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Contaminants have been found in human milk. Should I wean my baby?

Breastfeeding remains the healthiest way to nourish your baby.

News report often focus on findings of contaminants in mothers' milk. This is because studies to test for certain chemicals can only be done using human tissues that contain fat. Human milk meets this requirement and it's easier to obtain volunteers to provide specimens of milk than to get volunteers to agree to a biopsy of body tissues containing fat.

Breastfeeding mothers can be assured that breastfeeding remains best even in a polluted world. More information on testing for contaminants in human milk is available in a September 2003 media release from LLLI. The release lists 10 simple ways a woman can help reduce her body burden of this and other chemicals.

In September 2003, many media outlets featured reports on a particular type of flame retardant that had been discovered in human milk. Lauren Sucher, spokesperson for the group that sponsored the study, stated:

"Despite the increased evidence of PBDE contamination, the researchers noted that 'breast-feeding remains the single most important choice mothers can make for the health of their babies, offering innumerable benefits to mother and child.'"

Fetal exposure appears to be the biggest problem. While testing levels of contaminants in human milk provides a good indicator of fetal exposure, breastfeeding may actually help overcome some of the harmful effects that occur during pregnancy, the researchers said.

The LLLI press release further reminds us:

"A discussion of this topic is incomplete without pointing out the well-documented nutritional inadequacies and detrimental health consequences of artificial baby milk, which may be contaminated both as products of the same environment and through manufacturing. In addition, human milk, unlike manufactured formula, does not add to the ecological burden of the planet.

Human milk cannot be duplicated. It is a living, changing fluid which continually adapts to the needs of the developing infant. Professional research demonstrates that breastfed infants have significantly lower morbidity rates. In addition, studies show that breastfeeding offers significant immunologic, developmental and nutritional benefits."

Additional information can be found in this document on the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action Web site, which was contributed to by LLLI:

Towards Healthy Environments for Children: Frequently Asked Questions about Breastfeeding in a Contaminated Environment (PDF)

Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.

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