"Breast is best" is a saying touted by pediatricians, baby advice books and helpful pamphlets. Breastfeeding has become more and more of the norm in recent years as research has shown how wonderful breast milk is for babies in a plethora of ways. The benefits of breast feeding are plentiful. Babies fed breast milk have a slimmer chance of developing cancer and diabetes later in life. The fatty acids contained in what has been dubbed by some "white blood" or "liquid gold" contribute to brain development, giving breast fed babies higher IQ's than if they had not slurped down mom's good stuff. Breast milk aids in fighting off infections and even helps to fight off E. Coli and salmonella. Breast fed babies are less likely to be hospitalized and have a lower risk of succumbing to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The benefits of breast feeding abound; we aren't arguing that breast milk isn't a wonderful source of nutrition for babies that contains everything they need to thrive, and then some. However, some disturbing new findings show breast milk may contain minuscule amounts of harmful substances along with its many glorious ingredients.
Dangerous chemicals can be found in household products, in the air we breathe and even on and in the food we eat. Once these chemicals enter the human body, they may linger for the remainder of a person's life. Toxins often build up in mothers over time and are then inadvertently passed on to their children through the their breast milk. In fact, a 2015 Harvard study revealed that breast fed infants have an increase of up to 20-30% of toxins building up in their bodies for every month they are breastfed. The amounts of harmful substances found in breast milk are often so small they are almost undetectable, but recent findings have also shown that if the breast milk of some women was sold at a local grocery store, it wouldn't pass FDA regulations due to the dangerous amounts of toxins contained therein.
We aren't saying moms should throw the breast milk out with the bath water and switch to formula, but this recent revelation does show that breast milk isn't the nectar-of-the-gods that will make breastfed babies superior in every possible way to their formula fed peers. The truth is, the world is a dangerous place, and as long as babies are fed, whether it's with formula or breast milk, they will do just fine despite the toxins and chemicals and such lurking seemingly around every corner. Findings are still inconclusive, but it can't hurt to be aware of the latest research and avoid dangerous toxins when possible. Read on for 15 toxins often found in breast milk.
15 Prescription Drugs
Breast feeding moms should know that medical professionals rarely prescribe any medication that would put baby in danger if aware a woman is breast feeding. As long as it is made clear to a physician that baby is living off of mom's milk, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.
There are some prescription medications that have been found to be harmful for babies in a variety of different ways. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of prescription medications it is best that women avoid while pregnant and breastfeeding. It can't hurt to double check and ensure a prescription is safe before ingesting it.
Many medications not recommended taking while pregnant, because they may hinder baby's development, are perfectly safe to take while breast feeding. Keeping an open line of communication with a health care professional will most likely ensure any medications taken will not do baby any harm if present in breast milk. It is important to remember that some side effects are still unknown, and prescription medications should be taken only when needed and not more frequently than recommended.
This one obviously goes without saying, but is still a good reminder. While alcohol consumption is not recommended during pregnancy due to the harm it may do to both a mother and her developing baby, breast feeding moms shouldn't consider unlimited consumption of adult beverages fair game now that baby has arrived.
If a mom giving baby milk wants to indulge in wine, beer or even hard liquor, she should be aware that everything she ingests also goes to baby. Not only is baby much smaller than mom, the high fat content in breast milk can cause the concentration of toxins to build up. These harmful substances could stay in baby's system for much longer than they do in mom's.
Pumping and dumping doesn't do anything for a mom who wants to sip some margaritas with her girlfriends other than give her relief. Experts recommend moms should simply limit alcohol intake to one or two drinks per week, and should wait approximately two hours after consuming alcohol, or until no longer feeling tipsy, before feeding baby. Pumping clean milk in advance to feed baby is an option for a mom who wants a night out and knows baby will need to eat before she sobers up.
13 Wood Preservatives
Wood is used for many things in our modern world. Insects and mold may corrode wood over time, so wood preservatives are often painted on top of wood structures to prevent decay and prolong the life of the wood. Wood preservatives are used frequently on telephone poles, playground structures, decks, road signs, marine pilings and raised gardens.
