Fertility Blog

Ensuring the Purity of Breast Milk

A woman trying to get pregnant doesn't need the added stress of wondering if her breast milk carries any toxic synthetic chemical residues from everyday items or environmental pollution. Besides methylmercury in fish, there are chemical residues found in fire retardants in the foam of that gorgeous new couch, organochlorines in common garden pesticides and anti-wrinkle agents in new clothes. Some residues are benign, and wash through the body; others linger, and through persistent exposure, can show up in blood, fatty tissue and breast milk. Although the cumulative effects of these so-called bioaccumulators are actively being studied, there are good reasons not to panic. First, not all chemicals that enter a woman's body persist. Many residues are attracted to water rather than fat, and will exit the body through urination. Second, there is a global movement of activists and scientists working to recognize that women and their children have a fundamental right to clean breast milk. The most problematic pollutants have already been identified, and health activists are determined to stop exposure. In August 2003, they were victorious when California legislators passed a law to ban a class of chemicals used in common fire retardants known as PBDEs that were showing up in large amounts in breast milk. Finally, some experts concur that the health benefits of breast feeding outweigh the potential negative impacts of low-level lingering chemicals in the breast milk. Some studies have even shown that breast milk can reverse some of the negative effects of low-level fetal exposure to toxic chemicals. If you are inclined to get more involved in this topic, keep abreast of California State Senator Deborah Ortiz's legislative initiative SB1168 Biomonitoring Program. This pilot program would enable target women to be tested for the presence of harmful chemicals, and it would represent the first statewide initiative of its kind.

Posted on February 17th, 2004

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