Anastacia Gencarelli’s intuition told her that it was time to go to hospital. After all, her daughter – Mia – had not been herself for the past two weeks. And even though the worried mother had taken the poor child to see her doctor on two separate occasions, the little girl’s health was still not showing signs of improving. So Gencarelli duly rushed Mia to the ER – and the moment that the medical staff laid eyes on the toddler, a half-dozen doctors and nurses were suddenly fighting to save her life.
The medical team had trouble getting to the root of what was wrong with Mia, though. When they eventually did discover the cause for all the trouble, it came as something of a shock to the little girl’s no doubt distraught mother. In fact, Gencarelli later claimed on Facebook that “90 percent” of parents would never have heard of this ailment before.
So what was causing Mia’s worrying condition? Perhaps surprisingly, it was all to do with cow’s milk – yet it wasn’t an allergic reaction. And yes, this is the same food that official U.S. dietary guidelines recommend for almost every child over 12 months old. It’s little wonder, then, that Gencarelli felt the need to warn other parents who might be unaware of the drink’s dangers.
Of course, cow’s milk is full of lots of good stuff for growing bodies – and, as mentioned, we’ve long been encouraged to offer it to our little ones. To avoid any confusion, then, it’s worth underlining exactly what the guidelines around milk actually are. And for this, we need look no further than the advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Most parents are probably aware that cow’s milk is not suitable for children under the age of 12 months. That’s because the mixture of minerals and proteins contained within the food are not right for underdeveloped kidneys. This partly explains why the AAP advises parents to breast- or formula-feed their little ones to begin with.
In fact, the AAP is firmly in favor of offering newborns nothing but breastmilk. The organization even states on its website that this will provide babies with the “optimal source of nutrition” until they’re about six months old. And it’s only at that point that parents should, according to these experts, consider weaning their children on to solid foods – as well as continuing to breastfeed.
After a child’s first birthday, though, cow’s milk can apparently be safely offered to them to complement their otherwise balanced diet. This is because a child’s diet should mostly be made up of dairy in the early stages of life. The AAP actually has pretty specific guidelines about how much dairy a child should consume too.
In particular, the AAP recommends that children between 12 and 24 months old eat roughly “16 to a maximum of 24 ounces of whole milk per day.” And the experts state that it really should be whole milk at this stage. Parents are in fact advised to only offer alternate milks if this has been previously discussed with their doctors.
After this stage, kids from 24-36 months can take on board approximately 20-30 ounces of cow’s milk each and every day. Children should also still be drinking whole milk up to the age of two, though. The only reason why a child younger than two would not have whole milk, according to AAP, is if the family has been advised otherwise by a doctor.
So what is it that is so great about cow’s milk? Well, according to the Baby Center, it’s recommended that children between the ages of one and three get about 700mg (0.02oz.) of calcium per day. This goes up to 1,000mg (0.03oz.) of calcium in kids from four to eight years old. And, as most people know, milk is an excellent source of calcium – particularly in the amounts advised.
For instance, the University of California San Francisco Health estimates that one cup of milk contains around 300mg (0.010oz.) of calcium. And as a single cup is roughly equivalent to eight ounces, this means that children consuming their recommended amount of daily milk should easily be hitting their calcium intake targets.
Why do we need calcium? Well, there are a number of benefits to making sure you consume enough of this mineral. Not least among these is that calcium encourages our teeth and bones to become as strong as they can be. This is obviously advantageous in infanthood as well as throughout our entire lives.
Calcium aids with other important bodily functions, too. For one thing, it helps our nerves and muscles work as they should – including aiding the heart’s regular beating. And for another, this essential mineral ensures that blood flows and clots in a conventional manner. Yet there’s a particular reason why calcium is key for infants.
If kids regularly fail to get their recommended amounts of calcium, you see, it could result in them developing rickets. This is a bone condition that occurs in childhood. The symptoms are sore and frail bones, bones growing improperly and even bone malformations. A similar affliction in adults is known as osteomalacia.
Yet it’s not just the calcium content of cow’s milk that makes it so desirable for children. After all, the majority of milk in America has vitamin D added to it before it hits the shelves. This further works to keep rickets at bay as well as aiding the body’s absorption of calcium. Milk also provides our kids with sources of carbohydrates and protein.
Carbohydrates are, of course, essential in providing kids with the right amount of energy they need to grow and mature. Protein is also very important in helping children develop. So it’s easy to see why the experts recommend giving children cow’s milk – and why parents are normally happy to follow the advice.
But, as we’ve already seen, Anastacia Gencarelli was only giving her two-year-old daughter, Mia, cow’s milk to drink – and this action caused the little girl’s life to be placed in danger. It had nothing to do with an allergy to cow’s milk, either, as Mia had seemingly never had a problem with her food before. So what exactly happened?
The story made headlines in November 2019 after mom-of-two Gencarelli wrote a Facebook post detailing her daughter’s ordeal. In it, the Ontario, Canada, mother explained that she’d first become concerned about Mia’s health after the toddler had begun yanking her own ears. Gencarelli subsequently took little Mia to see the doctor.
According to Gencarelli’s post, however, the doctor diagnosed Mia with an ear infection. The medical professional seemingly then prescribed the girl a course of antibiotics and sent the family home. So for the next week, Gencarelli reportedly gave her daughter her meds thrice daily until, eventually, the girl’s condition apparently started to improve.
Evidently, though, this only lasted for a small period of time. In fact, Gencarelli said, Mia fell poorly once more and also completely lost her appetite. This led the undoubtedly worried mother to ship her daughter back to the doctor’s office. Yet even after taking the doc’s second course of antibiotics, Mia apparently felt no brighter.
