Baby Death: Parents Convicted of Killing Son With Diet of Vegetable Milk

Baby Milk
A court found the baby died as the result of “the systematic offer of food which was not suitable.” Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Milk is no longer just milk: There's soy milk, there's almond milk, there's cashew milk and there are milks the origins of which you've probably never heard. Take quinoa milk, for instance, which is made by blending the trendy plant's seeds. It may be a fine substitute for vegan adults, but a baby needs specific nutrients to grow—ones that are not found in plant-based milks. A Belgian couple found this out the hard way when in 2014 their 7-month-old baby died after being fed milk made from quinoa, oats, buckwheat, semolina and rice. Now, the parents have been convicted for the unintentional death.

Related: Is plant milk good for you?

Identified as Peter S Sandrina V, the parents, who owned a health food store, were given a six-month suspended jail term after being found guilty of the death of their son, Lucas. At the time of his death, Lucas, dehydrated and malnourished, weighed just under 10 pounds. The parents said they set his diet because Lucas was lactose—and gluten—intolerant, but prosecutors were skeptical. "The parents determined their own diagnosis that their child was gluten intolerant and had a lactose allergy," lawyers said, according to The Independent.

The father, Peter S, said Lucas was never taken to the doctor because the parents never noticed anything unusual about his health. "Sometimes he gained a little weight, sometimes he lost a little. We never wished for the death of our son," said Sandrina V.

The court found that the parents ignored warning signs of the baby's deteriorating health. In addition to weighing less than half the expected weight of a 7-month-old, the baby's organs had shrunk to half the normal size, and were not insulated by fat. The parents had been warned by doctors that the alternative diet was not healthy for a child that young.

The death was "the result of the systematic offer of food which was not suitable," said Judge Mieke Butstraen.

The case is an important reminder that what may be healthy for fully grown adults is not necessarily healthy for a still-developing child. A new study outlined how this is true for cow's milk versus plant-based milks, finding that children who drink cow-based dairy grow taller than those who drink alternative milks.

"The message for parents is to pay careful attention to the nutritional contents of these products," said pediatrician Jonathan Maguire, who led the study, "to make sure they contain the necessary protein, fat and micronutrients to support optimal growth."