These preservatives used on wood carry with them a variety of different risks, and although many are registered with the EPA, findings are still concerning. Links have been found between exposure to chemicals found in wood preservatives and cancer. Not only can wood preservatives leach into the soil and contaminate plants, they have also been found in drinking water. Some can even absorb into the skin if touched, making the fact that they are often used on playgrounds extra concerning.
To avoid exposure, pregnant and nursing women should be sure to thoroughly wash hands after coming in contact with wooden structures that may contain preservatives. Filtering water and washing fruits and vegetables may also lower risks of wood preservatives finding their way into baby's milk.
12 Paint Thinners
Paint thinners are highly toxic and can have lasting effects long after exposure. Those coming in contact with paint thinners, especially women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, should wear protective masks and gloves to limit exposure to the toxins present.
Many paint thinners contain the chemical toluene which has been proven to cause short term side effects that may include nausea, depression and headaches. The substance turpentine is known to cause skin irritation, confusion and respiratory distress in the short term. Ethyl acetate is another chemical often found in paint thinners. It is known to have anesthetic qualities and may cause irritation to the throat, eyes and nose if inhaled.
Long-term effects following exposure to these substances may include pneumonia or chronic kidney inflammation. Painting baby's nursery? Make sure to wear a mask to limit inhalation of these dangerous toxins. After finishing a painting job, store any remaining paint thinner in a secure location. Paint thinners are considered a hydrocarbon. Hydrocarbons are the leading cause of death by poisoning in children. Never pour paint thinners down the drain as this leaks the toxins contained therein into the environment.
11 Toilet Deodorizers
Toilet deodorizers are wonderful little gadgets used for putting the kabosh on unwanted smells present in or around toilets. One of the less glamorous parts of being a new mom is the lingering poopy-diaper smell that can often permeat a nursery. Diaper deodorizers are a solution to this stinky side effect of motherhood.
Research done by the National Institutes of Health has shown that chemicals found in many home air fresheners such as toilet and diaper deodorizers may cause a decrease in lung function, and may even lead to lung cancer, heart disease or stroke. Children suffering from asthma may find the problem is exacerbated when deodorizers are present in the home.
Natural alternatives exist for moms who want to keep their homes smelling fresh without putting themselves and their babies at risk of being exposed to harmful chemicals. One idea is to bring favorite fruits, spices and herbs to boil in a pot of water on the stove, then lower the pot to a simmer once the water boils. This will send a natural and lovely sent wafting through the house without adding any chemicals. Want air freshener to use in specifically putrid smelling areas? Mix water, vodka and a favorite essential oil together in a spray bottle and kiss those bad smells goodbye, safely and naturally.
Other ideas to rid a home of bad smells include emptying the garbage often, opening windows to let fresh air in when possible, cleaning up after pets in a timely manner and using fans to move rank air out of certain areas.
10 Cosmetic Additives
The list of toxins present in many cosmetics regularly used by women is long and daunting. For a full run-down, look here. We've listed a few of the most harmful chemicals present in many cosmetics and their possible side effects below.
Butylated Compounds: These chemicals, also known as BHA or BHT, are especially dangerous for pregnant and nursing mothers and infants. They are found in a variety of different self-care products and even some foods. These toxins have been proven to cause endocrine disruption, respiratory irritation and cancer. Read labels in order to avoid products that contain BHA or BHT.
Polyacrylamide: While not dangerous on its own, polycrylamide becomes toxic when used in conjunction with another substance, acrylamide, which has been linked to cancer as well as reproductive and developmental toxicity. It has also been linked to a decreased sperm-count in rats and a low birth weight in babies. It is found in many anti-aging creams, sunscreens, hair products and lotions. The use of this substance in products that also contain acrylamide is regulated in Europe, but no regulation exists in the United States.
Parabens: These chemical preservatives are often present in shampoos, lotions and cleansers. They have been linked to cancer and endocrine disruption and can be absorbed through the skin, digestive system and blood. Certain forms of parabens have been banned in Denmark for use in products made for children under 3 years of age.
