Infant exposure to chemicals in breast milk in the United States: What we need to learn from a breast milk monitoring program

J. S. LaKind, C. M. Berlin, D. Q. Naiman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


The presence of environmental chemicals in breast milk has gained increased attention from regulatory agencies and groups advocating women's and children's health. As the published literature on chemicals in breast milk has grown, there remains a paucity of data on parameters related to infant exposure via breast-feeding, particularly those with a time-dependent nature. This information is necessary for performing exposure assessments without heavy reliance on default assumptions. Although most experts agree that, except in unusual situations, breast-feeding is the preferred nutrition, a better understanding of an infant's level of exposure to environmental chemicals is essential, particularly in the United States where information is sparse. In this paper, we review extant data on two parameters needed to conduct realistic exposure assessments for breast-fed infants: a) levels of chemicals in human milk in the United States (and trends for dioxins/furans); and b) elimination kinetics (depuration) of chemicals from the mother during breastfeeding. The limitations of the existing data restrict our ability to predict infant body burdens of these chemicals from breast-feeding. Although the data indicate a decrease in breast milk dioxin toxic equivalents over time for several countries, the results for the United States are ambiguous. Whereas available information supports the inclusion of depuration when estimating exposures from breast-feeding, the data do not support selection of a specific rate of depuration. A program of breast milk monitoring would serve to provide the information needed to assess infant exposures during breast-feeding and develop scientifically sound information on benefits and risks of breast-feeding in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-88
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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