Breast is always best, right? Well, yes and no. The fact is, while breastfeeding your baby promises a plethora of amazing health benefits, if you have been exposed to pesticides or other contaminants, your milk might actually be doing your baby more harm than good.
Green Med Info recently reported that mothers in the Middle East – where agriculture is heavily dependent on pesticide use, and pesticides are often stored right under people’s beds – have disturbingly high levels of pesticides in their blood. Those pesticides pass directly to their babies when they are breastfed, as was proved when blood samples taken from some of these babies were found to contain pesticides, albeit at very low levels.
Breastmilk is very high in fat, and as such, is a perfect repository for pesticides. The fetal brain also has a very high content, meaning that these babies are exposed to pesticides at a critical time of neural growth and development.
In 2012, scientists at U.C. Berkeley discovered concentrations of non-persistent pesticides in the breastmilk of women from both the urban Bay Area, and the Salinas Valley, which is a rural area in California.
“Non-persistent pesticides break down quickly in the environment. Since they are rapidly metabolized and excreted in the body, it was thought previously that they wouldn’t be found in breast milk,” said Rosana Hernandez Weldon, the lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health.
The scientists tested for 24 different chemicals, and found that for 13 of those, including certain pesticides, the frequency exceeded 90 percent. Interestingly, the levels detected were virtually the same whether the breast milk was from a woman who lived in an urban or a rural setting, leading researchers to conclude that the women were exposed to pesticides in their diet, rather than from agricultural or other environmental exposure.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that breastfeeding is vitally important for babies, and while the choice to breastfeed is personal to each new mom, the fact is that breastfeeding, in spite of its inconveniences, really does make a difference.
Researchers from the University of California-Riverside confirmed that breastfeeding provides both passive immunity – where antibodies to certain illnesses are passed from the mother to the baby via the milk – as well as actually helping the baby’s own immune system to develop. This happens when maternal immune cells pass through the baby’s intestinal barrier into the thymus, where these maternal cells “teach” the baby’s cells how to respond to infectious agents that the mother has already been exposed to.
Breastfeeding also strengthens the baby’s digestive system, ensures fewer problems with weight gain and growth, reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 50 percent, lowers the risk of certain childhood cancers, helps stave off asthma and increases IQ. (RELATED: Find out how breastfeeding can protect your baby from formula-induced arsenic poisoning.)
There are certainly plenty of reasons to breastfeed, but what can be done to mitigate the risk of pesticide exposure in breast milk?
An expectant mother can start ensuring that her breast milk will be best for baby from the moment she finds out she is pregnant, or even before, if possible. The American Pregnancy Association notes that children are incredibly vulnerable to the dangers of pesticide exposure in the first trimester of pregnancy, particularly between weeks 3 and 8 when the neural tube is developing. Pregnant women are advised to avoid all contact with pesticides during pregnancy, especially during this vulnerable time. The problem is so serious that the Association advises pregnant women to move away if they are living in an area where pesticides are used for agriculture, and to ensure that no pesticides are used in or around the home. Learn more about the value of breastfeeding, and the danger of pesticides at Pesticides.news.
The U.C. Berkeley study emphasized the dangers of pesticide exposure via the foods we eat. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are therefore advised to eat only organic, non-GMO foods that have not been treated with pesticides or any other harmful chemicals. Organic produce can be costly, but why not try growing your own? You’ll be glad you put forth the effort to do so when you are able to enjoy the bonding experiencing of breastfeeding your baby, knowing you are giving him or her the best possible start in life.