Is it safe to be vegan and breastfeed?

This post is prompted by someone recently telling me how their own Mother had informed them that they need to consume cow's milk in order to make breast milk of their own. I don't know that everyone holds the same, bizarre theory, but actually, a lot of vegan Mums come under criticism for avoiding animal products during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Just to confirm, the NHS and the WHO (World Health Organisation) absolutely support the fact that a healthy plant-based diet is not only suitable, but could be highly beneficial, to pregnant and lactating women, as well as to babies and infants, as long as that diet is well balanced and nutritionally complete.
The WHO, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations state:
"Households should select predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, pulses or legumes, and minimally processed starchy staple foods."
It's worth considering that cow's milk protein allergy (CMPA) is the most common allergy in children and babies. If a breastfeeding Mum consumes dairy, and has a cmpa baby - she'll definitely know about it!
"Before Matilda's cmpa was diagnosed we tried everything, thinking she had really bad colic, then silent reflux. but medication just made her constipated and even more difficult to settle. We saw a chiropractor to see whether she had any birth injuries and the chiropractor suggested I cut out dairy as her symptoms (constant screaming, vomiting, sleeplessness) could be cmpa. We stuck it out for a few weeks and when we went back to the chiropractor after a month she was a completely different baby. I had some dairy again as a bit of a test, and Matilda was obviously in pain that night. So now we're totally dairy free and have been for three months." - Jen, Mum to Matilda, 7 months
Babies are no more designed to drink milk intended for a baby cow than adult humans are, and there's nothing hugely beneficial for them in it.
Most people's concern about dropping dairy is that they'll become calcium deficient, and that their breast milk may therefore be low in calcium. In fact, most dairy-consuming people are already calcium deficient, and studies have shown that the consumption of animal proteins (found in high quantities in dairy products) actually prevent the human body from being able to adequately absorb calcium. So: whilst cow's milk does contain a lot of calcium, it also contains a lot of proteins which prevent your body from being able to access that calcium, leading to a calcium deficiency. The best way to get enough calcium from diet, is to consume lots of vegetables - green leafy veg is a great source, whilst avoiding animal products, so that your body is able to absorb the calcium from the veg.
The belief that what we eat directly effects our breast milk is largely misplaced. It's important to eat a healthy diet whilst breastfeeding, because making milk uses up a huge amount of energy - and you need to be in good health to keep up with the demands that breastfeeding places on your body - but someone who eats a lot of fat, doesn't necessarily make fatty milk, and equally, a high sugar diet for Mum, doesn't necessarily mean more sugar in breast milk for baby. However, many allergens, such as cows milk protein, and egg, can make their way into breast milk and cause a reaction if baby is sensitive to these ingredients.
A vegan diet is an optimally healthy diet, the human body is not designed to consume animal products, in particular, meat and dairy, and people are often in tip top condition when these foods are avoided. As such, the breastfeeding Mum is at her healthiest when she is following a well balanced vegan diet.
All vegans need to supplement their diet with Vitamin B12, and all breastfeeding Mothers, regardless of their diet, need to take a Vitamin D supplement. A complete vegan multi vitamin such as those sold by Holland Barrett are ideal.

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