MAYWOOD, Ill. -- When writer Florence Williams was nursing her second child, she had her breast milk analyzed for toxins. What she found surprised her.
Trace amounts of pesticides, dioxin, a jet-fuel ingredient and high-to-average levels of flame retardants were present in her breast milk. She reported on these findings in New York Times Magazine, which has since set off a wave of controversy. A Loyola University Health System lactation consultant puts these findings in perspective.
“All human bodies contain toxins. This includes infants, regardless of what they are fed,” said Pam Allyn, RN, BSN, LCCE, IBCLC, lactation consultant. “The question is, which has greater risk and fewer advantages – breast milk or formula? Breast milk is still best for babies for its numerous protective benefits."
Allyn reports that risks of formula feeding infants include an increased incidence of SIDS, hospitalization for lower-respiratory tract infections, childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, leukemia and asthma. Not breastfeeding also increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer for mothers.
The World Health Organization states that the advantages of breastfeeding far outweigh the potential risks from environmental pollutants. The American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association also continue to recommend breastfeeding infants for at least 12 months.
“While the author expresses concern for what she found in her breast milk, she also concedes that while breast milk is food, it also is medicine,” Allyn said. “Breast milk is known to contain nutrients that cannot be duplicated by any laboratory formula, and these nutrients make children more resistant to disease and infection. That is a key point that mothers should keep in mind when they are determining if they are going to breastfeed their baby.”