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Media Release: Breastfeeding Remains Best Choice in a Polluted World

Schaumburg, IL (August 2003)-Breastfeeding remains the best option for feeding infants, even as attention is focused on the many chemicals that may find their way into a mother's body, according to La Leche League International, the world's foremost authority on mother-to-mother breastfeeding support.

The four specimens often used to test levels of chemicals in the human body are urine, blood, hair and human milk. This monitoring is done to determine levels of environmental chemicals in different geographical areas. Any substances found in human milk because of this routine testing are a reflection of the exposure in all humans living in that particular area and not a statement about breastfeeding.

Scientific research shows consistently that even in a world exposed to so many chemicals, breastfeeding offers advantages which outweigh the risk of ingesting possible contaminants. Indeed, the benefits of breast milk, which includes high levels of antioxidants, may prove to be essential to compensate for and outweigh the risks of toxic effects from the environment. Today the focus of scientific concerns is being directed toward removing potentially toxic chemicals from the environment while recognizing the value of human milk, the only source of optimal nutrition for infants.

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.

La Leche League International's Center for Breastfeeding Information maintains the world's largest collection of studies on breastfeeding and human milk. La Leche League International fulfills its mission of offering information and support to women who wish to breastfeed by holding monthly meetings, offering telephone counseling and on-line support, through educational meetings and by publishing books and pamphlets on breastfeeding. For further information on this or any breastfeeding topic, visit our informative Web site at or call 1-847-519-7730.

Information on Contaminants and Minimizing Exposure

Routine monitoring of chemicals in human urine, blood, hair and milk show that environmental contaminants are present, not just in these testing specimens, but in the fat cells of everyone living in the area tested. Their presence is a reflection of the substances that exist in a particular community. This is a reason to eliminate toxins from the environment--not a reason to eliminate breastfeeding.

Virtually every infant born today already has a body burden of industrial chemicals. Indeed, evidence demonstrates that babies are more vulnerable to transmission of substances during the prenatal stage than after birth.

While human milk has higher levels of some persistent organic pollutants than artificial baby milk, infant formula is not pollutant free and has been, among other things, associated with higher levels of heavy metals, phytoestrogens and bacteria. Many well-documented studies demonstrate the health risks of formula feeding, including life-threatening errors in the manufacturing process. Human milk will never be recalled because of manufacturer error.

There is evidence that human milk with its species-specific optimal nutrition and its anti-inflammatory agents, including antioxidants, helps a child develop a stronger immune system and other potential protections against environmental pollutants and pathogens. In regard to organochlorine compounds, a recent study in Pediatrics states: "Long-term breastfeeding was found to be beneficial to neurodevelopment, potentially counterbalancing the impact of exposure to these chemicals through breast milk."

The World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major health associations, overwhelmingly support the importance of breastfeeding even in a contaminated world. Documented benefits of breastfeeding include reduced incidences of the following: insulin dependent diabetes, some childhood cancers, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, obesity and other health problems. In addition, studies suggest that breastfeeding may have a positive influence upon the development of verbal and general intelligence.

It is impossible to reduce exposure to all chemical elements. However, for those who would like to reduce contact with chemicals especially before pregnancy, and during pregnancy and lactation, the following suggestions may be helpful.

10 Simple Steps to Help Reduce the Level of Chemicals in Your Body

  1. Avoid smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol since levels of contaminants have been found to be higher in those who smoke and drink alcoholic beverages.
  2. Be aware in purchasing homes and buildings that have been treated with pesticides for termites and/or older homes that might have lead-based paints.
  3. In general, eat a variety of foods low in animal fats, remove skin and excess fat from meats and poultry. Avoiding high-fat dairy products may reduce the potential burden of fat-soluble contaminants.
  4. Increase consumption of grains, fruits and vegetables. Thoroughly wash and peel fruits and vegetables to help eliminate the hazard of pesticide residues on the skin. When available, eat food grown without fertilizer or pesticide application.
  5. Avoid fish such as swordfish and shark or freshwater fish from waters reported as contaminated by local health agencies.
  6. Limit exposure to chemicals such as solvents found in paints, non-water based glues, furniture strippers, nail polish, and gasoline fumes.
  7. Remove the plastic cover of dry cleaned clothing, and air out the garments in a room with open windows for 12-24 hours.
  8. Try to avoid contact with incinerator discharge, preserved wood, or produce grown near incinerators.
  9. For those in the workforce, attempt to avoid occupational exposure to chemical contaminants and seek improved workplace chemical safety standards for all employees, especially pregnant and lactating women.
  10. Encourage other family members to be sensitive to contaminant residue they may inadvertently bring into the home.
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