Environmental Contaminants and Breastfeeding

As I prepare to breastfeed my second child in approximately four months, I have been reading a lot of articles about breastfed babies receiving higher concentrations of PCBs, nitrates and pesticides, since they are ingested by the mother and more or less concentrated in her milk. Now I am concerned that I am actually doing my babies a disservice by breastfeeding and am probably inadvertently preparing them for a life of cancer, sickness and brain malfunctions.

Can you help resolve this for me? If it comes to my baby's getting tainted breastmilk or healthy formula, I would have to choose the formula.

-- Sherri L. Clifton


I can assure you, despite any environmental contaminants that may be found in human milk, it is still the best for your baby. The contaminants found in human milk are also found in cow's milk, from which formula is made. Contaminants should not be ignored, but look at the big picture: What is best for the baby?

To quote directly from the sixth edition of LLL's manual, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: "Our advice is to use common sense. Put the matter of contaminants in perspective. First of all, there is no evidence to date of any harm coming to a breastfed baby because of the presence of these substances in his mother's milk. Only a small percentage of contaminants present in a mother's body are released into her milk. One study that examined a possible correlation between levels of contaminants in human milk and infant development found higher cognitive scores in the children who were breastfed, compared to those given formula. Another study published in 1996 in Pediatrics found that infants exposed to PCB and dioxin through human milk scored significantly higher on mental and motor tests than artificially fed infants. The benefits of breastfeeding clearly outweighed any possible effects of exposure to environmental contaminants through human milk."

You can decrease the level of contaminants in your milk by watching what you eat and what products you use in your home. Discontinue pesticides and sprays in the home and around the lawn and garden. Peel or wash thoroughly all fresh fruits and vegetables in order to get rid of pesticide residue. Trim meats of all fat, since it contains the highest concentration of contaminants.

The advantages of breastfeeding outweigh any dangers compared with the alternatives. To name just a few of the benefits to baby: Human milk provides antibodies to illnesses to which mother has been exposed, protects against infections, reduces the risk of allergies and obesity later in life as well as the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, and increases I.Q. Mother also profits from the reduced risk of hemorrhaging after birth and easier natural weight loss provided by breastfeeding. Night feedings are simpler by breast, and prolactin helps relax mother, reduces risk of breast and uterine cancer, delays return of fertility, brings mom and baby closer emotionally, and saves time and money.

The decision to breastfeed is a personal decision. A mother must feed her baby in the way she is most comfortable. Please continue to investigate, so you can make a truly informed decision.

-- LLLisaT

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