Breastmilk is often contaminated by environmental pollutants that can disrupt hormonal balance, brain development, and the establishment of the gut microbiome in the infant, according to a new study. The study published in Environment International shows the impact that environmental pollution continues to have on all aspects of life.

Many mothers choose to breastfeed their children when they are born. Breastfeeding can provide many nutrients like lactose, caseinogen, and fats. The act of breastfeeding also even creates a strong bond between the mother and child. Breast milk contains bioactive compounds including secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), lactalbumin, lysozyme, immunological factors, and even growth factors for tissues like the brain and epidermis.

However, growing environmental pollutants in the air have made their way into the breast milk of many mothers. Organic pollutants (POPs), including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans, and toxic metals, have been found in breast milk at varying concentrations. Some of these chemicals can disrupt normal endocrine function, which could impact the development of the infant. Similar studies have found concentrations of toxic chemicals in breast milk.

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The study also expresses concern over how these chemicals can affect the microbiome of the infant. The microbiome is a vital component of immunological maturation. Neurotoxicity is also a major concern as their brains are more susceptible and vulnerable to toxins.

The study found various levels of pollutants in breast milk samples from a group of Spanish women. They found various POPs like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), oxy-chlordane, PCBs, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) congeners, and even both per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).

DDT, an insecticide used in agriculture, was found in high concentration levels of about 900 pg/mL of milk or 2 ng/g of fat. Similar levels have been reported in mothers’ breast milk across Europe as well. DDE, which is a metabolite of DDT, was found in shocking levels of up to 62,000 pg/mL or about 70 ng/g of fat.

HCB, which was formerly used as a seed treatment to control fungal disease on plants like wheat, was found in similar concentrations of DDT at around 300 pg/mL and 11 ng/g fat.

PFOS and BPA were found in almost 90 percent of the samples taken. Metals were also found in all samples, including aluminum, arsenic, copper, chromium, manganese, and lead. Toxic elements like arsenic, chromium, and mercury were found in up to 15 percent of samples.

We need to understand how these toxins travel through the infant’s body and what negative effects they can have. The findings show that breast milk could be exposing infants to harmful pollutants that can impact their health and development.

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