What About Contaminants in Breast Milk?

Two women were talking about contaminants in breast milk. One worried about being sick and that affecting her baby. She also worried about plastics and chemical residue. Soon, they were worrying that stress while breastfeeding would have a bad effect on the baby. Yikes! So much to worry about, that is stressful.

Let’s not diminish all the good things you as parents are doing or trying to do. There are a few things you can cross of your worry list. There are some actions you can take to improve the situation. Let’s look at the issues of illness, chemical residues and stress.

When you, the breastfeeding mother, has some bug, your body responds with immune factors to fight off the illness. Those immune factors are passed along to your child through breast milk. When your baby is sick, your body also responds to the illness the baby has. The necessary immune factors are passed on to your baby through breast milk. It’s a circle of support!  You are actually helping your baby build his or her immune system. Human breast milk is the only way to provide specific immune and growth factors to a human child.

The issue of synthetic contaminants in breast milk and plastic pollution requires more attention. However, there are a few simple steps to reduce chemical residue in your system.

Eat Certified Organic food. If you only have ‘conventional’ produce, always peel it first. That’s where most of the pesticide residue remains.
• Use paper or glass instead of plastic containers, disposable items and bags. Several countries in Europe are already banning many toxic chemicals. That makes more sense. A good review of chemical exposure in our environment is the Environmental Working Group website.

Contaminants in breast milk was the topic of an interesting, thorough review published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2008. Miriam Labbok, a physician and epidemiologist, stated
“To date, no environmental contaminant, except in situations of acute poisoning, has been found to cause more harm to infants than does lack of breast-feeding,”
She continued:
“I have seen no data that would argue against breastfeeding, even in the presence of today’s levels of environmental toxicants.” 

Where did that idea come from… that a breastfeeding mother is ‘contaminating’ or ‘harming’ the baby?  That’s a ‘booby trap’: misinformation that a woman’s body is inadequate which undermines breastfeeding.
Breast milk is inherently very healthy.

Whether breastfeeding or not, parents/mothers feel stress for many reasons. Stress does increase cortisol in our own bodies.  One study noted that those infants with more cortisol in the breast milk tended to be more fearful children. And yet, there is plenty of research that shows how contact with your child calms them.Babies, children, thrive with attention and contact. KangarooMotherCare  can reduce cortisol levels in infants, especially important for premature babies.

Even when you are upset, holding your child, making eye contact, your familiar voice….these convey safety and reliability to your child.  You are there, which is very important to an infant and young child.  Some research has shown how breastfeeding can actually help you with depression.

It’s okay to say “I’m confused today and don’t feel so good.” Recognizing your reactions, your moods, and having tools to center yourself is important. However you are feeding your child, it’s essential to get the support you need.  Mothers, and those around her, are affected by enormous stresses.

Know this: Whether it is in emergencies, or a few  difficult days, breastfeeding still provides clean, complete nutrition for a child. A woman’s body is finely tuned to grow and nourish her children through many events. Breast milk meets the baby’s growing nutritional needs, aids in developing the immune system, and is responsive to many subtle biological signals.

We can foster a world that is cleaner, safer, less violent. Breast milk will continue to be healthy and everything else will be healthier, too. That’s a win-win situation for every body.