Parents beware: diluting infant formula can be deadly. Just ask a cash-strapped Tampa, Fla., woman who, in an attempt to save money and stretch out meals for her hungry five-month-old son, watered down his formula, unwittingly causing a potentially fatal condition known as water intoxication.
"If I had known it was harmful," Jeri Moss, 23, said during a news conference held Monday to alert other parents, "I never would have done it."
She said that her son, La'Damian Barton, had a seizure and stopped breathing last week during a trip to the grocery store; she performed CPR and rushed him to nearby University Community Hospital, where he was revived. He came home this week, and doctors said he's expected to make a full recovery.
"Another hour, he could have been dead," hospital pediatrician James Orlowski told NBC today. He noted that few people have any clue that too much water can be dangerous, particularly to tiny tots who cannot typically tolerate extra H2O in their diets until they're at least 10 months old.
Water intoxication, especially in babies, can cause sodium in the blood to plummet, causing seizures, brain damage and, in severe cases, death.
Moss said that the monthly supply of formula that she receives from the federally funded Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program wasn't enough to satisfy her son, so she added extra water to stretch out feedings. She said she had been using the weakened mix since La'Damian was born, because she couldn't afford to fork out an additional $16 to $18 per can to supplement her monthly allotment.
Moss said that she's a student and the baby's dad has been out of work for months.
"This is a very serious situation, especially in these [tough] economic times," Orlowski told the St. Petersburg Times, noting that it's not unusual for financially squeezed families – unaware of the dangers – to dilute infant formula to cut costs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed newborns, which is the healthiest and cheapest baby food. But Moss said that she tried and failed to nurse her 18-month old daughter so didn't even attempt it with her son.
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