Other Environmental Exposures
The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the potential risk of exposure to chemicals through breast milk for most infants. Mothers should try to reduce or eliminate their exposure to environmental chemicals as much as possible while breastfeeding.
Asbestos is a commercial name for minerals used in products such as insulation, fireproofing materials, automotive brakes, textile products, cement, and wallboard materials. Asbestos does not pose health risks unless it is handled or deteriorates and releases microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. The risk of disease depends on many factors including how much asbestos is in the air and how often and for how long exposure occurs. Inhaling asbestos can cause tiny asbestos fibers to irritate lung tissue and cause non-cancer diseases and increase the risk of certain cancers.
Infants are not likely to be exposed to asbestos through breast milk. Read more about asbestos and your health and protecting your family from exposures to asbestos.
When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective for breastfeeding women. Breastfeeding mothers should keep the repellent away from their nipple area, so their child does not get any in his or her mouth while feeding. Mothers should use insect repellents according to the directions on the label, use them only when needed, and wash repellents off when no longer exposed to insects.
Learn more about using EPA-registered insect repellents.
PFAS are man-made chemicals used in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, some cosmetics, and products that resist grease, water, and oil. Babies can be exposed to PFAS while breastfeeding. The science on the health risks of PFAS exposure is evolving. However, given the scientific understanding at this time, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of PFAS exposure through breast milk. Mothers are encouraged to engage in discussions with their healthcare provider when questions or concerns arise. Learn more about PFAS and breastfeeding.
Pesticides are chemicals used to destroy or control unwanted vegetation (herbicides), insect pests (insecticides), rodent pests (rodenticides), or fungi (fungicides). Pesticides are used in many workplaces, and homes, primarily to get rid of insects found inside the home or outside in unwanted vegetation. Exposure to pesticides can happen by inhaling them, ingesting them by eating foods that were sprayed with pesticides, or absorbing them through the skin.
Some pesticides may pass into breast milk. Studies on the effects of exposure to pesticides through breast milk are lacking, so we do not know what level of exposure to pesticides is safe for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mothers should try to reduce exposure as much as possible.
To learn how to reduce exposure, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pesticide Safety Tips page.
Mothers may continue to breastfeed after wildfire smoke exposure; however, they should take steps to 1) remove smoke particles from their skin and 2) reduce chemical contaminants brought into a vehicle or the home on clothes, skin, shoes, and hair. As soon as the mother is able, she should remove the contaminated clothing and shoes and either wash the clothes promptly or keep them separated in a closed hamper until ready to wash. She should also promptly take a shower so as not to absorb these chemicals into the bloodstream.
Learn more about safe infant and child feeding during a disaster from CDC’s Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies Toolkit.