The Vegetarian Mother and Baby
You can breast-feed healthily on a vegetarian diet. You can even breast-feed on a vegan diet - after all, cows don't drink milk. If you are breast-feeding, try to keep to a similar diet to that which you had during pregnancy. Any deficiencies in your diet will not affect your milk, as the milk production has first call on the nutrition the mother takes in, but what will happen is that you will lose out. The only exception is that if your diet is very lacking in fat, your milk may be low in fat.In fact, as a vegetarian, your milk will actually be better than that of meat-eaters. According to John Robbins in Diet for a New America, 99 per cent of U.S. mothers' milk contains significant levels of DDT, as against only 8 per cent of vegetarian mothers' milk. There are many reasons to breast-feed. Two of the more well-known facts are that mothers' milk is the perfect food for babies, and that it provides antibodies to help prevent your baby from getting ill, and to help her recover more quickly if she does catch an illness.
Some reasons, however, are less well publicised:
There are two organisations: La Leche League which is dedicated to helping women to breast-feed, and the ICT (Irish Childbirth Trust) which has a broader brief but which is still very interested in promoting breast-feeding. We would strongly recommend that you attend a couple of meetings of one of these organisations towards the end of your pregnancy (the phone numbers of your local branches will be in the telephone directory). Such is the way of our society that few women have ever seen a baby being breast-fed, and seeing other women breast-feeding happily and successfully will give you a great boost.
You can also get information from these organisations on how to breast-feed, and you have the security of knowing that this information is correct (with the best will in the world, medical personnel sometimes do not have the correct information, and different staff shifts can often bring downright conflicting information). Also, if you need help with establishing breast-feeding it's nicer to contact someone you have already met, although both organisations have breast-feeding councellors who will be only too happy to help you, even if they haven't met you before.
Speaking of needing help, don't be fooled into thinking that just because breast-feeding is natural it will come easily straightaway. It may, but it may take a little while to get right. It's a skill, and like any other skill it may take time to achieve it - especially since, if it's your first baby, there are two novices involved trying to pick up this new skill. Usually, after four to six weeks you will be breast-feeding successfully. If this sounds like a long time please be assured that it passes quickly, and the rewards are worth it. We say this not to put you off, but so that you won't be shocked or discouraged if all doesn't go well straightaway.
We don't intend to give details of how to breast-feed on this site - LLL and
ICT have excellent publications on this, and it's something that's far
easier to show than to describe.