Earlier this month, a judge in Belgium convicted a couple after their baby died of malnutrition and dehydration.
When seven-month old Lucas died, his organs were half the normal size and without fat around them. He weighed 9.5 lbs. but the average weight for a baby boy of that age is 17 lbs.
The couple, who runs a health food store, had been feeding him a vegetable milk made of oat, buckwheat, rice, and quinoa for four months. Reports say the mother did not produce enough breast milk, and that the baby refused infant formula.
While most news outlets reported that it was an ‘alternative’ diet to blame for the baby’s death, some headlines pointed the finger more specifically at a vegan diet.
Is this media sensationalism or is it true that a vegan diet cannot give a baby what it needs to survive and thrive?
“It’s not the vegan diet that’s the issue,” says Allen. “The issue is that, vegan diet or not, the baby wasn’t being given the right milk – either animal or vegetable. A vegan diet isn’t inherently bad for a child. It’s that the baby didn’t have the right nutrients it needed for its age. The first year of a baby’s life is the time when milk – animal or vegetable — is supposed to be the main source of all the nutrients a baby needs.”
After the age of six months, Allen does suggest that clients offer babies animal products – meats, eggs, fish and dairy – in addition to milk if it meshes with their lifestyle. But, she has worked with clients for whom a vegan diet is important for, say, religious or ethical reasons and helps them to find a way to raise healthy babies.
There are vegan infant formulas, she explains, like soy formula, that are designed specifically to meet a baby’s needs. In other words, the vegan diet is not the issue. It’s about a baby who simply wasn’t being given the proper nutrients within a vegan diet.
“If a baby isn’t taking to an alternative diet and isn’t gaining weight or doing well, he or she needs to be taken to a medical doctor,” Allen says.
So, was the judge correct in convicting the parents in the death of their baby? Yes. If their baby was not receiving breast milk or conventional formula, they should have consulted with a medical professional for advice. It could have saved their baby’s life.