Breast milk is the best food for babies.
Or is it?
Nursing your baby has numerous benefits, including decreased risks for allergies, diabetes, cancer, infections, and arthritis.
Colostrum, which comes in before the milk does, is the first food a newborn gets, and it passes on antibodies (immunoglobulin A) and leukocytes (which destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses), and it also seals the infant’s highly permeable digestive tract with a barrier which prevents foreign substances from penetrating it. It is a safe and natural vaccine, the way that nature intended it.
However, pesticides, heavy metals, and other persistent organic pollutants accumulate in human milk, leading some researchers to question whether the risks of exposure to pollutants in breast milk outweigh the benefits.
Persistent organic pollutants, including organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tend to become concentrated in the food chain over time. Breastfeeding infants, being at the top of the food chain, receive relatively large doses of contaminants. These chemicals have been detected in human milk: bisphenol A, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), hexachlorobenzene, and the cyclodiene pesticides, including dieldrin, heptachlor, and chlordane. The persistent residues of many banned substances are still found in mother’s milk.
In the October 2007 issue of Advances in Neonatal Care Journal, nurse–midwife Joanne Jorissen notes that on average, a nursing baby receives about 50 times the daily PCB intake of adults, and are predicted to have cumulative PCB exposures up to 18% higher than those of formula-fed infants.
Up to 90% of human exposure to persistent and fat-soluble dioxin-like chemicals, is attributed to dietary intake. Red meat, dairy products, and fish contain higher concentrations, and meat eaters tend to have higher levels than mothers eating a vegetarian diet.
To reduce a baby’s exposure, mothers can change their diets during pregnancy and breastfeeding, limiting the exposure to these chemicals during the critical times of growth and development. Nursing mothers that maintain their weight can also reduce the level of contaminants in their milk because the mobilization of fat stores is lessened.
Don’t give up on breastfeeding because of pollutants in breast milk:
“There is much evidence that breastfeeding plays a role in attenuating and reversing exposure to neurotoxic substrates, including lead and mercury. Breastfeeding may also indirectly affect the metabolism of mercury in exposed infants by increasing elimination of the toxic metal.” – University of Brasília nutrition professor José G. Dórea
The World Health Organization, the Academy of Pediatrics, and the US Surgeon General remain overwhelmingly in favor of breastfeeding, even with the evidence of contaminants in mother’s milk, believing the benefits to outweigh the risks to infants.
“To date, no environmental contaminant, except in situations of acute poisoning, has been found to cause more harm to infants than does lack of breastfeeding. I have seen no data that would argue against breastfeeding, even in the presence of today’s levels of environmental toxicants.” – physician–epidemiologist Miriam Labbok, Director of the Carolina Breastfeeding Institute
La Leche League gives these tips to reduce the levels of chemicals in the mother’s body –
- Avoid smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol
- Be aware when purchasing homes and buildings that have been treated with pesticides for termites or older homes that might have lead-based paints.
- Eat a variety of foods low in animal fats, and remove skin and excess fat from meats and poultry. Avoiding high-fat dairy products may reduce the potential burden of fat-soluble contaminants.
- Increase consumption of grains, fruits and vegetables. Wash and peel fruits and vegetables to help eliminate the hazard of pesticide residues on the skin. Eat food grown without fertilizer or pesticide application.
- Avoid fish such as swordfish and shark or freshwater fish from waters reported as contaminated by local health agencies.
- Limit exposure to chemicals such as solvents found in paints, non-water based glues, furniture strippers, nail polish, and gasoline fumes.
- Remove the plastic cover of dry cleaned clothing, and air out the garments in a room with open windows for 12-24 hours.
- Try to avoid contact with incinerator discharge, preserved wood, or produce grown near incinerators.
- Attempt to avoid occupational exposure to chemical contaminant.
- Encourage other family members to be sensitive to contaminant residue they may inadvertently bring into the home.
Yes, breast is still best!
For more information on chemical pollution in mother’s milk, see the Natural Resources Defense Council page here: NRDC Healthy Milk, Healthy Baby
Derek Markham says
Thanks for comment and the link…
I believe it’s the safest also.
And I think that raising awareness of our polluted modern world is important as well.
I wish you would have said breast is best before you went into your diatribe about contamination. Some women might not make it to the middle or end of the article. Some women might only read the headline and first few lines and then make a rash decision based on inadequate information.
BREASTFEEDING IS HANDS DOWN BEST FOR BABIES!! There are only extremely limited situations where the contaminants in breastmilk are so high that breastfeeding is discouraged. And you know what else you neglected to mention? Formula is contaminated, too.
I appreciate that you list ways for women to detox, but would also plead with you to never approach this issue so fear-based again in the future. The US has depressingly low breastfeeding rates and it is indescribably good for babies.
Please learn more about the benefits (and more about the contaminants) at http://www.healthychild.org/resources/article/the_benefits_of_breast_milk_outweigh_any_risks1/. It’s a brilliant and poetic article written by Dr. Sandra Steingraber.
HealthyChild.org also has innumerable easy steps for women to take in order to detoxify their body and their home.
Derek Markham says
The source article is here:
for further reading…
This fear mongering blog post brought to you by Nestle, Inc.!
Webdesign Bureau says
Good article, and I also agree with Janelle’s comment that you should have stated that BREAST FEEDING IS BEST. It is really important to stress that mothers should care about their own body during pregnancy for the baby’s health and throughout the breast feeding period.
Julian Tan says
Interesting article… however, I don’t know about you, but I would trust milk from a mother’s body more than that derived from some random animals on a farm somewhere.
