Vegan or vegetarian diet and breast milk composition - a systematic review

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2021;61(7):1081-1098. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1753650. Epub 2020 Apr 22.


It is known that nutritional composition of breast milk is, to a certain extent, related to maternal diet. The question of nutritional adequacy of mothers' milk is often raised whenever a vegetarian or vegan diet during the lactation process is concerned. For this reason, in some countries, the recruitment of vegan lactating women as milk donors is excluded by milk banks. The purpose of this systematic review is to summarize existing knowledge on variability of specific nutrients in breastmilk of mothers adhering to a plant-based diet. The databases, including MEDLINE (Pubmed) and Scopus, were used to identify relevant publications. Data extraction and analysis were conducted following a PRISMA protocol. Thirteen publications concerning the impact of dietary pattern and levels of animal-origin food intake on breast milk composition were included. The systematic review has shown that all non-vegetarian, vegetarian and vegan mothers produce breast milk of comparable nutritional value. Several differences are primarily attributed to fatty acids and some micro-components, primarily vitamin B12. Regardless of dietary choices, nourishment and adequate nutrition have a significant impact on human milk composition - on the basis of the current evidence, vegetarian and vegan mothers are capable of producing nutritionally valuable milk for their infants, as far as the appropriate supplementation compensating for breastfeeding mother's nutritional requirements is provided. Dietary choices should not be a permanent exclusion criterion for donor candidates in human milk banks.

Keywords: Lactation; human milk; milk banks; nutrients; plant-based diet.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Feeding
  • Diet
  • Diet, Vegan
  • Diet, Vegetarian
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lactation
  • Milk, Human*
  • Vegans*