Breastfeeding and Your Job – Reproductive Health

Breastfeeding provides many benefits to your baby. Most mothers who work can safely breastfeed their babies. If you work with chemicals, breastfeeding is an important time to talk to your doctor because some chemicals can get into breast milk and possibly harm your baby. Your doctor can help you find out how you can safely breastfeed while working.

Some types of chemicals can get into breast milk

Not all chemicals can get into breast milk, and not all chemicals will harm your baby. Here are a few chemicals that can get into breast milk:

  • Lead, mercury, and other heavy metals
  • Organic solvents and volatile organic chemicals (such as dioxane, perchloroethylene, and bromochloroethane)
  • Chemicals from smoke, fires, or tobacco
  • Some radioactive chemicals used in hospitals for radiation therapy (such as Iodine-131)

If you work with one of these chemicals, it is important to talk to your doctor about breastfeeding.

Some of these chemicals can harm a baby

Some harmful chemicals have been measured in breast milk at levels that could harm the baby.

Lead is one example. Lead in breast milk can harm a baby’s brain. If you work with lead, ask your doctor to measure your blood lead level to see if there is too much lead in your body to safely breastfeed your baby.

What you can do to protect your baby while breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is very good for your baby’s health, and most working mothers can safely breastfeed their babies. If you have questions about breastfeeding and your chemical exposures at work, keep breastfeeding your baby while you take these steps:

  1. Talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional

    Tell them what kinds of chemicals you work with and ask them if it’s safe to keep breastfeeding.

  2. If you work with harmful chemicals that can get into breast milk:

    • Ask your doctor for ways to reduce or eliminate the chemical in your breast milk.
    • Talk to your employer or your workplace safety officer about ways you can reduce or eliminate your exposure. This might include using personal protective equipment (PPE) or changing your work duties.
    • If you use gloves, protective clothing, a respirator, or other PPE, be sure they are right for you and the chemical you work with. Learn more about PPE use and reproductive health.
    • If you, your doctor, or your employer need more information, contact us.
  3. Protect your home and family

    • Avoid bringing chemicals from your workplace into your home. Chemicals can come home on your skin, hair, clothes, or shoes. Once you come home, these chemicals can stick to your floor or furniture where your baby can be exposed.
    • Ask household members what kinds of chemicals they work with. Ask them to help you protect your home and family by preventing take-home exposures.

Where you can get more information