Breast Milk and Salmon Waters: shared contamination and what to do about it.

Post updated 12.12.2013

I reviewed Tainted Milk, in which Maria Boswell-Penc investigates why so little attention has been paid to the contamination of breast milk in the U. S. with dangerous chemicals such as endocrine disruptors.

After assessing the data, Boswell-Penc concludes that breast feeding is still the best way to nourish your baby, especially since organic formula is lacking immune factors passed on in mother’s milk. And since this book came out, even some “organic” formula has been found to have been processed with a toxic chemical. Moreover, today  (September 21) the Washington Post reported that the EPA has bowed to White House and Pentagon pressure in its likely decision to fail to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. This chemical, which causes irreversible thyroid damage in some infants, will be delivered at fifteen  times the body weight safety limits to infants fed formulas mixed with drinking water from many municipal systems.

Breast milk is not only environmentally friendly (no packaging, no processing), but distribution friendly.  When I was nursing my daughter, I could not believe formula makers could get away with marketing their product as more “convenient”.  I didn’t have to buy, prepare and heat my milk in the middle of the night-or ever.

A recent study peer-reviewed by 14 scientists indicates  the contrasting effects of a healthy nutrient in human milk versus its unhealthy variant– at least to infants–  in certain cow’s milk.  The presence of variants of this peptide or protein fragment is implicated in the fact that cow’s milk  formula fed babies are ten times more likely to experience psychomotor developmentally delay than breastfed babies.

Soy milk formulas that are not organic are also problematic.  They are poorly digested, are missing essential nutrients and contain high levels of “proto-estrogens”  or false estrogens that mimic hormones of adult women.  Inorganic soy is laden with pesticides (some of which are also estrogenic). Moreover, current inorganic soy products are overwhelmingly genetically engineered.

Formula is important for mothers unable to nurse. Boswell-Penc suggests a network of breastmilk banks to support such mothers.  She gives examples of successful breastmilk banks-and in fact, this is the ancient human solution for tribal peoples who classically nursed one another’s babies to provide mothers with newborns the chance to sleep through the night or go on extensive gathering trips without their babies.   Here is a link to one such bank.

For now, however, I would suggest that mothers who cannot breastfeed– or do not have access to breastmilk from any other source at least use organic formula.

Altogether, the fact that relatively few US women breastfeed as a matter of course has other repercussions. The facts about breast milk contamination spread rapidly in the European Union where the large majority of women do breastfeed. This led Sweden to prohibit the manufacture of the toxic chemicals found in their breast milk-and thus to make their breast milk supply safe very quickly.  The REACH program in the European Union, based on the precautionary principle, has resulted in the pulling from the market a large number of chemicals.  And it was put into practice partly because of the evidence for contamination in breast milk.

This is a matter of environmental justice to the vulnerable among us.  It goes without saying that the relative concentration of toxic chemicals has a greater potential for harm in small and developing human bodies.  Not incidentally, such contamination has been found in the wombs of pregnant women throughout the U.S.

There is pragmatic logic as well as justice here.  Contamination in breast milk is another of those canaries in the coal mine:  it signals the body burden of toxic chemicals we all bear.  Indeed, as Tainted Milk notes, testing breast milk turns out to be a simple, non-invasive way to test for more general chemical contamination in human bodies.

REACH regulations have led to some interesting responses on the part of manufacturers in the U.S.  Because the European Union will not accept toys made with particular hazardous chemicals, for instance, some US toy makers currently have two assembly lines.  In one they make goods for the European market using EU standards. In the other, anything goes-and they sell toys made that way within the U.S.

Tainted Milk makes the case that one of the reasons we haven’t cleaned up our breast milk supply is the misconception that its contamination is limited to particular “hot spots” of environmental contamination, like superfund sites.  It is certainly true that those living in areas of particular chemical contamination suffer more body burdens of these chemicals. But modern contamination is a systematic rather than an individual “trouble spots” issue-as the quick curative action on the part of Sweden indicates.

Chemical pollution travels:  mercury from coal burning in China can be found on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. And chemicals we dumped on third world countries when we outlawed them here are still found today in the U.S., partly because such chemicals, like DDT, are persistent in the environment, partly because they have come back to us on imported foods-but also because they have spread to us on natural systems.  Thus the air in the White Mountains of New Hampshire tests positive for chemicals produced decades ago in the U.S. and sold to and used in Mexico.

Shouldn’t our alarm bells be going off concerning this?  Why isn’t the U.S. expressing leadership in this arena rather than lagging behind the European Union?  Why are we still allowing the manufacture and sale of chemicals like the dangerous ones found in breast milk-many of which are on the same list as those 7 chemicals which the National Marine Fisheries Service tells might well cause the extinction of endangered salmon species in Oregon?

We could use some national leadership on this issue.

