A vegan diet can be healthy if planned properly. Dietary planning and monitoring are even more important if parents plan on their baby being vegan. This Australian couple narrowly avoided jail time after causing their baby girl to suffer permanent brain damage from being on a strict vegan diet.
Vegan Baby Suffers Permanent Brain Damage
In August 2018, a father brought his 12 month-old vegan baby girl to a clinic in Australia. The little girl was suffering from open wounds, bruising, rashes, and skin discoloration. She also was experiencing internal bleeding and had blood in her stool. In order to live, she had to be put on life support. (1)
The doctors found that the baby was suffering from severe protein-calorie malnutrition called Kwashiorkor. This is a condition that is most often seen in children who live in famine-stricken countries. She weighed just 13 pounds when she was admitted to the hospital. (1)
After spending one month in the ICU, the child now suffers from permanent cerebral palsy due to malnutrition. (1)
The parents were warned by experts that their child was not getting enough nutrients from their strict vegan diet. They ignored them and when the baby finished breastfeeding, she was given coconut milk, special vegan powders, and fruits. (1)
A maternity nurse was concerned about the little girl’s health and told them in an email that coconut milk was not adequate for a growing baby. The parents refused to listen and instead began skipping appointments. (1)
About a week before the father brought his daughter to the hospital, the baby’s mother sent him a message asking if he could ask their U.S.-based herbal health club consultant about their daughter’s weight loss and “floppy body”. (1) He sent them the following email:
“Hi my 1-year-old has stopped wanting to drink/eat and when she does, it’s not staying down or she starts to cough. What can I do to help her keep it down and allow her to drink? She doesn’t have a temp. She is on a fruit diet. Please help asap.” (1)
Instead of telling him to take her to the hospital, however, the herbalist instructed him to make her a “stomach tea”. Of course, this did not work, and the baby arrived in the hospital a week later near death. (1)
The parents have been charged with negligence causing serious injury, however, the judge did not sentence them to prison time. Instead, Judge Claire Quin ordered that both parents go through mental health treatment and complete 12 months of community service. (1)
The couple has since split up and their now three-year-old daughter is in the custody of her mother. The mother is committed to the health of her little girl and regularly engages with health care practitioners. (1)
Not the First Baby to Suffer
This little girl in Australia is not the first vegan baby to suffer an ill-fate from their parents’ restrictive diet. In 2019 a couple in Cape Cod, Florida were charged with the death of their 18-month-old son from malnutrition due to a vegan diet.
The family ate only raw fruits and vegetables, and the baby’s diet was supplemented with breast milk.
How-To Properly Feed Your Vegan Baby
Naturally, parents who are vegan are going to want to feed their children in a similar way. That being said, a growing baby needs plenty of micronutrients, macronutrients, and calories in order to grow and develop in a healthy way. With hard-working and dedicated parents, this can easily be done.
Here are some guidelines to follow if you want to feed your baby a plant-based diet:
1. Breast Milk
The ideal food for babies is breast milk. If you want to feed your child a plant-based diet, do your best to keep them drinking breast milk for a long time. The typical breastfeeding period is 6 to 12 months, but for plant-based diets longer is preferred. (2)
If for whatever reason breastfeeding is not possible, use an organic, iron-fortified soy-based formula. (2)
2. Soy Milk
When it is time to wean your child, make sure that you are feeding them soy milk that is fortified with vitamin D and B12. Other plant-based milks are not high enough in protein (unless fortified), so stick to soy or look for a protein-fortified product that includes the vitamins already mentioned. (2)
3. Frequent Feeding
As your baby begins to eat solid foods, you will have to feed them more frequently. Their small stomachs will fill up quicker than their caloric needs are met on a plant-based diet. (3)
4. Talk to Your Pediatrician
There are several nutrients that are critical for healthy growth and brain development for young children that vegan diets often lack. (3) These include (4):
- Vitamin B12*
- Vitamin D**
- Vitamin A
- Omega-3 fatty acids (as EPA/DHA)*
*These nutrients are particularly susceptible when it comes to acquiring adequate amounts from a vegan diet.
** Vitamin D is difficult to adequately obtain from any diet, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants should supplement with 400IU daily, starting after the first few days of life .
Read this article to learn more about what foods to feed your vegan baby and when. Talk to your doctor and seek the help of a pediatric dietitian to ensure that your child is meeting the requirements in all of these areas.
If you choose to raise your child as a vegan, this does not make you a bad parent. You do, however, need to do your research and work hard to make sure that your child is getting the nutrients and calories they need to grow and thrive.
You should always follow the advice of a medical professional. Allow them to work with you and your child, and always remember that the health of your child is what is most important.