Recent Developments In Nutrition During Pregnancy And Breast Feeding


A recent report of a symposium on maternal nutrition presented some interesting considerations for vegetarians. The discussions of calcium and vitamin D needs during pregnancy and breast feeding were especially intriguing.

Dr. Ann Prentice, a British nutrition researcher, questioned the conventional wisdom that calcium supplements are necessary during pregnancy, especially for women who do not use dairy products. When she examined the scientific literature, she found little evidence of problems associated with low dietary calcium intakes during pregnancy and breast feeding. She hypothesized that women adapt to low intakes and increased needs by increasing calcium absorption and reducing calcium losses.

Worldwide, recommendations for calcium during pregnancy and breast feeding vary by more than twofold. In part, differences in recommendations among countries are due to differences in actual calcium intakes. There is some evidence that people adapt to lower calcium intakes; so in countries where intakes are generally low, recommendations for calcium may also be lower than in countries with typically higher dietary calcium levels such as the U.S. These differences in recommendations may be relevant for vegans since calcium intakes of vegans tend to be lower than non-vegans.

Dr. Prentice concluded that additional research is needed before women are advised to increase their calcium intake during pregnancy and lactation.

Dr. Bonnie Specker, a researcher who has studied vegetarians, reviewed the recommendations for vitamin D during pregnancy and breast feeding. Vitamin D is obtained mainly from fortified dairy products and from sunlight. Human milk is relatively low in vitamin D; so the vitamin D status of breast-fed infants not receiving vitamin D supplements is mainly influenced by sunlight exposure. Dr. Specker stated that an exclusively breast-fed infant needs 30 minutes per week of sunlight exposure if the infant is wearing only a diaper, or 2 hours per week if fully clothed without a hat. This will vary depending on the season; less vitamin D is produced in the winter. Sunscreen blocks the sun rays which activate vitamin D.

Along with others, Specker concluded that supplemental vitamin D during pregnancy and breast feeding is not necessary if sunlight exposure is adequate. However, she is concerned that it is difficult to define adequate sunlight exposure. She reiterated the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, namely that vitamin D supplementation should be considered for pregnant women who avoid milk, eggs, and fish.

The Vegetarian Resource Group, Inc.


By Reed Mangels

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