Breastfeeding in the Industrial Age Could Fill Your Baby With Toxic Chemicals

Breastfeeding could be poisoning babies with dangerous toxins. At the end of August, experts from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health released the results of a study showing a link between a class of industrial chemicals and cancerous toxins in breast milk.

The chemical substances, which are used in sleeping bags, pizza boxes, cookwares, waterproof clothing and other common household products, are called perfluorinated alkylates, or PFAS, and are known to contaminate drinking water in places close to their production facilities.

These compound chemicals bioaccumulate in food chains and have the same effect as mercury contamination in seafood: one small animal is exposed to the chemical, then a larger animal eats that animal and becomes even more exposed, and so on up the line. They can stay in the body for extended periods of time, and according to a press release from Harvard, have been “linked with reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and immune system dysfunction."

This is the first study that quantifies the amount of the chemicals that can be transferred to infants through breast milk over time. It showed that for each month an infant was breastfed, the PFAS concentrations in their blood increased by roughly 20 to 30 percent. In a few cases, the baby's concentration levels exceeded that of its mother by the end of breastfeeding.  

“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,” Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School, said in a press release.

The study results suggest breast milk is a major source of PFAS exposure for babies.

“There is no reason to discourage breastfeeding, but we are concerned that these pollutants are transferred to the next generation at a very vulnerable age,” Grandjean said in the press release. “Unfortunately, the current U.S. legislation does not require any testing of chemical substances like PFASs for their transfer to babies and any related adverse effects.”

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