How to reduce toxins in breastmilk. Breastmilk is the perfect food for babies, but are there contaminants in it? Tips for reducing breastmilk toxins.
A 2021 study published in the Environmental Science and Technology found that breastmilk samples from 50 women contained high levels of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). These chemicals are commonly found in cosmetics, nonstick pans, rain gear, stain-protected sofas, and more.
Exposures to PFAS matter because they can have adverse effects on health over time. For instance, they may impact kidney and thyroid function, pregnancy outcomes, and contribute to metabolic syndrome. This can be particularly concerning when exposure begins at a young age, or even in the womb.
And of course, PFAS aren’t the only toxins we’re in contact with as part of modern life.
We ingest many environmental toxins, pollutants, and other contaminants through skin, air, and food. These are fat-soluble, meaning they accumulate in our bodies over time and are passed to baby through breastmilk.
As if we don’t already have enough to worry about!
News like this can be overwhelming and frustrating. We’re all doing the best we can, especially when it comes to protecting our kids.
But while it’s impossible to avoid all potentially harmful substances, there are certain things we can do to help minimize our everyday exposure to toxins.
Tips to Minimize Exposure to Toxins
Concerned about your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Enjoy a predominantly plant-based diet
High-fat animal products are a source of persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals. The higher animals are in the food chain, the more toxins they accumulate in fat tissue.
Similarly, if you eat fish, larger varieties like swordfish, marlin, and tuna, tend to have higher levels of mercury.
On the other hand, eating a plant-centric diet can substantially reduce some toxins.
In fact, one study reported that the levels of several toxins in breastmilk of vegetarian moms were just 1%—2% of that reported in omnivorous women.
Try swapping animal products for more whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Reduce usage of plastic
Not only is plastic bad for mama Earth, it’s also been shown to leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals into food and beverages.
The most researched chemical is BPA (bisphenol-A), which has been linked to developmental issues and an increased risk of chronic diseases, including cancers.
When possible, opt for plastic-free food storage and food containers. Instead, try replacing these with glass and stainless steel containers and water bottles.
Seek cleaner air
Air pollution is a health hazard for people of all ages. With the recent uptick in wildfires, it’s become even more of a concern.
While you can’t control the quality of the air outside, you can improve the air within your home. For instance, use more environmentally-friendly cleaning products, avoid being around individuals who are smoking, and add some live plants.
If it’s in your budget, some people find that adding an air purifier to their home helps clear out allergens, dust, and mold. Another great habit is to regularly change the air filters on your furnace.
And on particularly poor air quality days, you might choose to limit time spent outside.
Avoid over-cooking your food
Meat tends to be the biggest source of harmful compounds created during cooking. These are called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). They’re formed when muscle tissue is cooked over high temperatures, like grilled over an open flame or pan-fried.
However, any food that’s been grilled or toasted to the point of blackening may contain some carcinogenic compounds.
We’re certainly guilty of getting distracted in the kitchen and occasionally cooking things too long and even scraping some of it off. It happens (thanks screaming toddlers).
Just keep this in mind as we don’t want to be consuming blackened foods on a regular basis.
Search for safer personal care products
Many baby products already avoid the list of unsavory suspects: bisphenols, phthalates, BPA and BPA-substitutes, formaldehyde, parabens, and fragrances – which is great!
We also like using the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to search for safer products for ourselves and our loved ones.
Here, you can find hazard ratings for nearly 70,000 products and 9,000 ingredients on the market to help choose what’s best for your family.
Avoid non-stick cookware
Chemicals used in non-stick cookware, like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), have the potential for adverse health effects, like damage to the thyroid, kidneys, and reproductive organs. Teflon is one of the most well-known.
Synthetic chemical coverings can break down and become problematic as cooking temperatures rise.
Cast iron and non-stick ceramic pans made without PFTEs or PFOAs are some alternatives to consider.
Should You Still Breastfeed?
We recognize that a list like this may seem overwhelming if you’re just starting to examine your potential exposure to toxins. And you may be wondering whether breastfeeding is still a good idea.
We say, yes!
The CDC notes: “For the vast majority of women the benefits of breastfeeding appear to far outweigh any risks” and we agree. After all, we can’t avoid everything and we’re all doing the best we can.
If you’ve been wondering how to reduce toxins in breastmilk, give some of these lifestyle habits a try.
Chime In: Do you have any favorite non-toxic household or personal care products you love to use for you or babe? Share them in the comments!
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