Contaminants in breast milk decline, but still noteworthy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breastfeeding mother

Contaminants in breast milk that raise health concerns are declining, but still noteworthy.

Because toxins enter the body from food and other sources, and are partially excreted in breast milk, scientists found monitoring women during lactation is an ideal way to monitor chemicals that can harm health. They also say some environmental contaminants are not disappearing.

Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health are studying contaminants in breast milk that they say decline over time. Infant exposure to the potentially harmful chemicals are worth considering when deciding whether to breastfeed.

Eighty percent of Norwegian mothers breastfeed until 6 months of age, and some as long as eighteen months. Researchers found after one year, the levels of contaminants in breast milk drop 15 – 94 per cent. Though breast milk is healthy for infants and mothers, the scientists also say mother's milk contains health harming chemicals.

The researchers studied 30 known contaminants including brominated flame retardants, PCBs, and perfluorinated compounds to see how the levels change with breastfeeding.


They note little research has been done targeting environmental toxins in breast milk.

One such study published December, 2008 in Breastfeeding Medicine", however, supported breastfeeding even though chemicals like dioxin and other toxins might be present in breast milk.

The study, titled "The Heart of the Matter on Breastmilk and Environmental Chemicals: Essential Points for Health Care Providers and New Parents," suggested the benefit to infants outweighed the risks, saying evidence did not support "altering the World Health Organization recommendations promoting and supporting breastfeeding."

With the exception of brominated flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds, the researchers say levels of environmental contaminants in breast milk have declined sharply over decades, showing some progress toward protecting human health.

Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (24), pp 9550–9556
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (24), pp 9550–9556 DOI: 10.1021/es1021922">DOI: 10.1021/es1021922

This page is updated on May 12, 2013.



Let's check the cows too, just to be fair.