How to Give Baby Complete Protein w/o Meat

Complete protein, vegetarian nutrition advice for Mom of nine month old baby

Baby Eating

I have been a pesco/ovo-vegetarian for several years. I had my first child  last summer, who is a healthy, thriving nine-month-old now.  It is my  intent to raise her as a pesco/lacto/ovo-vegetarian.

However,  at her nine-month check up, my pediatrician said that she needed to eat meat now, and that there was no exception. He even said she wouldn’t be getting complete nourishment without the complete proteins that were integral to her development right now.  He said that she can eat fish after age one,  but between now and then, she needed to be getting some meat in her diet.

I would never do anything to impede her development. I have been researching complete  proteins, and combining her foods to try and ensure she is getting  complete proteins in every meal.  Can you please let me know if there is a way around feeding her meat, if her health really will be impacted if I don’t feed her meat, and if you have any advice, etc.

Thank you SO much! This is an issue of GREAT concern for me as a new-ish mommy. – R. S.

Savvy Vegetarian Advice:

Hi, R. S.! I’m not sure I understand why your pediatrician says you shouldn’t give your baby fish until after age 1 yr, but that you should give her meat at 9 months! Is he concerned about mercury in fish? Or does he just think that only meat has complete protein? Iron could also be a concern, as there’s little iron in breastmilk.

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Maybe he isn’t aware that eating meat isn’t the only way for infants to get complete protein, besides breast milk. If you’ve breastfed your baby, and are planning to continue past 1 year, that’s one good source of protein, plus all the other nutrients that only breastmilk provides. Vit. B12 is a concern, plus Vit. D, iron, and fats, for vegetarian children.

Your pediatrician also may not know that, according to the most recent research, it isn’t considered necessary for vegetarians to combine foods to get complete protein at every meal. Amino acids are stored in the body, and your body will mix and match over the course of a day to make complete proteins. That may also apply to babies.

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My own 3 children were raised mostly vegetarian. My daughter and many other young women I know have raised healthy children as vegetarians – so I know it can be done pretty easily.  One of my daughters is vegan, and her two children are vegan. They’re healthy kids. But she had to do a bunch of research on vegetarian nutrition and give it to her doctor before he stopped insisting that her baby had to eat meat.

This is just my personal feeling, based on my own experience, but it seems awkward to offer your baby meat if it’s not something that you ever eat yourself. It makes more sense to introduce her to the diet you intend to feed her for the long term. Of course you should make sure that it meets all of her nutritional needs.

Please understand that I’m not a dietitian, nutritionist or any kind of medical professional, so I can’t give you specific dietary recommendations for your baby that go against your pediatrician’s advice.

However, when it comes down to it, you’re the one who is responsible for your baby’s health and well being. It’s a big responsibility, and not one that you can just hand over to a doctor who doesn’t know you or your baby very well, doesn’t know much about nutrition – nothing about vegetarian nutrition, and doesn’t respect your lifestyle choices.

There are some doctors out there who are more knowledgeable and open to different dietary options. And other health professionals like naturopaths or dietitians who could be more helpful to you in making decisions about what to feed your baby.

I highly recommend the vegetarian nutrition bible, ‘Becoming Vegetarian’, by Melina and Davis – they are highly qualified and experienced RDs, specializing in vegetarian and vegan nutrition. Their book has an excellent section on nutrition for vegetarian (and vegan) babies and toddlers, that I think you’d find extremely helpful.

There’s also the book, ‘Simple Natural Baby Food’ by Cathe Olson, which is a very good baby food recipe book.

Medical Disclaimer: Any changes that you make to your diet, and the results of those changes, are your decision and responsibility. Savvy Vegetarian and its employees do not claim to be health care professionals, dietitians, or nutritionists. We do not treat, or recommend treatment, for any illness or health condition.

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6 Responses to “How to Give Baby Complete Protein w/o Meat”

  1. Chris says:

    My mother raised 4 healthy girls as vegetarians from birth, and I have raised 2 of my own. Unless this baby has some unique needs, I would say get a new doctor!

  2. Kal says:

    The paediatrician should be hauled up in front of the state medical review board and censured. What a dumbass !

    Millions of Asian Indians/Hindus raise children as 100% vegetarian from birth. Hundreds of millions of these kids were born into a vegetarian diet and are doing just fine.

    Skip the fish until your child is much older and has done with the vaccinations. There’s enough mercury risk.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Doctors receive very little nutrition training. Most never even crack a nutrition book throughout their training, much less take a course on nutrition. Nurses are required to. Doctors? Nope. Unfortunately, too many people assume because their doctor said something, that they must be right. That just isn’t always the case. If you don’t feel comfortable with advice your doctor has given you, always seek another opinion. When it comes to nutrition, consult a registered dietician.

  4. Jennie says:

    RS – I was raised and lived on a lactro-ovo diet for the past 28 years (never have eaten fish/poultry/meat), the same as my 34 year old brother and it has never ever been an issue with our health.

  5. linda says:

    Egg is complete protein and the “reference protein” when scientists are comparing value of amino acids in foods. So it is considered “”better”” than even red meat.
    In some traditional cultures the babies are weaned onto egg yolks. Those cultures have had plenty of time to observe what works best.

    So if you are giving your baby egg yolk or even milk products such as quark or good farmer cheese, then these are animal proteins and also lot less risky for food poisoning than red meat can be. The good fats in egg and dairy are a plus compared to the suet-type fat of animal meat.

    I would guess the well meaning and concerned medical specialist has remembered only what he was told in medical school and no dietitian would support his comments. Even dietitians are usually more concerned with vegan babies’ nutrition when there is no animal protein(dairy or egg).

    Research has shown that egg yolk is a useful source of iron (Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Jun;75(6):1084-92.).

    As a nutrition person who has brought up four children lacto-vegetarian for their first years I have never queried the adequacy of their food. They were all healthy even without egg.

    If mum, who is breastfeeding, is eating well, including some healthy green leaves – those powerhouses of all good things nutritional- this helps with healthy milk. if baby is eating some green leaves these have amino acids and much nutrition.

    Colloidal minerals replace what is not in our soil these days. There are a lot more minerals than iron and zinc that we need to eat.

    Hope this helps. I suggest even visiting a dietitian who can provide specialist child-nutrition information to the child-disease specialist in a language he will understand. YOu might feel better if you can prove you are providing good food. But it seems a pity if you are pressured or feel bullied and threatened into doing something that has no basis as a true health concern.
    I think wheat is bigger concern these days as so many are becoming celiac with the new wheat varieties.

  6. julie says:

    Dear RS , I have raised three VERY healthy children on a vegetarian diet . My kids are six, five and almost two . They have never eaten meat or fish . They do eat egg and cheese but have never drunk straight cow’s milk – only soy . My main reason for not giving them cow’s milk is the antibiotics and the cruelty issue . I would strongly encourage you to follow a vegetarian diet for your children . Educate yourself and stay plugged in to web sites to stay current . Good luck !

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