CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Doctors diagnosed an 11-month-old in Spain with a rare disease called scurvy and blame an almond milk-only diet for the cause.
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, according a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Scurvy is caused by a deficiency in vitamin C. Those the highest risk are babies with restricted diets.
"Breast feeding is the optimal nutrition for babies up to one-year-of-age," said Jane Read, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau.
The baby with scurvy drank almond milk exclusively from the time he was two-and-a-half months to 11 months.
"Beginning at birth, the mother's milk has the right amount of nutrition, which is proteins, carbs, minerals, vitamins, and antibodies from the mom that are very important for the baby." Read said. "Babies don't get any immunizations until they are two-months-of-age."
The baby had fractures to his leg, was irritable and failed to thrive.
"Babies need fats to develop their brain and it's very important they have higher amount of fats in them," Read said. "That is one a reason you would't want to go with almond milks and because they didn't have the vitamins and nutrition and it caused brittle bones and issues with the bones."
After three months of treatment with vitamin C replacement therapy, he gradually began to improve.
The report says scurvy is a new and severe complication of improper use of almond drinks for infants.
The report recommended that manufacturers indicate that these beverages are inappropriate for infants who consume a vitamin C–deficient diet.
The issue of plant-based diet without supplements
"A plant-based milk, like almond milk, can be suitable for an adult who is getting the vitamins and nutrition in other ways," Read said. "Whereas, with a child, who's only form of nutrition...is with [breast] milk, they aren't getting those vitamins and nutritional needs like they would be getting from formula. So, they're gonna be lacking. Which is what happened with the baby with the almond milk. That baby was lacking in vitamin C and then it was depleted in the body and then showed up with signs in weakness in the bones."
If your child has dietary restrictions, like a milk allergy, there are non-milk formulas available. There is a soy formula which is another plant-based product but is also has the necessary vitamins and minerals a baby needs.
"Maybe, that baby had a milk allergy, and maybe they tried almond milk instead," Read said. "I'm not sure how available formulas were to that family that was experiencing that problem."
Read said almond milk is easier to digest doesn't have a lot of calories.
Signs something is wrong
Some mothers' milk might not have have as much fat in it as what the baby needs. Read said the best indicator is to check your baby's weight.
"Pediatricians are very good when they're seeing these newborns that they come frequently, for a weight check," Read said. "If they notice there's a problem, and they aren't gaining weight at the recommended amount. Then, they will say, maybe you need to start some formula or some other type of nutrition so we can get that baby's weight up."
Another issue that mothers could face is if the mother's milk is not for some reason sitting well with the baby's digestion. It could cause diarrhea, possibly more spit ups, and more vomiting.
During the first week it is normal for a baby to loose some weight. But, Read said on the second or third week, if the baby doesn't gain weight, or is loosing weight, there might be a problem.
Read said breast feeding babies should eat every two to three hours. Formula feed babies should eat every three to four hours.
"If your baby is sleeping more and is not as alert as the baby should be and time between feeding is greater than the three to four hour timeline then you should notify your physician," Read said.
What's best for baby
Read said breastfeeding is the best to give your baby the most nutrition. It's recommended to breast feed for one year if not longer but at least 6 months with no other foods.
"Because the breast milk is made for a baby, it's our women's bodies produce milk, that's made for the baby and each mother's milk is a little bit different, then it's the least likely to cause problems, if for some reason or another the mom can't actually produce breast milk for her baby, there's formulas she can try."
Read said there are two main formulas categorized by age, Enfamil and Similac. A baby should not be given anything besides breast milk or formula before the first year.
When starting solid foods, Read advised incorporating one food group at a time after the first year to determine allergies.