Dairy-Free and Breastfeeding: How to Meet Your Nutritional Needs

Pregnancy and breastfeeding change your dietary needs, and when you’re dairy-free, you need to be aware of the changes and how best to meet them. From the start, all that babies can tolerate is an easy-to-digest slurry of fluids filled with vital nutrients and other substances. These ingredients promote the rapid growth and development that happens immediately after birth.

The most natural source of this nourishment is mother’s milk or a close replica (such as formula). Milk in some form is a baby’s food for the first four to six months of life. Babies need no other source of calories during this time.

Without a doubt, the very best food for babies through the first six months of life (and longer, if possible) is breast milk. Breast milk holds advantages over other options for several reasons. All pregnant women need to take special care to eat well while they’re expecting.

If you have some special dietary needs but aren’t sure how to deal with them, consider talking with your healthcare provider or a dietitian to get individualized dietary advice. Books are a good source of general information to give you some useful background and help you understand key issues. However, each woman has unique nutritional needs that may differ depending on her medical histories, biology, work and family considerations, and other factors.

It’s critically important to get enough vitamin B12 during pregnancy and when you’re breastfeeding. Vitamin B12 is needed for proper development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. Getting enough vitamin B12 also helps ensure normal formation of red blood cells.

So it’s important to talk with a healthcare provider who’s knowledgeable about your particular circumstances and can counsel you accordingly. For example, if you not only live dairy-free but also live as a vegetarian or vegan, you should make sure you get a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet.

Many women also start their pregnancies with low iron stores. If your iron stores aren’t high enough when you begin your pregnancy, you may put yourself at risk for iron deficiency.

Your blood volume increases by 50 percent during the course of your pregnancy. The extra fluid you carry dilutes your blood and can contribute to anemia if your iron stores aren’t high enough at the outset. Your healthcare provider or dietician can help ensure that your iron stores are high enough.

However, being dairy-free actually is an advantage where iron is concerned. That’s because milk is low in iron. If you don’t drink milk, you’ll likely eat more foods rich in iron, such as cooked greens, beans, kale, cabbage, and broccoli.

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