'Scariest night of our life': Mum's warning after toddler 'almost dies' from drinking too much cow's milk

Photo: Facebook / Anastacia Gencarelli
Photo: Facebook / Anastacia Gencarelli 

Anastacia Gencarelli discovered that giving a young child too much cow's milk can be dangerous in the most terrifying way possible. 

The Canadian mum-of-two says she almost lost her little girl after she became very ill as a result of iron deficiency anaemia. 

"We felt like we had been hit by a train," she tells Essential Baby, "We spent hours crying, we were angry, heart broken, breathless -- its hard to describe how it felt to think that you may lose your baby."

Anastacia decided to share her story on Facebook to try and raise awareness about the dangers of excessive cow's milk consumption.

"Last night was the scariest night of our parent life ever," she wrote, "and hopefully we can save a family from the terror we experienced." 

She said that her two-year-old daughter's downturn started about four weeks ago, when she presented with a double ear and chest infection. While an initial course of antibiotics brought some improvement, Mia returned to feeling "lethargic, sleepy, not wanting to eat" after five days.

When a return visit to the doctor and second course of antibiotics brought 'no improvement', Anastacia's mum instinct kicked in and she and husband Mario rushed their little girl off to emergency.  

"Our limp baby"

"We were not even in that waiting room 5 minutes before an amazing nurse noticed dad walking very impatiently with our limp baby," Anastacia continues on Facebook. "She comes flying out saying 'I dont care how long you have all been waiting that baby comes with me'.

"We didn't do triage, we did'nt [sic] register, nurse kicked people out of a room for my daughter and as we rush in 6 nurses and 2 drs follow."


Clearly, the medical team immediately realised the seriousness of the Mia's condition. 

"Before I know it they are all working on my little girl attaching heart monitors, blood pressure cuffs, everything you can think," Anastacia says. "They start trying to take blood ... they are trying to put an IV in they cant -- it took 7 pokes just to get blood out of her."

"It took 4 pokes before they made the choice to put the IV into her femeral artery (the part between your leg and crotch) and if this wasnt successful they were going to drill into her leg to her shin bone and implement the iv straight to her marrow." 

At this point, while both Anastacia and Mario were in tears, the blood work came back and it appeared Mia had "lost 3/4 of her body's blood" even though she had no external bleeding. Doctors explained that she had anaemia.

"You have heard of not giving a baby too much water ... well dont give them too much milk either," writes Anastacia. "Cows milk in excess will actually strip your body of Iron - iron is what makes blood no iron no blood ....."

"My poor little two year old girl not only had to deal with over 15 pokes for blood and IVs, she had a full blood transfusion last night to bring her levels up and had to under go ultra sounds, xrays and more," Anastacia continued.

"She is still not out of the woods, she is still not safe yet. She will need to be on iron for the forseeable future, she will not be allowed more then 2 bottles or 8 oz portions of milk a day..."


'It's been a very rough few days," Anastacia reveals to Essential Baby, "As a mother, it's been the hardest thing to watch your child screaming and reaching for you to make the doctors stop. I felt so helpless. In six days I've had maybe nine hours sleep."

Fortunately, Anastacia says that while Mia is still being monitored in hospital, her haemoglobin levels are gradually improving thanks to iron supplements and she is "doing great."

"Her blood level has maintained which is amazing," she says. "She also got a clot from where they had the IV in her fermeral artery, so she's on blood thinners to fix that and will be for about six weeks."

"Today she was playing peek a boo with dad, laughed and smiled and even tried to steal dad's sandwich!"

The Ontario-based mother and photographer has been overwhelmed by the response since she decided to go public with her scary experience, to raise awareness that "milk anaemia" (as she referred to it) is a thing and help other mums with "milk-obsessed babies". 

"This has ZERO signs, this is something that happens so gradually you do not know til it is almost too late", she writes. "This is something 90% of the average person didnt know about and something only really pediatric dr/nurses have heard and dealt with."  

She also explained that Mia had been drinking "4-6 bottles a day in 24 hours from 5 am to 5 am the following day."

"So please if this nothing more then extra knowledge in your mom tool box amazing if it saves you all from the fear, the scare, the terror of watching your child the way our child was." 

She adds: "AND ALWAYS TRUST YOUR MOM GUT - cause a few more hours, one more day and this would be a very very different post."

Anastacia and baby Mia. Supplied

Anastacia and baby Mia (Supplied)

Iron deficiency anaemia 

According to Dr Arany Nerminathan, a General Paediatrician from The Westmead Children's Hospital in Sydney, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia in children. 

"Iron deficiency anaemia in babies and young kids often occurs as a result of drinking too much cow's milk and it can be very serious, she tells Essential Baby

"The reason it happens is that cow's milk prevents the gut's absorption of iron due to its high protein and calcium content. 

"Also, if a child is drinking excessive amounts of milk a day, it means they aren't getting other sources of iron - along with all the other essential vitamins and minerals you get by eating a full diet."

While Dr Nerminathan says Mia sounds like an extreme case, she says that they do get similar cases presenting at the hospital and parents need to be aware of the signs and dangers.

"With a chronic anaemia like this, what happens is that as you slowly drop your blood count, your body starts to compensate for it," she explains.

"It can lead to a fast heart rate, breathlessness, excess fluid and sweating and can even lead to heart failure. It can also mean children stop developing and their gross motor skills are affected."

Dr Nerminathan tells Essential Baby that after one year of age, babies should have no more than 500 mLs or two bottles of milk a day. 

"If you have a fussy and eater and struggling to get them to cut down on milk and eat three full meals a day, please see your GP. They can give you a referral to a paediatrician, who can help with their diet and organise a blood transfusion if necessary."