To keep baby safe and milk toxin free, check labels while purchasing beauty products. Avoiding these chemicals will lower the risk that something harmful reaches mom or baby.
9 Rocket Fuel
Rocket fuel has been confirmed to have leaked into the drinking water supplies in at least 35 states, meaning up to 11 million people may be affected by this awful fact. Perchlorate is a harmful chemical found in rocket fuel that has been proven to cause many unsavory side effects. This substance has also recently been discovered in milk and lettuce by the Food and Drug Administration.
High doses of the chemical perchlorate have been linked to the formation of thyroid tumors in animals. This leads experts to believe it may also interfere with the thyroids of young children; this would be devastating during their crucial years of growth and development and could cause lasting brain damage.
Federal environmental officials have decided the levels of perchlorate contaminating water are not high enough to do an damage, but many environmentalists disagree. Whatever the truth, perchlorate is being found in the breast milk of mothers. Even if the amounts of it are small, it's still a toxin that could negatively effect baby. Crap.
8 Flame Retardants
In the 1970's, fire safety standards were put in place for manufacturers in the hopes of increasing the safety of many products. The reason for this stipulation was to slow the rate in which a fire could ignite when near these products, giving people more time to escape in the event of a blaze and minimizing the damage done to a home.
As a result, many household products including furniture foam, drapery backings, television cabinets, electronics and plastics used in small appliances and personal computers are coated in flame retardants. Not only do the chemicals used in these products seep into one's home over time, they also contaminate air and soil in the areas where these products are manufactured.
Flame retardants contain toxins known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which have been linked to neurodevelopmental delays in children. It is believed that 97 percent of Americans have high levels of PBDEs in their blood. This doesn't bode well for babies who share mom's blood in utero. The toxins have been found in breast milk as well, but at least your couch isn't going to catch on fire anytime soon. Crisis averted. Don't worry, we're being sarcastic.
Fungicides are chemicals used by farmers to protect crops from unwanted pests and plant-destroying fungi such as rust. In recent years, the use of fungicides to ward off damage to crops has increased. Farmers attempt to limit use of the chemicals to twice a year and water crops as little as possible to help limit the toxins from ending up in the environment, but only time will tell if this is enough to prevent serious damage.
Toxins from the chemicals found in fungicides have been found in bodies of water where they are widely used including the states Idaho, Wisconsin and Maine. There is little knowledge about the effects these toxins have on humans, but they have been proven to cause obesity in lab rats. Studies have also found a link between fungicides and Parkinson's disease.
More research is needed to confirm how dangerous these toxins are. In the mean time, fungicides are still being widely used and are most definitely in the drinking water of some, if not many. They have also been found in trace amounts on fruits and vegetables. Blagh.
6 Dry-cleaning Fluids
Okay, so now we can't even dry clean our clothes? This is getting out of hand. Unfortunately, some experts are saying exactly that. Three out of four dry cleaners in the United States use a chemical known as perchloroethylene, or PERC, to get customer's suits and cashmere sweaters clean and fresh.
PERC has been proven to cause nausea, dizziness and headaches when inhaled. That's just in the short term. It has also been linked to kidney and liver disease, neurological effects and cancer. PERC vapors don't only put employees of dry cleaning establishments in danger. The vapors can leak into the air surrounding dry cleaning businesses and affect nearby restaurants, offices or even innocent people just obliviously walking by.
Breathing the vapors of PERC isn't the only dangerous thing about dry cleaning. Even wearing clothes that have been dry cleaned can put people at risk for the side effects of exposure to this toxin. At least now moms have an excuse to wear stained clothing. One less errand to run! Just trying to make some lemonade out of lemons, here because this is getting super depressing.
Organic mercury, found in fish and other seafood is troublesome because it builds up in the body over time. Small amounts of mercury are passed to baby though the placenta while he is in his mother's womb. Traces of mercury are also often found in breast milk. These two factors by themselves are not overly concerning.
