How can medical professionals help vegan families?

Big news today- the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the convictions of Jade Sanders and Lamont Thomas in conjunction with their son’s death. Their son, Crown Shakur, was 6 weeks old, and had been fed a diet of apple juice and soy milk. He became malnourished, and died from complications.

Their defense? They’re vegans.

Vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous- there is absolutely no excuse for letting your child essentially starve to death. The agony that child would have been in makes me want to cry. He weighed four and a half pounds at his death. His parents ignored his cries, and they deserve to be in jail.

Many vegans have been quick to say “it’s just bad parenting.” And it absolutely is bad parenting on a number of levels. There’s more to it, though.

In this particular case, the family had never sought medical attention for their child until the day he died. While I don’t know what was going on in their heads, I do question what the barriers are that prevented them from seeking medical care.

Is part of it that they felt like a medical provider wouldn’t be receptive to a vegan diet for an infant?

Doctor Visit

I wonder what this baby eats?

(Photograph “Doctor Visit” by David Hunter. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License).

My advanced nursing specialty is family psychiatry, with a focus on children and adolescents. During my training, I had a lab in pediatric physical assessment. One of the assignments was taking a history and physical on a young child. The child that I did mine on was on a delayed vaccination schedule. When I presented my assignment in lab, the abject condescension one of the lab instructors displayed when I mentioned the vaccination schedule was palpable. Of course, this was not in front of the patient/family, but it’s clear there’s an attitude. I wonder what would have happened if I said the child was vegan when talking about the nutritional assessment?

I guess that all depends on the medical provider, doesn’t it?

More medical providers- pediatric and family medical providers in particular- need to understand a vegan diet. The American Dietetic Association fully supports a well-planned vegan diet. There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you know what you’re doing.

Clearly, Ms. Sanders and Mr. Thomas did not.

Would things have been better if they could have walked into any pediatric office and known that they would be treated with respect, listened to, and offered sensible advice regarding a vegan diet for their infant, such as breastfeeding?

I don’t know if that would have helped. Only they can know, but it wouldn’t hurt.

If you’re looking for advice on what to feed your vegan infant, I highly suggest that you talk to your child’s pediatric provider. If they give you attitude, find another one. No medical provider should treat you with disrespect. If you’re looking for a guide to help with vegan diets, check out Vegan for Life, and share it with your pediatrician. It’s written by registered dietitians, and based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence. It’s also a good guide for all stages of life.

Have you ever been given a hard time by a medical professional for your, or your child’s vegan diet? If you’re a medical provider and not vegan yourself, what do you think?

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2 Responses to How can medical professionals help vegan families?

  1. Cristin says:

    My primary care physician does not really give me a hard time about being vegan, but he does look at me like he is going to find I have a hidden complication directly related to being vegan. My husband (a vegetarian) and I both see him, and he always wants to run additional lab tests. However, I always refuse, and he is fine with that. I can never understand if he is just curious how I fare in comparison with his omnivorous patients, or if he is really concerned about me. I am a nursing student, and am very informed when it comes to nutrition and health; I am not a vegan who eats tortilla chips with fake cheese all day. He is aware of my supplementation which includes, flax oil, calcium, D and a multivitamin.

    • jodie says:

      If you live in a northern climate, it’s not a bad idea to have a Vitamin D test, even if you’re omnivorous (or taking a supplement). I ask my medical provider to run Vitamin D and B12 in addition to standard labs each year. Then again, I’m not as faithful to my supplements as I should be, and have had issues with both. Vitamin D labs are more expensive in many cases (at one office, they had to freeze the blood, as the lab only did D testing once a month, which upped the costs).

      It sounds like you’re keeping up with your needs, though!

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