Review: Human Milk Offers a Better Outcome for Infant Health

An overview of studies on environmental pollutants in human milk has found that not breastfeeding an infant typically poses more of a threat than does exposure to any of the chemical agents measured in human milk, as reported in the "11th Annual Children's Health Issue of Environmental Health Perspectives."

Given the tendency for persistent organic pollutants (POPs), pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants to accumulate in human milk, researchers and parents alike are asking whether the nursling's exposure to these pollutants might reduce or even override the health benefits.

Yet, even in highly polluted areas, author M. Nathaniel Mead indicates a better outcome for breastfed infants. Numerous studies strongly indicate significantly decreased risks of infection, allergy, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and various cancers in both childhood and adulthood among those people breastfed as infants.

Because of human milk's nutritional, immunologic, anticancer, and detoxifying effects, scientists encourage women to continue the practice of breastfeeding even in the context of widespread pollution. Breastfeeding mothers should also be educated on the negative effects of alcohol and drugs, and be advised on how to create a healthier, safer, and cleaner environment for themselves and their children.

The article is available free of charge at http://www.ehponline.org/members/2008/116-10/focus.html.

EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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