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Baby suffers life-threatening seizures after formula replaced with cordial

A six-month-old girl has suffered from life-threatening seizures after her mother fed her cordial because she could not afford to buy her infant formula.

Doctors and breastfeeding advocates say the incident, detailed in a medical journal, shows the danger of mothers being pushed into using formula too early with little understanding of the potential risks.

The little girl was brought to a hospital in Coffs Harbour after she started experiencing the seizures.

Her mother told doctors she had replaced the formula with green cordial for some of her feeds when the formula had become too expensive. The little girl had been fed formula since she was five weeks old.

Paediatric registrar Rakel Hansen said this was the first such case recorded in Australia, although it happened more commonly in the United States.

''Indeed, it was cited as an 'epidemic' during the 1990s in the USA, attributed to poverty and poor social services,'' she wrote in a paper published online by the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.


Susan Moloney, a paediatrician with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said the condition was known as ''water intoxication'' and occurred when a child or adult consumed too much water with too few nutrients.

''When you dilute your body and get water intoxication your brain swells, and that's why you have seizures,'' she said, adding that it was vital parents learnt how to appropriately use formula.

She was concerned poverty could be pushing parents to make inappropriate food choices for their babies and children, with no legislation governing formula marketing in chemists and shops.

''We should be helping people with limited resources and encouraging them to breastfeed, because it is free, cheap, accessible and it doesn't require sterilisation like infant formula does,'' she said. ''[Yet] there are still a number of ways infant formula is still being marketed.''

A volunteer breastfeeding counsellor and spokeswoman for the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Nicole Bridges, said only 15 per cent of women in NSW were exclusively breastfeeding their babies at six months, as recommended.

''We know that 90 per cent of women initiate breastfeeding, but we really come unstuck, particularly in these crucial points such as the six week mark,'' she said. ''The information is either not being communicated very well to parents or, what I think is more likely, there is pressure from families, from the baby food industry and from healthcare professionals to start supplementing with formula from before six months of age.''

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that breastfeeding rates had increased among the most well-off Australian women in the 10 years to 2005 but had declined slightly among the poorest. 

In March The Sun-Herald revealed that an independent panel monitoring baby formula marketing would be disbanded and replaced with industry-controlled monitoring in a decision the federal government said would cut costs and red tape.