A pediatric nutritionist and “diabetes educator” based in Miami, Florida, recently recounted a scary story of an infant who had literally been starving because his mother had fed him only almond milk.
Marina Chaparro, a wife and mother who founded Nutrichicos to help spread nutritional awareness in both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities, said she met the unnamed baby boy and his mother about five years ago when the woman brought the boy to the hospital with frightening symptoms, including vomiting and weight loss.
Various emergency medical experts, including Chaparro — who, according to the Nutrichicos website, is “a member of the pediatric endocrinology team at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital” — quickly diagnosed the infant with ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition in which blood becomes dangerously acidic because the body breaks down large amounts of fat tissue that then release ketones into the bloodstream, Insider reported.
A common cause of ketoacidosis is type I diabetes, a condition which Chaparro has herself, so doctors initially considered that the baby boy may have the condition as well. However, various tests indicated that the boy did not have diabetes but was starving from a lack of nutrients. When questioned, the mother told Chaparro and the doctors that she had been feeding him almond milk in lieu of breast milk or formula.
Chaparro does not judge the woman harshly, insisting that she “was doing the best she could.” Chaparro also speculated that the woman likely presumed that since almond milk worked well in her own diet that it should be sufficient for her child as well.
If so, the woman was deeply misguided. The balance of nutrients contained in breast milk, which is replicated as closely as possible in formula, is vital for a baby’s growth and development. No traditional milk — from cows, oats, almonds, or other nuts — is a reasonable substitute for breast milk or formula.
“A formula is essentially regulated as closely as any prescribed medication when it comes to the ingredients in it to make sure a baby’s kidneys are developing, their liver, their electrolytes — everything else is in a very fine balance,” said Dr. Owais Durrani, an emergency room physician from Texas.
With some states still struggling with baby formula shortages, many parents across the country have turned to homemade formula recipes or to diluting formula to make it last longer. However, doctors say that both options can cause serious harm. Durrani claimed that diluted formula upsets the electrolyte balance and could lead to low sodium, and, therefore, low blood pressure and low oxygen in babies. Durrani suggests that parents who are tempted to create their own formula turn to local hospitals or nonprofits instead.
“We’re here to help. We’re not going to turn a hungry baby away from the emergency department. We’ll make sure when that baby’s discharged, there’s some type of plan in place,” Durrani said. “But please don’t use any of those other options because that can lead to life-threatening issues.”
Thankfully, the little boy described in Chaparro’s story made a swift recovery after a few days in the hospital with the proper formula. But Chaparro still fears that others might be swayed by similar medical misinformation. She said she realized just “how deep in our culture these diet messages sometimes come, and we listen to them and we sometimes translate them to our kids and our families.”
“This could be really dangerous,” she added.
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