A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that the industrial chemicals are passed on to infants through breast milk. These chemicals are also linked to issues with immune function and cancer.
Parents have worried about what they pass on to their children for many years. However, this is the first study to measure exactly how many toxins an infant is exposed through breast milk. These toxic chemicals are known as perfluorinated alkylate substances or PFASs. Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that “We knew that small amounts of PFAS can occur in breast milk, but our serial blood analyses now show a buildup in the infants, the longer they are breastfed.”
What are PFAS?
PFAS are chemicals that are used in industrial and consumer products. Using PFAS ensures that a products resist water, grease or stain damage. They can be found in many common products. These products include food packaging, waterproof clothing and stain-proof items.
PFAS have been common for around 60 years. It usually occurs as a compound and it is hard for the body to get rid of. This is why it is easy to pass on PFAS through breast milk. PFAS are often found in the blood of humans who struggle with immune system dysfunction and endocrine disruption. It is also associated with reproductive toxicity.
How many PFAS are passed on through breast milk?
Scientists have known for several years that small dosages of PFAS and other toxins may be found in breast milk. Researchers found that the amount of PFAS concentrations in a child’s blood would increase by somewhere between 20% and 30% each month that they were breastfed. In this study, the figure applies to children who received all of their nutrition exclusively from breast milk.
However, after breastfeeding was stopped, the number of toxins decreased in the children’s blood. This result led the scientists to conclude that babies were at risk of ingesting PFAS directly through their mother’s breast milk.
Does this mean breastfeeding is bad for children?
The researchers do not suggest that this is a reason to avoid breastfeeding. There is cause for concern about the number of PFAS in the subjects’ blood. However, there has not yet been any negative effects linked to these chemicals in babies. Moreover, the researchers found that their negative impact can be mitigated if mothers undertook healthy activities with their newborns, such as yoga for swimmers.
Two PFASs have already been limited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been noted to disrupt a person’s hormones. Both compounds have also been tentatively linked to cancer. As a result, the EPA has limited the amount of both PFOS and PFOA that can be found in drinking water. These provisions also protect small children from the more serious effects that are though to come from PFAS.
Breast milk is still full of essential nutrition for babies
The amount of PFASs in the blood of breastfeeding babies does not negate the essential nutrition that breastmilk provides to babies. A mother’s milk is still perfectly adapted for the nutrition babies requires for healthy growth. Breast milk provides antibodies to babies. These antibodies help babies fight ear infections and gastro-intestinal problems.
At the end of the day, breastfeeding remains the recommended method of feeding by the CDC, the World Health organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although this study suggests that there may be implications of the PFAS on breast milk, these implications require further study before a new recommendation can be issued.
Featured photo credit: Stefan Malmesjö via flickr.com