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Feeding your baby formula ‘alternatives’ could be dangerous

Many adults are making the conscientious effort to follow a plant-based diet, whether for health or ethical reasons or both. But, according to the Pediatrics journal, parents of infants who aren’t keen on feeding their babies cow’s milk should not rely on a diet consisting solely of almond milk — for some scary reasons.

An 11-month-old child in Spain was diagnosed with scurvy, a rare disease which doesn’t crop up often in modern times. Scurvy causes general weakness, anemia, gum disease, and skin hemorrhages, and if untreated can lead to death.

So what happened? Experts focused on the baby’s diet. Instead of breastmilk or traditional formula, the baby was consuming almond beverages and almond flour from 2 1/2 months on. By the time the scurvy diagnosis was made, the child was experiencing leg pain and “pathologic fractures of the femur, irritability, and failure to thrive” as a result of consuming a “vitamin C deficient diet.”

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Although almond milk is generally known as a healthy milk alternative, it loses vitamin C during its preparation process, and if it’s the sole source of nutrition in a baby’s diet, he or she is going to suffer because, as the authors of the study state: “When plant-based beverages are the exclusive diet in the first year of life and not consumed as a supplement to formula or breastfeeding, it can result in severe nutritional problems.”

The scurvy diagnosis has opened up discussion about the safety of baby formula alternatives, and it’s one parents should take seriously.

Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., says almond milk is a good replacement for cow’s milk, but does not have as much protein as cow’s milk — so it’s important to include other protein sources if this beverage is a regular part of a baby’s diet.

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If giving your baby cow’s milk doesn’t mesh with your views or thoughts on health, there are substitutes that experts recommend, but they involve keeping an open mind on all of the options out there and being willing to offer your child a variety of beverages.

“A good replacement for cow’s milk is a combination of other types of milk, including rice milk, almond milk, soy milk,” Fisher says. “Coconut milk does not have a lot of calcium but may be used in combination with other milks.”

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Bottom line: You can raise a healthy child on a plant-based diet, but experts urge that you practice caution during the first year of life and not rely solely on milk substitutes to provide a well-balanced diet. When in doubt, consult your pediatrician or other medical practitioner for advice on how to construct a meal plan for your baby that’s safe.

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