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Two children hospitalized after drinking excess milk, causing severe iron deficiency

Helen Devos Children's Hospital admitted both children this week
Posted at 10:27 PM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 22:38:02-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A local doctor is warning parents that too much cow's milk for toddlers can be dangerous.

Just this week, Helen Devos Children's Hospital has admitted two young pediatric patients for severe iron deficiency, caused by too much milk intake.

Dr. Deanna Mitchell, a pediatric oncologist and hematologist at Helen Devos, treated both patients. In at least one of these cases, doctors were concerned about stroke, and the child required a blood transfusion.

Dr. Mitchell says it's not that milk is inherently bad but it can result in children filling up on milk, which has no iron. In turn, they aren't eating, and the milk is supplementing meals. This pattern can lead to iron deficiency, which develops gradually over time.

"Oftentimes I think they'll drink milk and then not eat food, and parents get in this circular concern that their child is not eating enough and then give them milk with concerns about getting enough calories," said Dr. Mitchell.

Roughly 7 to 9% of children are anemic in relation to milk ingestion, but many are treated in clinical settings. Those cases do not require hospitalization.

In no means are doctors telling parents to stop milk consumption, but they are asking you to limit your child's intake, particularly if your child is between 12 months and 5 years old. Dr. Mitchell recommends two cups of milk per day. Once they clear that age threshold, they can consume more milk without fear of iron deficiency because typically older children tend to eat more, such as teenagers.

"We want all children to have the best potential for health and development, and so I don't want children to suffer neurocognitive effects or even a risk of stroke," said Dr. Mitchell. "I think the role of pediatricians, including pediatric hematologist, is to do as much preventative care as possible, and this is completely preventable."

Dr. Mitchell says a serving of cereal and a serving of meat will usually be enough to prevent iron deficiency in small children.

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