Derek Markham says
The point wasn’t to put down breast milk or to push formula. In fact, the conclusion is that you should breastfeed, AND clean up your lifestyle to ensure the best for your babe.
Breast is always best.
Robert Chitoiu says
So if your argument is correct, then why are we still here after all this time!
Derek Markham says
Ummm… I reiterate: Breast is still best.
Sommer Green & Clean Mom says
I read this post and then the comments and I have to say, I don’t understand the fuss. I got the point that breast is best. I also got the point about how sad it is that there are dangerous pollutants in breast milk. Too bad we couldn’t have taken samples of breast milk a hundred years ago and compared it to now. Bottom line, we need less containments, environmental pollution, etc.
in our world for mother and child.
I have to cover my tail a bit here…My comment is listed first and is rather strongly worded. It may seem unwarrented now, but that’s because Derek had originally framed the story a bit differently and it wasn’t quite so clear that breast was best. After my comment and a few Tweets between us, he made some edits and the blog is much better and clearer now (Thanks Derek!)
All in all, it’s a delicate issue and you’d be surprised how quickly some women can be scared away (or generally deterred) from breastfeeding.
I’m happy to see advice reminding mothers of the risk and giving them concrete steps to detoxify. Probably, for most of the readers here, we’re beyond arguing whether breastmilk or formula is best, we’re ready to go the next step and fight for a world in which breastmilk is pure – as nature intended, as it’s been for millennia. And for those who can’t breastfeed, formula should be as wholesome and pure as possible (which it currently isn’t).
All in all, we need to clean up our acts and our environment. Thanks to everyone here for doing their part.
Lea Mommy Greenest says
I am currently breastfeeding twins. I breastfed my first child until he was two and hope to do the same for my twins. I must admit though, lately with the rash of negative information coming forward about toxins etc…being passed through breastmilk, I have found myself wondering if I am actually doing them a disservice by continuing to breastfed until 2 years of age. Your article has probably been the most encouraging that I have read on this topic in quite awhile. Thank you for reminding the rational side of me that breast is still best. As the others have said, we must continue our fight to live a clean and healthy life for the sake of our children.
I think it’s equally important to note that cows are not producing milk in a bubble. They eat pesticide-laden food and drink from water that is far from pristine. Formula isn’t exactly pesticide free and does not contain a single ingredient that can help a growing infant overcome the polluted world around them.
Talina of Harvest of Daily Life says
I was wondering if BPA can pass from breast milk to babies. Glad I found this.
replica handbag says
I,m so happy that I nursed my son with breast milk.I knew It’s better than Bottle-fed.And I don’t drink or smoke,because I want to give my child a healthy environment and I have made it.
Don Meulenberg says
I sent in a reply a month or two ago, indicating some points on the negative side of breastfeeding, all of which were firmly based on information taken directly from the EPA, national and international health-related organizations, and reliable university research. That reply appeared here, at least briefly. I don’t see it any more. Is there some censorship going on here? Are people not allowed to be exposed to a statement that is genuinely negative about breastfeeding, and allowed to make up their own minds?
Jennifer Lance says
No censorship here unless a comment is rude or excessively profane. I do not recall your comment.
Jennifer Lance says
Your comment was not on this post. It was on a different one. No need to be paranoid.
Jennifer @Organic Baby University says
I would like to point out that second babies and beyond get lower levels of the chemicals as do babies who breastfeed for extended periods of time …as the chemical load of the mothers is decreased if they watch what they ingest. Therefore, extended breastfeeding means it is only safer and safer. Further, the argument doesn’t really touch the alternative which is formula. Formula is created from cows that have high levels of antibiotics, hormones, GMO derived DHA, other GMO ingredients, often trace amounts of arsenic, pharmaceuticals, hexane, and other chemicals and heavy metals. All packaged most often in a BPA lined can. So while moms can be (and should be) concerned about the contaminants in their breast milk…it is certainly easier to change something you have more control over (your own diet and personal products) than what factory farm lots are doing to their cows. (OR GMO, Roundup riddled soy)
Elizabeth C. says
Umm, hello people. The article did start with breast milk is best. Get a grip.
If you want to hear the three little words “BREAST IS BEST” over and over again, go to any website about breast feeding or even better, get your midwives and health visitors to say it to you even more times than they already have….a great message. Everybody’s heard it, everybody knows it. I’m not disputing that breast is best, but we’re not children learning parrot fashion statements, we’re grown ups who should be making informed decisions and thinking things through in our own minds. I’m not someone who will simply be satisfied with a nice catchy little slogan to help me make up my mind. I like FACTS because I prefer to think for myself than follow whatever I’m told to do by those in authority (i.e doctors, health visitors or even websites). Come on people, it is hugely important to start opening our eyes to the fact that we are being slowly poisoned by the world around us and we cannot avoid it. The best we can do is seek out all the info we can and look for the best possible options available. Yes, breast is still best and the article pointed that out very clearly. All I want to do is thank whoever wrote this for telling the truth even though it is so often unwelcome. It is vital information and we as parents should not be blind to it. There are plenty of other websites you can visit who will avoid such important issues for you, if you’d would rather have only the positive facts. There are all kinds of horrible truths about the risks to children and as much as I’d like to be blissfully unaware, as a responsible parent, I owe it to my child to understand all the dangers so that I can at least try to keep her safe. There is a real lack of honesty and a lot of avoidance about these kinds of things and for me, it was like a breath of fresh air to come across this article. If breast feeding mothers become more aware of this info, surely our children will all be healthier and safer as we can look at detox options and which things to avoid. Common sense really. Are people afraid of the truth, or just the knowledge of it so that they won’t have to feel responsible if their decisions turn out to be wrong?