As you probably know, there’s more than one way to eat meat-free. You may choose to avoid any form of animal product, or you might cut out a few. You might even adopt a particular type of vegan diet just for during your postpartum period.
Here are some of the variations in vegan diets, and what they mean for postpartum nutrition.
This is when you don’t eat meat or fish, but you do eat eggs and dairy products. You’ll likely get sufficient vitamin B12, calcium and protein from a diet like this. You may not need any additional dietary supplements, but always discuss with your doctor anyway.
This is when you do eat dairy products, but not meat, seafood or eggs. Again, you may get sufficient calories and nutrients from this type of diet but it’s worth checking in with a doctor.
This is when you do eat eggs, but not meat or dairy. Eggs are packed with a bunch of amazing nutrients, but it’s always worth chatting to your healthcare provider about what else you may need in your postpartum diet.
This is when you follow a mostly meat-free diet, but bend the rules occasionally. Depending on how much meat and dairy you consume, you may or may not need additional supplements.
This is when you don’t eat meat but DO eat fish. You can get vital nutrients, protein and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, but may require additional iron supplementation for postpartum. Talk to your doctor anyway!
A diet fully committed to vegan nutrition means you don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs. While a vegan diet can be healthy, it’s difficult to get certain nutrients that others will get from animal products, so your doctor may advise increasing your intake of certain foods, or taking supplements.
Why postpartum food choices matter
You’re probably aware of how important it is to get sufficient nutrition while you’re pregnant. But the same goes for when you’re recovering from birth (physically and emotionally), as well as supporting a newborn with feeding and sleep. While you’ve birthed this baby now, they still require so much of you and your body (particularly if you’re breastfeeding).
Making the right vegan nutrition choices can help with healing and repair, overcoming postpartum depletion, supporting your mental health, and boosting your energy. It will also directly affect the nutritional content of your breast milk.
So what do you need to think about?
How much you should eat
Breastfeeding moms need to include more calories in their postpartum diet – around 330 to 400 kcal per day, according to the CDC. This amount may differ depending on how much you’re breastfeeding, your BMI, and your level of activity.
Nutrients you need (and where to find them)
If you’re wondering about the best postpartum foods to stock up on, look no further. Here’s what your body needs, and which healthy vegan foods contain it.
- Legumes, (e.g. beans, peas, lentils)
- Dark green vegetables
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread.
- Sesame seeds
- Plant-based milks fortified with calcium.
- Soy milk with added B12
- Fermented foods like soy sauce, miso, tempeh
(Sidenote on the B12: These foods generally contain only a small amount of B12. We don’t know how much spirulina you can stomach, but it may be best to get advice on additional supplementation.)
- Most shop-bought bread contains added iodine (check the labels)
- A supplement may be the best source of iodine for postpartum moms on a vegan diet.
How your postpartum diet affects breast milk
What you eat in the postpartum period can directly affect your baby’s growth and development when you’re breastfeeding. Nutrients and fats in your postpartum food are passed into your breast milk, and therefore into your growing bub.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes the importance of including enough DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) in your postpartum diet, as this assists neurological development. Breastfeeding moms generally get this from consuming fish, so vegans need to find another way to ensure they consume enough DHA (perhaps a supplement or – get this – chia seeds!).
What’s more, a lack of nutrition can affect your breast milk supply, while certain foods (known as galactagogues), may boost your milk production.
Our fave vegan postpartum meals
A great way to plan ahead for your postpartum is to meal prep, or at least bookmark some breastfeeding snack ideas and easy vegan postpartum recipes for quick reference. Better yet – do yourself a favor, and get a friend, family member or postpartum doula to support you by cooking some meals for you.
If you need somewhere to start, here are a few of our go-to vegan postpartum recipes.
Breakfast vegan postpartum meals
Protein-packed oats, chia seeds to provide omega-3 fatty acids, and tasty, healthy fruit – yay!
You’ll benefit from fiber in the dates (to help your poor postpartum body poop), and nutrients from the fruit. Consume as a smoothie, or add granola to get really fancy.
Lunch and dinner vegan postpartum meals
Warming soups and stews are considered one of the best postpartum foods. You can add pasta, quinoa or brown rice to this one to bulk up your protein and calorie intake.
Golden Red Lentil Dal
This tasty dish is comforting, filling, and packed with lentils for protein, fiber and iron.