I haven’t read this whole article, but thought it looked interesting. It begins with a laundry-list of benefits of breastmilk for the infant, then asks aloud whether these benefits are worth the risks of the possible contaminants and pollutants that may exist in breastmilk; the remainder is an attempt at answering that question. With sections on the history of anti-breastfeeding, “Human Milk: Its own Immune System,” and other sections specifically looking at particular types of contaminants, it presents a detailed look at what is known on the various subjects. The conclusion is “Net Gain”:
After having considered the problem of environmental contaminants in human milk, the WHO, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to recommend breastfeeding. “After three decades of study, there is now fairly good evidence that little if any morbidity is occurring from the more common and well-studied chemical agents found in human milk,” says Walter Rogan, a clinical investigator in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch. “There are very few instances in which morbidity has been described in a nursling that was due to a chemical pollutant in milk.”
Labbok agrees. “To date, no environmental contaminant, except in situations of acute poisoning, has been found to cause more harm to infants than does lack of breast-feeding,” she says. “I have seen no data that would argue against breastfeeding, even in the presence of today’s levels of environmental toxicants.”
Still, Rogan cautions, human milk contains no proven antidote to contaminant exposure. “To the degree that the overall benefits from breastfeeding overlap with the deleterious effects of the chemicals, those benefits might appear to cancel out the harm, but this is hard to study epidemiologically,” he says.
Because of human milk’s nutritional, immunologic, anticancer, and detoxifying effects, Wang, Rogan, and other environmental scientists encourage women to continue the practice of breastfeeding even in the context of widespread pollution. “At the same time,” says Pronczuk, “breastfeeding mothers should be helped and advised on how to avoid alcohol and drugs and remove themselves from polluted environments, while also creating healthier, safer, and cleaner environments for themselves and their children.”