Avoiding environmental pollutants during (and before!) breastfeeding

At GetzWell we hold that, whenever possible, breastfeeding is the absolute best way to feed your baby.

With the many benefits to your child’s cognitive development, immune system, gut health, and bonding, the protective and health promoting properties of breastmilk are nothing short of amazing! At the same time, the reality of our modern world means that pollutants that contaminate our bodies on a daily basis can be passed on to our little ones. Breasts absorb and store chemicals in their fatty tissue, some of which is transferred during milk production. The presence of toxins is higher in first-time moms and during the first months of breastfeeding, so it is never too early to limit your exposure.

While we may not be able to eliminate all toxins from our lives, there are steps we can take to reduce our own body burden and, in turn, that of our children. Chemicals most often found in breastmilk are lipophilic (“fat loving”) and tend to accumulate over long periods of time. They have the potential to affect hormone levels, neurological development, metabolism, and gene expression. To mitigate these effects, we recommend:

• Reducing use of plastics and avoiding perfumed personal care products

• Reducing consumption of meats and dairy, especially from conventionally raised animals

• Choosing organic and responsibly grown foods

• Minimizing canned products, which contain BPA, a known hormone disruptor

Remember that the known benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of exposure to the levels of toxins found in breastmilk. A 2013 study (listed below) suggests that breastfeeding likely offers “benefits that can offset xenobiotic toxicity, including nurturing and favorable physiological components.” It is important still to limit your child’s exposure to these pollutants when possible. This is a topic that we at GetzWell are very passionate about, so please feel free to explore the subject further with us!

For quick reference, we recommend tools such as the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Consumer Guides which can help you make safer choices for cosmetics, groceries, and cleaning products. We have pocket-sized versions of these lists available at GetzWell, and EWG now has some helpful apps.


Further Reading:

1. Causal Inference Considerations for Endocrine Disruptor Research in Children’s Health . Annual Review of Public Health, 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4041588/

2. Healthy Milk, Healthy Baby: Chemical Pollution and Mother’s Milk. National Resources Defense Council, 2005. http://www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/chems.asp

3. Chemical contaminants in breast milk and their impacts on children’s health: an overview. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2002. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240884/

4. Just What’s Inside Those Breasts? NPR, 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/05/16/152818798/breasts-bigger-and-more-vulnerable-to-toxins