Photo Credit: Andersen Ross/Getty Images
Two vegan parents in France are currently facing up to 30 years in prison for allegedly causing the death of their 11-month-old daughter through "neglect or food deprivation."
Sergine and Joel Le Moaligou's daughter, Louise, weighed just 12.5 pounds and was dead by the time emergency workers arrived at her home after her parents called for help in 2008. An autopsy of the child, who reportedly died of a pneumonia-related illness, revealed deficiencies of vitamin A and B12. Moaligou exclusively breastfed her daughter for the entire 11 months.
Sadly, baby Louise’s case is not unique: In 2004, a six-week-old baby boy in Atlanta died after his vegan parents fed him a diet of soy milk and apple juice.
But don’t blame a vegan diet for these tragedies. It’s entirely possible to “maintain a vegan diet for yourself and your children,” says Ari Brown, pediatrician, AAP spokesperson and author of the Expecting 411 book series -- as long as you pay extra attention to your nutrition.
Because vegans don’t eat meat or dairy products, they must make a concerted effort to get enough vitamin B12, which is only found naturally in animal products. If you’re a breastfeeding vegan mom, take a B12 supplement to keep your levels within normal limits; if you don’t, your B12 levels will drop and your milk may be deficient in B12 as well.
It's also important -- for any parent -- to introduce solids around six months. “Every major medical group endorses solids by six months,” Dr. Brown says. “That’s because by six months, babies need additional nutrients, especially iron and zinc.” Most babies meet their iron-and-zinc requirement with meat, but vegan-friendly iron-fortified cereals will work as well. (Check out these guidelines from the American Dietetic Association.)
Finally, talk to your child's doctor about any nutritional concerns; she can help you develop an eating plan that respects your beliefs and is healthy for you and your baby. She can also track your baby’s growth, so that if your baby is failing to gain weight, changes can be made -- before it’s too late.