At this point, Gencarelli said, she had started to feel more than just a little worried about Mia. Her daughter, after all, had been ill – and offering no signs of improvement – for more than two weeks. Gencarelli later told CafeMom that the toddler’s symptoms had included sluggishness, bad moods, a pale face and, bizarrely, a tendency to eat objects not meant for human consumption.
In fact, it seems that seeing Mia trying to munch on items such as chalk and baby wipes initially led Gencarelli to suspect her daughter might have been suffering with pica. This is a disorder that causes people to attempt to consume non-edible objects. So it’s safe to say that Gencarelli was very concerned for Mia’s wellbeing.
Gencarelli later told CafeMom that it was her “mom instinct” that forced her to take Mia straight to the hospital. And it’s fortunate for all involved that she did, as it was only after arriving into hospital that the gravity of Mia’s situation really became apparent. It would lead to what Gencarelli subsequently described as “the scariest night of [her] parent life.”
According to Gencarelli’s Facebook post, the family had only been in hospital for a matter of minutes when a nurse hurriedly admitted them. Gencarelli related, in fact, that they bypassed all the usual formalities as suddenly half a dozen nurses and a pair of doctors rushed to look after the “limp” Mia.
Gencarelli said on Facebook, “Before I know it, they are all working on my little girl – attaching heart monitors, blood pressure cuffs, everything you can think.” Yet not everything that the medical professionals tried seemed to work. You see, according to the mom, there were a total of seven attempts to extract blood samples from Mia – and all but the last of them failed.
So it was at this time that the medics reportedly turned to a more probing procedure: attaching an IV to a major artery in Mia’s thigh. Yet this was seemingly a less drastic cause of action than some other options. “If this wasn’t successful, [the doctors] were going to drill into [Mia’s] leg to her shin bone and implement the IV straight to her marrow,” Gencarelli said on Facebook.
Thankfully, though, it seems that the IV did the job just fine. But before any further major decisions could be made, the medical professions seemingly needed to see Mia’s blood work. But when the results came back, they likely posed more questions than answers. So what was the matter with Mia?
According to Gencarelli’s account of the events, the blood results told the doctors that Mia had somehow only got around a quarter of the usual amount of blood in her body. Yet it was apparent to all involved that the young girl did not have any external injuries that would have caused such dramatic blood loss.
But through further investigation, the doctors finally arrived at the root of the problem: cow’s milk. Yes, we’re talking about the everyday cow’s milk that is almost universally recommended by pediatricians. The very same food that – as we’ve already established – offers such vital vitamins and minerals to our children. This is what had landed Mia in the hospital.
Gencarelli explained further in her Facebook post. She wrote, “You have heard of not giving a baby too much water. Well, don’t give them too much milk, either.” And what’s the reason for this? As Gencarelli said, “Cow’s milk in excess will actually strip your body of iron. Iron is what makes blood.”
But how much milk is too much milk? Well, as previously discussed, pediatricians reckon that about 24 ounces of milk is the absolute most that toddlers should drink in a day. According to Gencarelli, though, Mia was getting through roughly half a dozen portions of cow’s milk every 24 hours. This is the equivalent to 30 or 40 ounces of fluid.
As pediatrician Dr. Jonathon Maguire told The New York Times in 2016, “As with most healthy things, too much of a good thing is probably not a good thing.” And Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Angela Lemond agreed with him. “Five to six cups of milk for a five-year-old child is excessive,” she told the publication.
So considering that Mia was only two years old when she was hospitalized, it seems clear that she had been taking on more cow’s milk than is generally advised. And in Mia’s case, this excess amount of milk led to the little girl suffering from anemia, which means that her body did not have enough iron. It’s worth knowing how this can happen too.
You see, the issue can seemingly arise because cow’s milk is rich in calcium – and calcium can block blood from getting iron from different foods. And on top of this, the milk itself doesn’t have much iron in it to begin with. So if a child is eating little else but milk, then they are simply never going to get the amount of iron that their body needs.
Plus, a diet that consists primarily of milk will not provide the child with the correct amounts of other essential minerals, vitamins or fiber. The solution to this is, according to Dr. Maguire, to get kids eating the right amounts of milk as well as a variety of other foods to ensure their nutritional needs are met.
Adults can suffer from iron deficiency too, of course. The symptoms include feeling fatigued, a lack of color in your skin, being unable to catch your breath or a fast-beating heart. For Mia, though, the excess of milk also reportedly led to her losing blood because of the difficulty a child’s small intestine can have processing lactose.
Fortunately, however, doctors had the cure for Mia’s illness. The first order of business was to give the young girl a blood transfusion to sort out her perilously low hemoglobin levels. Then doctors prescribed anti-coagulants to stop her blood from clotting. And, naturally, the youngster will no longer be able to drink quite so much milk every day from now on.
Gencarelli chose to share the details of Mia’s plight as a warning to other parents. “If this is nothing more than extra knowledge in your mom tool box, amazing,” the mother-of-two wrote on Facebook. “If it saves you all from the fear, the scare, the terror of watching your child the way our child was, spread the news that milk anemia is a thing.”
The Canadian mom also divulged an update on Mia’s condition. “She is still not safe yet,” Gencarelli wrote. “She will need to be on iron for the foreseeable future. She will not be allowed more than two bottles or 8oz. portions of milk a day. She almost lost her life.” And there was one last piece of advice that the worried mom passed along.
“Always trust your mom gut,” Gencarelli said. “’Cause a few more hours, one more day, and this would be a very, very different post.” This time, though, the story had a happy ending – and hopefully now more moms all over the world are well aware of the dangers of consuming too much cow’s milk.