04/04/11 Children Who are on a Balanced Vegan Diet are Both Healthy and Well-Developed
Animal Friends is reacting to the media hype surrounding the death of a baby whose parents are vegans
The media has recently covered the conviction of a French couple whose 11-month-old daughter died of malnutrition. The mother had been feeding the child only mother's milk, which resulted in a deficiency in vitamins essential to a child's health and development, a stunted weight-gain rate, and finally, the death of the child.
When parents are ill-informed, that is, when they are uneducated in infant nutrition, and do not choose to pay attention to medical advice, their child's health is at risk, regardless of the parents' choice of diet. In this case, the parents are vegans.
Pediatricians and nutritionists can also be uneducated and ill-informed, which presents a great problem when they try to discourage vegetarians and vegans from their choice of diet and push them to feed themselves and their children with animal-based products. This course of action does not help solve the possible misbalance in nutrients a vegetarian might have. It is exactly these experts, pediatricians and nutritionists, that should make it their task to instruct vegan and vegetarian parents on how to adequately combine plant-based food stuffs - which are a rich source of all nutrients needed.
Infant nutrition specialists recommend that all children should start ingesting solid foods with their milk by the time they are six months old. The baby that died only had her mother's milk, and her diet was low on calories. Aside from that, it seems her mother did not ingest sufficient amounts of the vitamin B12.
The child's death was not a result of a vegan diet, or breastfeeding - both is highly beneficial to a child's health. The tragedy was a result of complete ignorance of infant nutrition on the parents' side.
Therefore, the problem is not a vegan diet; the problem is based on not knowing anything on infant nutritional needs. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have produced a very detailed and exhaustive study (the last additions to it were made in June 2009), in which they came to the conclusion that a "well planned vegan, or other types of vegetarian diets, are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence." Further on, the study states that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." A world renowned pediatrician, MD Benjamin Spock, in his book Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, recommends a vegan diet as being a completely adequate choice for keeping a child healthy.
The recommendations for feeding a child, regardless of dietary orientation, are clear and simple. Babies need just mother's milk, or a replacement formula, until they are six months old - at the most. It is recommended to add vitamin D to all diets for babies. When a baby is at least four months old, it might need additional iron in their food. The first solid foods are usually mashed grains and fruit and vegetable purees. After the baby is 7-month-old, it should ingest foods that contain more proteins. In vegan families an adequate choice is legume-based puree or a tofu-based porridge.
The only additional need of vegan children is a B12 vitamin supplement. Mothers that breast-feed need to take sufficient amounts of the vitamin, whether from food or food supplements. Keeping this in mind, and also, minding the child’s individual appetite, children who are solely on a vegetarian/vegan diet develop just as well and are just as healthy as are children on a mixed-diet-regime.
Caring for the health and development of a child is based on responsibility, information, and cooperation with a medical professional that oversees a child's development. Therefore, it is very important that media coverage and parents' education stresses the necessity of feeding a child a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, in accordance with a child's needs, and regardless of the dietary choices of the family. The proof to that are vegan parents in Croatia, whose children are healthy and are developing just as well as their mix-diet peers are.