The presence of microplastics had already been found by previous research in breast milk which is now exposed to numerous chemical contaminants also present in the urine of newborns, with potentially greater risks to the health of particularly vulnerable children.
From phthalates present in plastic food packaging to bisphenol A, currently banned, present in disposable plastic tableware and body cleansers, from glyphosates, used as pesticides, to parabens contained in cosmetics: these are the numerous endocrine disruptors, i.e. chemicals that alter the hormonal system causing a greater risk of obesity, precocious puberty, diabetes and neurobehavioral disorders in childhood, found in breast milk when they should be absent.
This is what emerges for the first time from the ongoing Italian study, funded by the EU, “Life Milch” (“Mother and Infants dyads: Lowering the impact of endocrine disrupting Chemicals in milk for a Healthy Life”), coordinated by University of Parma in collaboration with the AUSL-IRCCS of Reggio Emilia and the universities of Florence and Cagliari, with the aim of evaluating the effects of endocrine disruptors on neurodevelopment and infant growth, analyzing in particular breast milk.
Chemical contaminants are everywhere in the environment with particular risks for newborns but we must avoid the danger of social alarm which could push thousands of mothers to prefer alternative methods to breastfeeding which remains by far the best food for babies .
by Celeste Ottaviani
“The discovery of numerous contaminants in breast milk, beyond microplastics, increases our concern for the population of extremely vulnerable newborns because exposure to these particles is inevitable, given their omnipresence in the environment – he explains Mariacarolina Salerno, president of the congress, and director of the Endocrinological Pediatrics Unit of the Department of Translational Medical Sciences of the Federico II University of Naples -. However, these results should not cause alarm: breastfeeding is beneficial for the health and growth of the child and should not be suspended but protected, preventing exposure to endocrine disruptors and acting on women’s nutritional habits and lifestyle during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Studies like ours must not suspend this practice but raise awareness among women to reduce exposure to toxic substances and put pressure on institutions to promote laws that reduce environmental pollution.”
654 mother-child pairs
The first part of the research, still in progress, was concerned with analyzing and measuring the concentration levels of endocrine disruptors in breast milk in 654 mother-child pairs, from birth to the first year of life.
“The data shows – he adds Mary Elizabeth Street, study partner and associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Parma – the presence of phthalates in up to 70% of breast milk samples and up to 96% of newborn urine samples. High levels of bisphenol A, currently banned, were also found in breast milk in up to 44% of samples, with a presence of up to 14% in children’s urine. Lowest presence percentages at 18% of samples for glufosinates and glyphosates. Breast milk was also contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, up to 6%, parabens and pyrethroids in 2.4% of the samples.”
by Mara Magistroni
The expert recalls that “the contaminants in breast milk which are always co-present, interact with each other, potentially causing greater harmful consequences in later stages of life”. “Exceeding these values indicates – adds Street – that it is now clear the importance of understanding the impact of endocrine disruptors via breast milk on the growth of the child in order to develop specific actions to reduce exposure, as it is a excellence particularly susceptible to contamination. To this end we would like to advise pregnant women to pay more attention and avoid foods and drinks packaged in plastic, cosmetics and toothpastes containing microplastics and clothes made from synthetic fabrics”.
Protect breast milk
However, it should be underlined how important breastfeeding is for the growth and development of the child. “We want to be sure that women, health workers and the authorities responsible for environmental and health policies have the information they need to make important decisions that have repercussions on the health of children – concludes Salerno -. Breast milk is the most that you can offer to your children: we therefore need greater monitoring and greater attention to the environment to preserve this ‘white gold’ and, together, the health of future generations”.
Tips for ‘protecting’ breast milk
For this reason, the experts of the Italian Society of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetology (SIEDP) have prepared a series of recommendations to reduce the exposure of women during pregnancy and breastfeeding to endocrine disruptors
1) Limit the use of single-use plastic and the use of non-certified baby bottles
2) Limit the use of plastic containers for storing and heating food
3) If possible, do not use solvents, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and possibly use protective devices during their use
4) For personal hygiene and cosmetics, use natural products
5) Rinse canned fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption
6) Preferably consume fresh and seasonal foods
7) Follow a varied diet with foods from different suppliers.
8) Choose clothing with natural fabrics