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Exposure to Environmental Toxins

Do chemicals in the environment pass to infants through breast milk?

While some women may have detectable levels of chemical agents in their breast milk, no established "normal" or "abnormal" levels exist to aide in clinical interpretation. As a result, breast milk is not routinely tested for environmental pollutants.

Should women exposed to environmental toxins breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is still recommended despite the presence of chemical toxins. The toxicity of chemicals may be most dangerous during the prenatal period and the initiation of breastfeeding. However, for the vast majority of women the benefits of breastfeeding appear to far outweigh the risks. To date, effects on the nursing infant have been seen only where the mother herself was clinically ill from an toxic exposure.

For additional information regarding environmental contaminants and breast milk, visit

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Drugs. See also Table 7-Food and Environmental Agents: Effects on Breastfeeding.
  • Landrigan PJ (ed.) Chemical Contaminants in Breast Milk, Environmental Health Perspectives June 2002, 110 (6):A313–A315.
  • CDC's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals
    The National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals provides an ongoing assessment of the U.S. population's exposure to environmental chemicals using biomonitoring. Biomonitoring is the assessment of human exposure to chemicals by measuring the chemicals or their metabolites in human specimens such as blood or urine.
    The Fourth Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals has measured 212 chemicals in people's blood or urine—75 of which have never before been measured in the U.S. population. The Fourth Report includes findings from national samples for 1999–2000, 2001–2002, and 2003–2004. The data are analyzed separately by age, sex and race/ethnicity groups.

  • Rogan, Walter J. (1996) Pollutants in breast milk. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 150(9):981–90.

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