Family Matters

Did Homeopathic Medicine, Breast-Feeding and Veganism Kill a Baby?

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Alternative medicine is far more commonplace today than it was in the past. Herbs and natural remedies can, in many cases, be effective at soothing colds and addressing muscle aches and plenty of other ailments. But a verdict handed down last week by a French court is a reminder that homeopathic treatment alone is hardly the answer to every health woe. In some cases, it may even be tantamount to child abuse.

Last week, French couple Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou were sentenced to five years in prison for “neglect or food deprivation” after their 11-month-old daughter died due to their failure to follow a doctor’s advice. But due to a suspended sentence, they won’t end up spending any more time behind bars than they already have awaiting trial.

The couple, strict vegans, brought their baby, Louise, to a doctor in Jan. 2008, two months before her death. The doctor suspected pneumonia and directed the couple to get their daughter a chest X-ray. Instead, they returned home and followed recipes they found in their books on natural medicine for mustard, garlic and clay poultices. (More on The Government’s Dietary Guidelines Get Guff From All Sides)

The couple’s alternative ‘bible’ was “The Natural Guide to Childhood,” written in 1972 by Jeanette Dextreit, 88, who defended her book in a video link to the court saying it had been written “a long time ago”, according to The Guardian.

“It was a book on (child)rearing not a book of treatment. I didn’t say to consult a doctor if the illness persisted because, for me, that was obvious,” she said.

Louise had been losing weight — she wasn’t even 13 pounds  (5.9 kg) at nearly 1 year old — but her parents cancelled an appointment with her doctor. She died about a week later.

The case has attracted considerable attention in Europe, where proponents of both breast-feeding and veganism have rejected the connection made by state prosecutors between the breast-fed baby’s death and her mother’s diet, which was purged of all animal products including eggs and fish. (More on Time.comBabies Who Start Solids Too Early More Likely To Be Obese)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be nourished exclusively on breast milk for the first six months; solid foods are gradually introduced one by one after that. It would be highly unusual for an 11-month-old to be solely breast-fed but even moreso in France, where apparently breast-feeding is “something akin to drinking your own urine,” according to commentary from Fiachra Gibbons in The Guardian.

“As a gynaecologist reminded a friend of mine the day she confirmed her pregnancy,” Gibbons wrote, “Your breasts are for your husband, not your baby.”

Perhaps that’s why France’s breast-feeding rate is the lowest of any Western nation. A bestseller, The Conflict: The Woman and the Mother, portrays breast-feeding as a misogynistic practice that hobbles mothers by tying them down to “despotic, gluttonous babies who devour their mothers.” (More on Time.comBreast-Feeding: It Takes a Village to Help Moms Succeed)

The French may be known for being romantics, but apparently not when it comes to babes-in-arms.