Homemade Baby Formula Leads to Vitamin D-Deficient Rickets

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In their Notes from the Field newsletter, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) reported three emergency room cases involving infants diagnosed with severe hypocalcemia and vitamin D-deficient rickets on Aug. 20, 2021. The babies’ diet included homemade formula similar to recipes for Vegan Raw Baby Formula found on the internet.

The infants — 4, 5, and 9 months old — were treated at separate hospitals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware between August 2020 and February 2021. Parents reported feeding their infants homemade formula intended to maintain healthy alkaline levels with the primary ingredients coconut milk and sea moss; two of the babies’ formulas also included hemp seed oil/hearts, dates, and alkaline water.

Case 1, on January 29, a 4-month-old male was brought into the emergency department after experiencing respiratory distress and became unresponsive at home. Emergency responders found him to be pale, lethargic, tachycardic, and hypoxic; his oxygen saturation was 80 percent [normal ≥95].

formulaHe was taken to the hospital; en route, the infant suffered several episodes of bradycardia (slower than normal heart rate) and cardiac arrest despite being intubated. Once he was resuscitated, brain scans revealed he had a hypoxic brain injury from lack of oxygen, and lab results indicated the infant had profound electrolyte abnormalities. In addition, radiographs showed bone demineralization and other irregularities consistent with rickets. His parents claim he was on the homemade formula for about a month.

Case 2, on January 26, another baby boy, 5 months old, was seen in the emergency department after an episode of extremity stiffening, cyanosis from lack of oxygen, and briefly quit breathing. Lab results showed that his serum calcium was half of what a baby should have, and his radiographs revealed evidence of rickets. His parents said he had been drinking the homemade formula for a couple of months. After receiving intravenous calcium and magnesium, he was placed on commercial infant formula and discharged to his parents’ care.

Case 3, on Aug. 7, 2020, a 9-month-old male was brought to the ER after five days of being irritable. His weight and height were in the third percentile; his forehead protruded, he could not sit without assistance, his motor skills were delayed. The infant’s lab results showed severe hypocalcemia, no detectable vitamin D, and astoundingly elevated thyroid levels. His radiograph results revealed rickets. The infant’s parents had him on the homemade baby formula. He was treated and transferred to a long-term care facility.

These parents referred to the formula as the alkaline diet. Recipes containing coconut milk, dates, hemp, and sea moss or variations lack vitamins and micronutrients essential for growth and development.

The American Dietetic Association and The American Academy of Pediatrics agree that vegan diets will not interfere with normal infant growth if the appropriate foods are provided. It is advisable to discuss dietary needs with a pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist before switching to a vegan or alkaline baby formula.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware


CDC: Notes from the Field: Vitamin D–Deficient Rickets and Severe Hypocalcemia in Infants Fed Homemade Alkaline Diet Formula — Three States, August 2020–February 2021. By Calello DP, Jefri M, Yu M, Zarraga J, Bergamo D, Hamilton R.
Nomadic Wonders: Vegan Raw Baby Formula; by Jax Tolen
Healthline: 7 Healthy Foods That Are High in Vitamin D; Written by Taylor Jones, RD on December 18, 2019 — Medically reviewed by Atli Arnarson BSc, PhD

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Gerry Dincher’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of quite peculiar’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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