With growing awareness about vegan living – the animal suffering aspect, as well as the environmental and health benefits – India has witnessed a considerable rise in the number of vegans. Quite a lot of these vegans have reversed diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and asthma through their avoidance of animal products. Hence, being vegan throughout a pregnancy and raising a kid vegan are viewed by increasingly many as not just ethical choices, but also healthy ones for themselves and their kids.
Tanmeiyi, a director at a media firm, is a longtime vegan who had a vegan home delivery. “I never had any of those commonly expected ailments that most pregnant women do. After delivery, I bounced back to my pre-baby weight within just a month or two!” she recounts. As the mother of a 5 year old vegan-since-birth, she has never had a sleepless night. “Other than a sniffle and a cough during extreme cold months, there have only been two fevers in the last 5 years. No stomach bugs, ear infections, etc. that a lot of kids come down with. And, I was able to breastfeed for 2.5 years,” she adds.
My own pregnancy was vegan too, and so is my son. Having already been ethically vegan for a few years, there was no doubt that my pregnancy too was going to be free of animal use. I am very glad to be yet another person to have shattered many nutritional myths about veganism during this period. I gained 18 kgs; my son was born with 3.75 kgs of weight; I could avoid calcium supplements (barring last 15 days); I had a completely natural delivery without any stitches; I never had to buy a new pair of pants as I lost all my pregnancy weight within first 3 months!
I have been breastfeeding my 15 month old Shaurya (again without any supplements). Other than a few incidents of runny nose due to travelling (which healed naturally in two days), Shaurya hasn’t had any other health issues like fever, ear infection, or even loose motions or constipation. This has reinforced my belief that vegan living is the way forward for the sake of human animals too.
Mumbai based entrepreneur Rita Theobald had been a vegan for more than a decade before she went for her vegan pregnancy at 39. “Even at that age I was able to have a complication-free birth and even go low on supplements, thanks to my healthy vegan lifestyle. My friends were surprised that I was able to breastfeed my son with ease till he was 3 years old. My son, who is 12 years old today, has always been very healthy. We’ve rarely had to visit doctors except for injuries,” recalls Rita.
Tanmeiyi and Rita are a part of an emerging trend of vegan pregnancies and kids. Ever since I wrote about my experience of a vegan pregnancy and childbirth, I have been getting a steady stream of queries from pregnant women and mothers who are planning to raise their children vegan. I have also been contacted by those who have been successful in doing so. Healthy weight-gain followed by a quick weight loss within 3 months of delivery, and heightened immunity levels for the baby were the most common benefits for all the vegan parents I have talked to so far.
Vidya Rao, who started exploring vegan living to help with her 4-year-old son’s trouble with eczema says, “My son’s immunity has improved exponentially. His wheezing and eczema have gone completely, and he doesn’t fall ill often like he used to. Having observed this, I decided to have my second pregnancy vegan. It was pretty smooth; I was fit and fine throughout and post-delivery. My 4 months old daughter is doing quite well and I plan to raise her vegan too.”
Bangalore based Swapnali Sinha, the mother of a 2.5 months old baby, also agrees with Vidya. She narrates the tremendous benefits of being vegan by comparing her first non-vegan pregnancy with the second vegan one, “I felt my fertility increased after going vegan, as it had taken me a year to conceive my first child, which was not the case for the second time. I could also reverse the gestational diabetes that I had got during my first pregnancy, and never got it back during my second (vegan) pregnancy. The best thing was that I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight just in 12 days post-delivery!”
Parag Chaurasia (an IIT-Bombay graduated software engineer) and his wife Aditi mention that their son, who was birthed through a vegan pregnancy, has “thrived” on an animal-free lifestyle. Harshika Gudi, a singer and a lecturer living in Hyderabad, is in the 7th month of her vegan pregnancy. “It has been going smoothly, without any complications. My OB-gyn has been very supportive, and never spoke of any extra calcium to be taken,” she points out enthusiastically.
There are also many parents who have adopted veganism after their kids were born. When Hyderabad based Mahalaxmi decided to raise her 5-year-old daughter, Prabha (now 7 years), as a vegan, she saw it as an investment in her health. Business woman Rekha’s case is a little different. While the health benefits of vegan food appealed to Rekha, her then 10-year ]-old daughter Varenya was inspired by the ethical aspect. “Her tooth ache disappeared after quitting milk,” says Rekha, who herself was able to cure her asthma by going vegan.
Despite being drawn to veganism because of the health aspect, Rekha, Mahalakshmi and most others are fully vegan, consuming no animal products in clothing and other spheres of life either.
Busting the vegan myth
A misleading, fallacious attempt was made sometime back, linking vegan living to a couple of cases of infant death. These cases, whose facts have been distorted, were actually clear-cut cases of parental neglect. In one case, the mother refused to go for medical care when the baby was severely ill. In the other case, instead of feeding breast milk or a soy-based formula, a six-week old was only fed soy milk and apple juice! The deaths had nothing to do with veganism. If a parent (who happens to be vegan) raises her/his child irresponsibly, how can veganism be blamed for it?
There have been numerous deaths where children belonging to non-vegan parents have died because of their dietary intake. Yet, no article attributing those to animal products has appeared, despite the well-known fact that the cholesterol, saturated fat, and foreign hormones that animal products abundantly contain are undisputed health hazards! The contradiction here is unmistakable: When two vegan kids died, veganism was blamed. When loads of non-vegan kids die, it’s attributed simply to bad luck! For a detailed analysis of these cases, please read this thorough article by Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.
It should also be noted that renowned paediatricians like Dr. Benjamin Spock and Dr. Jay Gordon not only approve of, but also encourage —vegan food for mothers and children. Now, let me debunk some of the nutrition-related myths surrounding vegan birthing and child rearing:
Myth #1 – Protein intake
If you consume enough calories (and all well-to-do people do), you are bound to get enough protein. That’s why protein deficiencies are predominantly found in malnourished people. In fact, excess protein often leads to serious harm. There are also plenty of protein-rich plant foods: all pulses (dal), soy products, all legumes [peas like chana, beans such as rajma, etc.], almonds and other nuts, seeds, and more.
Myth #2 – Vegan breastfeeding mothers/kids need supplements for vitamin B12
Today, most of the population – including meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans – is deficient in Vitamin B12, because of our ultra-hygienic urban lifestyle. Most non-vegan mothers take supplements for vitamin B12 (and even vitamin D). So, it makes no sense to single out vegans. In fact, with proper supplementation of B12, a vegan breastfeeding mother’s milk is of superior quality, as it doesn’t contain any foreign protein found in cow’s milk, that is known to cause CMPA (Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy) in babies.
Myth #3 – Vegan kids need vitamin D supplements
It’s well-known that most people who aren’t in the sun for long enough are deficient in Vitamin D, regardless of being non-vegan or vegan. A small survey of kids in any Indian city is bound to show that most kids today are deficient in Vitamin D. The American Academy of Paediatrics, in fact, warns against it, and suggests proper supplementation for all kids, irrespective of their diets. So, here again, there’s no ground to blame plant-based food.
Myth #4 – Iron deficiency
There are several studies which unequivocally show that cow’s milk consumption is strongly linked to anaemia in children below 2 years. Moreover, nearly all non-vegetarian and vegetarian pregnant/lactating mothers today are on iron supplements. Iron deficiency cannot occur owing to being vegan, since there exist plenty of iron rich plant foods.
Myth #5 – Vegan babies need soy-based infant formula milk
This is an exception that applies only to mothers who are unable to breastfeed their babies. And, many non-vegan families also go for soy milk based formulas, as a lot of kids are diagnosed with CMPA (Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy).