Concerns about the presence of man-made chemicals in our bodies should not deter women from breastfeeding, according to a new review of the scientific evidence.
The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) says breastmilk contains protective agents and helps children develop a strong immune system. Breastfeeding can mitigate the effects of chemical exposure in the womb, whereas formula feeding does not afford any protection or mitigation.
The IBFAN statement also says formula feeding and industrial baby foods contribute significantly to environmental pollution.
Joy Heads, an experienced midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in Sydney, gives an overview of the new statement below.
A useful source of information on breastfeeding and chemical residues
Joy Heads writes:
The reality of the presence of environmental chemicals has been on the world’s radar since the release of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962.
Today it is accepted that every human body contains many man-made chemicals that can cause harm. Human milk has a high proportion of fat and therefore fat soluble contaminants, including dioxins, can be very easily measured.
Expressed breastmilk used to be included in the Australian Basket Market Survey, now called Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS), because it was easy to collect from consenting women in postnatal wards.
Over the last few decades scare tactics have emerged, warning women about the perceived danger of breastfeeding. I clearly remember one front page headline in a Sydney Sunday paper in the mid 70’s screaming: “DDT’s in breastmilk: mothers poisoning their babies.”
It is therefore heartening that the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has just released “IBFAN Statement on Infant and Young Child Feeding and Chemical Residues” (2013), which presents objective and independent information for parents, carers and health professionals.
The main author of the paper is well respected Dr Adriano Cattaneo, Consultant Epidemiologist and Co-ordinator of the Unit for Health Services Research and International Health, Institute of Child Health “IRCCS Burlo Garofolo”, Trieste, Italy, a WHO Collaborating Centre for Maternal and Child Health. Dr Catteano was an Expert Reviewer on the 2012 NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines.
This evidence-based, well referenced statement goes beyond the issue of possible residues in human milk to include that of contaminants in infant formula including in the unnecessary, but cleverly marketed, follow-on formulas, baby foods, feeding bottles and teats.
The paper also emphasises the potential harm of chemical exposure during pregnancy at a time when tissues and organs are growing rapidly. It reinforces the fact that there is now far greater understanding of the beneficial effects of breastfeeding and its role in developing immune protection and mitigating the harmful effects of chemical exposure in the womb.
Conversely, formula feeding does not afford any protection to babies at all. The ecological footprint and consequence of increasing rates of formula feeding is also addressed.
The document lists 10 Key Points and Key IBFAN Messages, which includes the statement that “pregnant and breastfeeding mothers have the right to receive full and unbiased information”.
IBFAN endorses international health regulations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding – because the benefits outweigh any possible harm -“except in the case of industrial disasters and of exceedingly high residues after industrial disasters”.
Contained within the paper is a Call for Action, urging decision-makers and industry across the globe to implement the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
The Appendix is an excellent reference and carries an analysis of 13 chemical residues or families of chemical residues. IBFAN have considered only substances “for which there is ample literature and that are a target for important policies and regulations worldwide.”
This paper provides strong evidence that the continuing fight for a healthy global environment, with minimum toxins, is a challenging one considering industry redistribution and weak environmental regulations.
• Joy Heads OAM is a midwife and has been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant since 1986. In 2009, she was awarded the designation of Fellow of the International Lactation Consultants Association (ILCA™). She is currently on the Board of Directors of ILCA, and co-wrote the chapter on “Breast Pathology” for the ILCA’s Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultants. Editors: Mannel B, Martens P J, Walker M. (3nd ed) Jones & Bartlett. MA. USA. 2013.
In 2006 she was awarded the Order of Australian Medal for service to nursing and midwifery as a specialist lactation consultant and to health professional and parent education. Joy was the Clinical Nurse Consultant (Lactation) at the Royal Hospital for Women, Sydney for many years until she retired from paid work in late 2010.