Baby-led weaning is becoming a more common way of introducing solid foods to new eaters, in place of traditional spoon-feeding purees, but are there special considerations when it comes to vegan babes?
Most of us were first introduced to foods in the form of purees as babies – like carrots, peas, and rice cereal – but baby-led weaning is quickly becoming a more accepted way of getting new eaters accustomed to solids.
In short, baby led weaning (BLW) is an alternative method of introducing first foods that skips purees altogether, focuses on age-appropriate finger foods, and allows your babe to decide when he’s ready to wean from breastmilk or formula.
Can I do baby-led weaning if my baby is vegan?
Short answer: yes!
Many parents wonder if baby-led weaning can meet all of the nutritional needs of their baby.
With the added layer of raising your kiddo predominantly plant-based or vegan, you may be extra concerned about meeting his needs. And we totally get it – as parents ourselves, we’ve had many of the same concerns that you might be having.
Rest assured that babies who do BLW are not automatically at a higher risk for nutrient deficiencies when compared to babies who are spoon-fed. Furthermore, the BLISS study found that BLW could provide adequate amounts of protein, fat, and iron when appropriately planned.
In general, it’s true that it does take a little more planning and effort to make sure plant-based babes get all the nutrients they need, and in the amounts they need, it can absolutely be done!
And remember, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that vegetarian and vegan diets are “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Plant-based first foods for baby-led weaning
There are plenty of plant-based foods that are high in the nutrients you may be most concerned about. Note that breastmilk or formula will also provide these nutrients, just not in the full amounts.
Iron is needed for oxygen transport, immunity, and energy production. If your baby doesn’t get enough, he may be at risk for iron deficiency, which can lead to fatigue, slowed weight gain, and poor appetite. Many plants contain compounds called phytates, which can actually inhibit iron absorption, but there are ways around this. Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption, so pairing iron sources with vitamin C foods (e.g. citrus, strawberries, red bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes) is a good idea.
→ Iron RDA for babes = 11 mg
Plant-based sources of iron:
- Hummus (3 Tbsp = 1 mg)
- Tofu (3 oz = 2.5 mg)
- Chickpea pasta (1 oz = 3 mg)
- Quinoa (½ cup = 1.5 mg)
We also recommend that exclusively breastfed babies receive iron-fortified baby cereal regularly during months 6-12, to help ensure that they meet their iron requirements while transitioning to solids. This is especially recommended for plant-based babes, who have higher iron needs. Note that formula-fed babies will receive this additional iron from formula, as it’s already fortified with this nutrient.
Zinc is an essential mineral for making protein and cells, immunity, and enzymatic reactions in the body. Plant-based babies need around 50% more zinc than babies who eat animal products, as zinc foods can also be high in phytates that inhibit their absorption.
→ Zinc RDA for babes = 3 mg
Plant-based sources of zinc:
- Hemp seeds (3 Tbsp = 3 mg)
- Almond paste (3 Tbsp = 1.5 mg)
- Tofu (¼ cup = 1 mg)
Vitamin D is critical for bone formation. It’s made by the skin through sun exposure, but nowadays most people don’t make enough this way (largely due to overuse of sunscreen). Vitamin D can be supplemented and found in certain fortified foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all breastfed babies receive a daily D supplement, while fully formula-fed babies can typically meet their needs from formula. While vegetarian babies can meet their needs with milk and eggs, vegan babes will likely need to continue a supplement in addition to fortified foods once fully weaned.
→ Vitamin D RDA for babes = 400 IU
Plant-based sources of vitamin D:
- Vitamin D2 supplements or vegan-friendly vitamin D3 supplements
- Fortified soymilk (1 cup = 108 IU)
DHA is an omega-3 fat needed for baby’s brain and eye development. It can be found in certain foods, but the body can also convert some ALA (a plant-based omega-3 fat) into DHA (though this process isn’t very efficient). We suggest giving your baby ALA foods regularly, as well as DHA supplementation (which comes in both fish and algae forms).
→ Omega-3 recommendations for babes: DHA = 100-150 mg or ALA = 300-500 mg
Plant-based sources of ALA:
- Ground flax seed (1 Tbsp = 1.6 g)
- Flaxseed oil (1 tsp = 2.5 g)
- Chia seeds (1 oz = 5 g)
Where can I find more information on baby-led weaning for vegans?
We realize that this topic comes with a lot of questions that can’t be covered in one blog post. We want you to feel prepared and comfortable should you choose to do BLW with your children.
That’s why we put together an Ebook specifically for this reason!
It’s called First Bites: The Definitive Guide to Baby-Led Weaning for Plant-Based Babies.
First Bites will guide you in guiding baby toward a happy, healthy relationship with food. We provide you with a comprehensive guide to starting solids and answer all of the questions you may have along the way – from the first bite and beyond. We hope you’ll check it out and find it useful in your BLW journey.
Other questions? Let us know below!
Hi! Bought the book and love it. Thanks! One questions regarding allergies and vegans: as we won’t introduce dairy or other non vegan foods, what happens with the allergy risk?? I’m thinking we might just have to expose the baby at least once??
Research shows repeated exposure is required to reduce risk. We recommend vegan parents consider using a product like Ready, Set, Food to expose babies if they are considered. It is made from dairy and eggs but maybe be a more favorable option for some families: https://readysetfood.com/?rfsn=2040642.c6ddb
How much is too much soy in a week? Or too often? My baby and I are having it, 2-4X a week..
Hi Nic, that’s great! We recommend 4 servings max a day.
My baby girl is 7 mo and fully BF. BLW is a very slow process and she doesn’t eat a whole lot. Should I be worrying about Zinc, Iron etc levels this early on as I highly doubt she’s getting anywhere near enough through her food intake (and we won’t force her to eat if she doesn’t want too). She’s gradually getting more curious, but for now food seems like it’s more for fun. Thoughts?
Zinc is likely fine; the one nutrient we are more concerned with in older infants is iron if they are fully BF. We’d recommend discussing this with your Pediatrician– if you feel like she isn’t getting enough through food, you may want to consider iron supplementation to help.