- Breastfeeding by vegetarian mothers might expose infants to potential health complications, including neurological issues like delays in speech and motor skills.
- Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is essential for maintaining healthy nerve and red blood cells, and for DNA creation. Due to its main sources being animal products, vegetarians are at a higher risk of cobalamin deficiency.
- Deficiency in cobalamin has been linked to cases where children displayed symptoms such as lethargy, failure to thrive, poor speech and motor development, although these symptoms have shown improvement over time with cobalamin supplementation.
- For vegetarians, particularly those who are pregnant or lactating, it’s important to ensure adequate cobalamin intake either through supplements or fortified foods such as cereals, meat substitutes, soy, rice beverages, and nutritional yeast.
Recent findings suggest potential health complications for children breastfed by vegetarian mothers. It is feared that such feeding could expose infants to various neurological issues, including delays in both speech and motor skills.
Investigations into Nutritional Deficiency
Health experts in the United States recently revealed that two children in Georgia exhibiting specific neurological complications were diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiencies in the past year. Both children were breastfed by their vegetarian mothers.
Vitamin B12: Why Is it Important?
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy nerve cells, red blood cells, and is responsible for DNA creation. Predominantly sourced from animal products such as fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products, vegetarians are naturally more susceptible to a deficiency of this essential nutrient.
Such deficiency risks heighten during pregnancy and lactation. As per the research, the most prevalent cause of cobalamin deficiency in infants and young children is maternal absence of this vital nutrient.
The Impact of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
While any damage caused may often be reversible, it isn’t always guaranteed. One instance reported by the CDC involved a young girl who was hospitalized due to lethargy and failure to thrive. Although the girl is improving after taking cobalamin supplements, she still faces developmental delays across different areas.
The second case revolved around a young boy who displayed poor speech and motor development in addition to a ‘failure to thrive’ diagnosis. He was exclusively breastfed by his vegetarian mother for his first nine months. He too, started catching up with his peers after being administered cobalamin supplements. Around six months after starting treatment, the now 4-year-old boy shows improvement but still faces delays in motor and speech skills.
“It appears that both children are recovering fairly well,” says one health official. “Over time their difficulties should resolve, but it’s challenging to predict when such impairments will fully recover.”
Preventing Vitamin B12 Deficiency: What Can Be Done?
For vegetarians, and more specifically those pregnant or lactating, the message is straightforward: regularly take a cobalamin supplement or consume fortified foods. Several food items, including cereals, meat substitutes, soy, rice beverages, and nutritional yeast are fortified with cobalamin. It is necessary to always consult a doctor and read labels to ensure the right intake.