When my husband Eric and I first started to seriously consider starting a family we had been vegan for about 7 or 8 years. I was well versed in the facts of vegan nutrition as they pertained to normal adults. I knew where to get which nutrients, those that impeded the absorption of others and I had a good handle on how to meet our daily requirements (I challenge you to find a non-vegan so well-educated about the same topics). I had done tons of research over the years because when people discover that we are vegan there are always questions. Questions like, "Where do you get your protein ?" (Soy, legumes, fortified vegan products, grains, nuts, leafy greens, etc.) "Where do you get your iron?" (legumes, molasses, cereals, fortified products, spinach, broccoli, etc.). I don't really like being put in the position of defending myself, but I soon learned that people were mostly just curious.
Anyway, when we really began to think about starting a family of our own I realized that I had never really researched whether or not a vegan diet was healthy for pregnancy or for children. I assumed that it was perfectly healthy, but when I began to think about it I didn't know any vegan children. I wasn't about to go into the process without hard evidence. So, I set out to discover the facts. I spoke with doctors and pediatricians (non-vegan ones to boot) and they all seemed to agree that, done correctly, this diet would be a healthy choice for our family.
7 months pregnant and vegan
So, I became pregnant. I quickly learned that eating for vegan pregnancy was pretty similar to normal vegan eating. I made sure to get more Omega 3-fatty acids (flax and fortified products) for brain development, and lots of iron and calcium. Overall I just kept eating well. I added a vegan pre-natal vitamin to the mix, just for extra assurance. I also added the recommended 300 extra calories a day. With my first pregnancy I maintained a really healthy weight, gaining nearly 20lbs (which my non-vegan doctor praised) and Cordelia was born at 7lbs and in perfect health. I am currently pregnant with our second daughter and am having the same experience.
When Cordelia was a baby she nursed exclusively until she could start incorporating first foods---which are vegan: rice, fruits, veggies. Slowly we began introducing her to our way of eating and it is all she has ever known. With each pediatric check up she has maintained excellent health and weight. She is developing right on track---if not a bit advanced. So I can now say, with some confidence that I can raise a vegan child to be healthy.
Now we are onto a new phase in vegan parenting and this one has me nervous...entering the real world. Currently Cordelia seems to accept when I say, "Oh that cake isn't vegan and we only eat vegan cake (or whatever)." However, we have had instances where people come up and try to give her food...non-vegan food. We have been there to politely decline and she really does seem fine with it. When we attend birthday parties I check with the family and offer to bring some vegan cupcakes and thus far it has been gratefully accepted.
We are on the cusp of needing to give this girl an explanation about her unique diet. She will occasionally proclaim with pride, "I'm a vegan.," but her understanding of that fact is, of course, quite limited. I don't want to confuse her or give her too many disturbing details, so we are mostly just waiting for the questions as they arrive.
The first couple of years of vegan parenting have been a breeze, but now we are in the thick of it...or just getting there. I firmly believe that a vegan diet is the right choice for our family, but rarely are the right choices and the easy choices one and the same. Are you a vegan parent? Do you plan to be? How did/will you present the issue to your child?