A Florida mother who follows a strict vegan diet was charged with child neglect after she refused to feed her dehydrated baby with formula that contained animal byproducts and didn’t take him to the hospital immediately, as her pediatrician ordered.
When the mother took her 12-day-old baby boy to the doctor, the pediatrician told her the baby was dehydrated and needed to be supplemented with formula. But after the mother declined to feed the baby the formula provided by the doctor, he told her she should take the baby to the emergency room within an hour. When the mother didn’t check into the hospital, the doctor called child protective services. The mother was arrested, and the baby was removed from her custody.
The baby was being treated for a tongue defect called ankyloglossia, which prevented him from getting the nutrition he needed from breast-feeding, so he had not gained back the weight he had lost after birth, and the doctor was concerned the baby was failing to thrive.
The mother's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, says she did not take the child to the hospital because she had gone to a grocery store to buy soy-based formula and was seeking a second opinion from another doctor. When the baby was removed from her custody and taken to the hospital, doctors gave the baby soy-based formula, as the mother requested, and he gained back the weight he had lost after birth within a few days. However, the baby was placed in protective custody, and the mother had to work through the legal system to have the case dismissed and regain custody of her child, which took five months.
Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears explains that babies lose weight after birth and usually regain it within a week or two, but it is not uncommon for two-week-old babies to need supplemental formula to help them regain the weight. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, soy-milk formula is a safe alternative for providing nutrients and hydration for babies.
Still, OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton says when your doctor tells you to take your child to the emergency room, it indicates an urgent health condition and should be taken seriously.
But, she adds, “I don’t think we should be connecting the dots between vegan and neglect.” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork agrees, saying you don’t become dehydrated because you are vegan.
The Doctors say it's unfortunate the mother and child were separated for five months because of what seemed to be a misunderstanding.
Dr. Travis says the situation shows that doctors need to do a better job of working with their patients.
"As doctors, we should not judge our patients' lifestyle decisions,” he says.