A new scientific study has revealed that breast milk is often contaminated by environmental pollutants. Some of the toxins uncovered in breast milk can disrupt the hormonal balance, brain development, and establishment of the gut microbiome in the infant.
The measured toxins in the current study included various Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), oxy-chlordane, PCBs, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) congeners, and both per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), in particular perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a type of PFAS, was found in almost 90% of samples. Several other pollutants were also identified in the breast milk samples analyzed in the current study. These included chlorpyrifos, bisphenol A (BPA), (BPA was identified in about 90% of samples), tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), along with several other toxins.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) HCB and PCBs were found at higher levels in samples from older women, with other POPs showing the same age-dependent trend that is likely due to cumulative exposure. Conversely, PFOA was found in younger mothers. POPs including DDT and DDE were present at higher levels in mothers with lower income.
The study findings indicate that breast milk may expose infants to potentially harmful pollutants that can disrupt their development and health. Women’s exposure to toxic environmental chemicals, especially persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furans, as well as toxic metals, can lead to varying concentrations of these toxins to accumulate within breast milk. Infants younger than one month were found to have been exposed to BPA, PFASs, and PCBs above the tolerable daily or weekly intake. Some of these chemicals disrupt normal endocrine function, which could subsequently affect the normal development of the infant. Additionally, neurotoxicity is a concern in infants consuming contaminated breast milk, as their brains are more vulnerable to exposure to such toxins. The effect of these chemicals on the infant microbiome could also be significant, as it is a crucial component of immunologic maturation.
Researchers conducted a multi-chemical evaluation of 60 breast milk samples. The results of the study revealed 31 organic contaminants and 14 toxic and essential elements. The bottom line: Breastfed babies are exposed to a mixture of hazardous chemicals. As the benefits of breastfeeding are well-established in the medical and scientific communities, the solution is for pregnant women and women planning on becoming pregnant to greatly minimize their exposure to these harmful toxins.
The primary action pregnant women can take is to educate themselves on which chemicals are the most important to avoid and where they are hiding. As we are inundated with toxic chemicals in our food, products and general environment it can be difficult to learn all the toxins to avoid. CFL founder Dr. Pam offers a program for pregnant and planning-to-be-pregnant women to train them on how to avoid the most toxic chemicals in their food, personal care and home care products, as well as their general environments. But for DIYers, a good place to start is to visit our Blog page, scroll down to the bottom of the page and type in “pregnant” or “pregnancy” in the search box. There should be several scientific studies that have linked specific harmful chemicals to pregnant women and their offspring. You can also contact us and we can do a search of our database of scientific studies on chemicals and pregnancy for you.
Journal reference: Rovira, J., Martinez, M. A., Mari, M., et al. (2022). Mixture of Environmental Pollutants in Breast Milk from A Spanish Cohort of Nursing Mothers. Environment International. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2022.107375.