Pediatric nutritionist Marina Chaparro described the dangers of not feeding babies correctly.
She has seen a baby in ketoacidosis, a sign of starvation, due to an almond milk diet.
Diluting baby formula can also lead to lethargy and life-threatening seizures, doctors say.
Pediatric nutritionist Marina Chaparro was working at a Children's hospital in Miami about five years ago when an infant was admitted with symptoms including weight loss and vomiting.
The baby had ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition that occurs when the body starts breaking down fatty acids for energy, releasing ketones and making the blood dangerously acidic.
At first, Chaparro and her physician colleagues, who worked in the pediatric endocrinology unit, thought the baby had type 1 diabetes, a common culprit of ketoacidosis.
But after a slew of tests, the providers learned the baby's condition wasn't caused by diabetes, but by starvation: His mom was feeding him an almond-milk diet, presumably based on medically unsound advice she'd found online.
Chaparro, who now runs her own bilingual children and family nutrition practice, said the story has stuck with her over the years because it illustrates the dangers of medical misinformation — something that's only become more widespread in recent years.
Nut milk isn't a safe substitute for baby formula
While nut milk can be integrated into most toddler's diets, it doesn't have the right nutrients to replace breast milk or formula in babies under 1, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Neither does cow's milk, or other non-dairy milk substitutes.
Baby formula is "really hard to remake, it's really hard to have that balance that food scientists are studying for years," Chaparro said on a webinar hosted by the California Strawberry Commission. "Not to mention the risk of cross-contamination and infection" when making your own formula.
The baby's mom "was doing the best she could," Chaparro, added, and likely thought that because almond milk worked for her, it was good for her baby.
Chaparro said the baby ended up being OK, and was discharged after a few days of being fed with an appropriate formula.
But the experience made Chaparro realize "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," she said. "That's the case I'm like, 'This could be really dangerous.'"
Doctors say that diluting formula can be dangerous as well
Other parents have turned to internet recipes for homemade formulas more recently, in light of the the past year's formula shortages.
Dr. Owais Durrani, an East Texas emergency-room physician, previously talked to Insider about the consequences, like lethargy and seizures, he witnessed firsthand.
In some cases, he said, parents watered down their formulas in an attempt to make them last longer, but that offsets the electrolyte balance, which can lead to low sodium in infants. That, in turn, can shrink babies' blood volume, causing low blood pressure and life-threateningly low levels of circulating oxygen.
"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," he said.
"They're not as resilient as an adult who might be out in the sun for 12 hours and get dehydrated — we'll still be OK for the most part, but for a baby, that's not the case," Durrani added. "Each electrolyte, each component, each mineral in that formula is very important."
In the face of shortages, Durrani recommended parents switch to other available brands, if possible, or ask their pediatrician or local hospital for formula samples.
"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."
Read the original article on Insider