In a startling revelation researchers have warned that breastfeeding is exposing infants to industrial chemicals known to have links with cancer and longer the babies are breastfed the higher volumes of toxic chemicals they are exposed to.
The study, co-authored by experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published in Environmental Science & Technology, doesn’t discourage breastfeeding, but brings to forefront the fact that breast milk is a major source of PFAS exposure during infancy and regulations need to be put into place testing of chemical substances like perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFASs) for their transfer to babies and related adverse effects.
The study, which saw contribution from Danish universities and the Faroese Hospital System, followed 81 children who were born in the Faroe Islands between 1997-2000. Researchers monitored five types of PFASs in their blood at birth and ages 11 months, 18 months, and 5 years and also looked at PFAS levels in mothers of the children at week 32 of pregnancy.
Researchers found that children who were exclusively breastfed had PFAS concentrations in the blood increase by roughly 20-30 per cent each month, with lower increases among children who were partially breastfed. In some cases researchers found that by the end of breastfeeding children’s serum concentration levels of PFASs exceeded that of their mothers’.
PFASs are chemicals that are generally used in products to make them resistant to water, grease, and stains. Stain-proof textile manufacturers have been using them for over 60 years now and they are also used in some food packaging, paints, and lubricants.
PFASs have been known as a contaminant of drinking water in the U.S. near various production facilities. According to researchers, chemicals in these group tend to bioaccumulate in food chains and can persist for a long time in the body. They have regularly been found in the blood of animals and humans worldwide, and have been linked with reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and immune system dysfunction.
“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,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School.
“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. 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,” Grandjean said.