The concern is for breastfeeding moms who consume a lot of fish. Fish found to contain mercury include tuna, yellowtail, king mackerel, shark, marlin and swordfish. These women have been proven to have higher amounts of mercury in their bloodstream, and as a result their breast milk
The more often baby is exposed the more dangerous it can be. Large amounts of mercury have been shown to cause neurological damage. Luckily, studies of babies exposed to small amounts mercury in breast milk have shown no adverse side effects. This proves that unless mom is eating copious amounts of fish on a regular basis, both mom and baby should be just fine. Finally, some good news. Sheesh.
Lead is another toxin that builds up in the body over time, often over periods of months or years. Lead poisoning can be dangerous and even deadly, especially for babies and young children. Severe mental and physical developmental delays may result from exposure to lead. High levels of exposure may also result in damage to the kidneys and nervous system.
Lead poisoning can come from a variety of different sources. It most often comes from exposure to lead-based paint or dust containing lead found in old buildings and homes. Lead contaminates can also come from the soil and drinking water, and can even be found in some toys and in certain cosmetics.
Newborns who exhibit symptoms such as stunted growth or learning difficulties may have been exposed to lead. If parents fear their child has been exposed, a simple blood test can confirm whether or not lead is present in the bloodstream. The best treatment for lead poisoning is to pinpoint the source of contamination and eradicate it. The earlier exposure to lead is identified and ended, the greater the chance of miminal damage to little ones. Not helping.
Exposure to arsenic can happen in a variety of ways. Those who live near copper or lead smelters or places where arsenic is disposed of in large quantities may be at risk. There are also areas where the rock contains high levels of arsenic. In rare instances, arsenic may even be present in drinking water or food.
If large quantities of arsenic are either inhaled or ingested, death may be the result. In smaller doses, arsenic can be blamed for nausea, vomiting, warts, red swollen skin and impaired nerve function. Prolonged and frequent exposure can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Exposure to arsenic has also been linked to a variety of different types of cancer.
If a mom fears she may have been exposed to arsenic either once or over time, it is suggested she contact her health care provider. For information about if arsenic is present in a certain area, contact the local poison control center.
DDT was a pesticide widely used following World War 2 that was touted as the miraculous solution to eradicating unwanted pests. It was banned nearly 40 years ago after it was found to be not only dangerous for insects and vermin, but also for humans, especially the tiny newborn ones.
Unfornately, like many toxic chemicals, DDT didn't just go away. It was present in the blood of 99 percent of individuals recently tested by the Center for Disease Control and is still often found in many of the foods we eat including dairy products, fruits and vegetables.
DDT has been linked to nervous system damage, liver damage, breast cancer and other cancers, developmental delays, miscarriages and low birth weight. It is also the culprit behind nearly killing off the majestic bald eagle. Not cool, DDT. Although still present in our world, the longer DDT is banned, the less of an effect it has on our population, old and young, big and small. Some good news? Since the use of DDT was haulted, the bald eagle population is making a major comeback. That bodes well for us human folk. Phew.
Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs are a group of chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer in animals, meaning it is highly likely they cause cancer in humans as well. Other side effects of PCBs include skin, lung and nose irritation, rashes, severe acne and eye problems, learning disabilities and developmental delays. Okay, so they aren't good.
Want to know something else absolutely terrible? Between the years of 1946 and 1977, approximately 1.3 million pounds of these highly toxic chemicals were dumped into the Hudson River. PCBs don't go away. They linger in the environment and stay in the fat tissue of humans for all time once absorbed. Many are exposed to PCBs after eating fish that have been exposed to and contaminated by these chemicals.
Alright, so the world is toxic and full of gross, dangerous and deadly poisons. Does this mean moms should become bubble women and never leave their houses again? Negative. Does it mean mothers should throw in the towel and never breast feed their babies again? Definitely not.
Just because breast milk has been shown to contain trace amounts of some of these toxins doesn't mean it isn't wonderful for babies to consume. The good in breast milk still exponentially outweighs the possible bad. Be aware of dangerous toxins out there, avoid dangers when possible and don't sweat the rest. A fed baby is a happy, healthy, lucky baby whether she eats breast milk, formula or a little bit of both.
Sources: Forbes.com, NYTimes.com, BestforBabes.org, HSPH.Harvard.edu, Aappublications.org, Nih.gov
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