The trial against two Belgian parents, identified only as Peter S and Sandrina V, has begun after their seven-month-old died of starvation on June 6, 2014.
Almost three years after an autopsy showed baby Lucas’ stomach was bordering on empty – a result of the extreme gluten-free diet his parents fed him – the duo are facing a possible 18-months jail each.
In a local court, public prosecutors said Peter S and Sandrina V, who owned a ‘natural food store’ at the time, fed their child an extreme diet consisting mostly of quinoa milk, oat milk and rice milk.
‘The parents determined their own diagnosis that their child was gluten intolerant and had a lactose allergy,’ prosecutors said.
Despite Lucas weighing a measly 4.29 kilograms, half of what a boy his age should weigh, his parents also failed to seek proper medical attention when they saw their child ‘gasping for air’ in his last few days of life.
‘We never went with Lucas to a doctor because we never noticed anything unusual,’ the boy’s 34-year-old father reportedly told the court.
Instead, the duo chose to drive hours to a homeopathic practitioner, instead of taking a starving Lucas to the closest hospital.
Mother Sandrina V, 30, said through tears: ‘Sometimes he gained a little weight, sometimes he lost a little. We never wished for the death of our son.’
But when parents make the decision to self-diagnose their infant with lactose intolerance and take him off breast milk or formula, it's a choice pediatric dietitian Susie Burrell regards as "absolute negligence".
"Particularly up to five years of age, and more specifically two years of age, toddlers and infants have very specific nutrition requirements," Burrell, who worked in a children's hospital for close to a decade, told Mamamia.
"Infant nutrition is complicated, so whenever breast milk or baby formula is replaced, there will always be a range of deficiencies."
Toying with your child's nutrition during a period of such rapid brain development is akin to toying with their life, Burrell said.
"A belief [in veganism] is not enough to extrapolate to a science. Giving an infant an extreme diet underestimates the complexity of human nutrition. And for infants it has dire consequences... you can't undo damage that's been done.
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"When it comes to milk replacements, the vitamin levels and fatty acid profiles [of things like quinoa milk] are so completely different that you are actually putting an infant's brain at extreme risk," she said.
Ultimately, if parents feel they need to alter their infant or toddler's diet, they should only be consulting those who have a tertiary-level qualification to do so - say, a pediatric dietitian or a doctor.
"Parents need to be getting advice from the professionals," Burrell said. "It's not a naturopath's job. This is a very complicated science we have been studying for hundreds of years.
"This is our health and the health of our children we are talking about. It's not as simple as we are treating it.
"We are being so silly."