Chemical Exposure and the Risk of Early Breastfeeding Termination

A Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment (HOME) study conducted out of Brown University found links between chemical exposure and the risk of early breastfeeding termination.  They studied the effects of perfluorooctanoic acid, often referred to as PFOA and C8, on breastfeeding length and discovered a strong correlation to an end to breastfeeding when PFOA levels were highest.

PFOA is a chemical used to manufacture many consumer goods.  It was introduced in the 1940s and is now prevalent in 98% of the American population.  Products such as cookware, carpeting, cleaning solutions and food containers are made with PFOA.  PFOAs are also found in food, water and are especially high in microwave popcorn bags.

early breastfeeding terminationThe chemical has been deemed toxic and carcinogenic.  Prior studies show that people living near manufacturing plants that emit PFOAs are at higher risk for certain types of cancer, high cholesterol, digestive disorders and thyroid conditions.

The recent study published in Environmental Research and reported on by Science Daily followed 336 pregnant women who lived near a plant that emits a good deal of chemicals.  On average the women had twice the level of PFOAs than pregnant women in other areas of the country.

While PFOAs are dangerous for mothers and their developing babies, this study found that the chemical impacts length of breastfeeding.  The research shows that new moms with the highest 25% of PFOAs in their bloodstream had 77% increased risk of terminating breastfeeding by three months and 41% risk of ending breastfeeding by six months.  This was compared to women in the study with the lowest 25% of PFOAs in their bloodstream.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for at least one year.

Based on animal studies researchers believe that PFOAs may alter mammary glands, which makes breastfeeding more difficult.  These chemicals may also disrupt hormones and milk-protein genes in lactating mothers, which could change the taste of breast milk and reduce milk supply.

While further studies are necessary to determine exactly why breastfeeding is interrupted by PFOAs, this recent study shows a strong correlation between chemical exposure and risk of early breastfeeding termination.  Reducing PFOA exposure may help.  This can be done by filtering water that may be contaminated and eating fresh produce and meats that are not containerized.