Ultimately, we all swim in the same waters and breathe the same air, and so the fate of the salmon-or the polar bear or the wolf-or the third world countries to which we import certain of our chemicals and from which we buy cheap goods- is the fate we all share.

Concerned about this?  Here are some things you can do:

1.  Don’t use pesticides on your lawn and garden. For alternatives, see the site and newsletter of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

There are other consumer products to avoid here.

They also have a program to stem the use of pesticides in parks and playgrounds.

Support the Safe Chemicals Act.
2. If you want to spread the word to your neighbors, the City of Eugene Stormwater Division has a great postcard with the heading, “Is your lawn pesticide free– maybe it should be”.   If you don’t live in Eugene, get a copy and see if you can get your municipality to print and distribute it.

3.  Support any of the suits brought by earthjustice against the sale and use of dangerous chemicals.

4. If you are in the Willamette Valley, use the detailed map developed by the Corvallis Environmental Center detailing toxic discharge sites along the Willamette River to clean up the river.

Update: there was formerly a petition for you to sign letting US health officials know that breastfeeding should be supported as the healthiest alternative for our babies.  However, that petition has since been sent on.  If you live in Canada, however, here is a current petition you can sign on the same topic.

Moreover, here is the UN program linking child health with infant formula issues from the site of the “International Baby Food Action Network.”


One thing NOT to do is give to the following charities, which have listed by investigative reporters of the Tampa Bay Times as on the list of the 50 worst charities (they are on that list because they spend the vast majority of their money on their own administrators and on professional fund raising rather than on actual help for breast cancer victims or breaset cancer research).

American Breast Cancer Foundation

Breast Cancer Relief Foundation

Woman To Woman Breast Cancer Foundation

United Breast Cancer Foundation

Links to legitimate charities that support women’s healthcan be found on our links page.

Other information:

Breastfeeding Moms Boot Nestlé from Maternity Wards

Milk sharing networks for mothers unable to breastfeed their babies:

Valerie Fowler provided this link to “milk sharing” (rather than milk banking which can, in the US be very expensive).  Erica Henderson has provided us with links to another milk sharing network noted above.  Thanks to both of you!

528 Responses

  1. This article was very informational and brought to light issues I had never considered before. I remember my mom telling me once that when she was pregnant with me she was not able to drink milk because of the catastrophe at Chernobyl. I am sure there are ever more instances of these types of chemical invasions that we are not even aware of. There should be a way to control or to even raise awareness about what is occurring. It is impossible to expect that one person would be able to control these issues. The more people that becomes interested and involved in being concerned about what does into our bodies then the better chance we have of actually making a difference. I also like towards the end of the article when Sarah Palin made an appearance. I honestly do not believe she could give you a definition of what the environment is. In one of her interviews she was asked if man was the cause of global warming. Her response stated that the cause does not need to be known but a solution must be found. Hello?!!? How can you find a solution to a problem without knowing the full extent of the cause? This pertains to all of the examples in the article. Without knowing the cause of problems there is no way to formulate a possible solution.

  2. It was so refreshing to visit Oregon this summer and see how advanced they’ve become in nurturing the environment. When we first moved to suburbia in Northeast Ohio, our yard was a dead zone. Very little wildlife after years of spraying toxic chemicals, again a canary warning. We initiated a no-spray policy and in a matter of years, our yard became inhabited by all sorts of critters (some not so wanted!) We used earthworms as our sign that the land was almost back to normal. Granted, our neighbors may not like our annual crop of dandelions, but grass is not natural and our yard always looks as green as the neighbors, but with natural greenery for the area.

    I suppose a society that devalues the female body and its functions has little incentive to concern itself with toxic effects of chemicals in breast milk. It is the responsibility of everyone to speak or write to their representatives in Congress and make their views known. Also, speak to the pocketbooks of the companies that purchase the chemicals or products containing them by boycotting their products.

    • I completely agree with your statement: “a society that devalues the female body and its functions has little incentive to concern itself with toxic effects of chemicals in breast milk.” Unfortunatley, I think that our society has gotten away from nature so much that they don’t even realise that they are a part of it. All kinds of hazardous chemical contaminations should be top priority, espescially the contamination of babies and their mothers. Good point about the devaluing of the female body – I hadn’t though about it that way before – but I think you’re right.

      Heather McNamara

      • Hi Heather, your passion about this issue– and the protection of mothers and babies– is one which I think we should all share! And it is certainly one good reason–among many- -to turn around our devaluation of the female body if it makes us so careless about our children.

  3. Hi Ashley, thanks for a thoughtful response. I enjoyed your humor as well! Highlights how we might be blind to some things that should just be seen as a “given”.

  4. Hi Kate. To take your last point first, it is certainly important to stop rewarding those who devastate our environment (and violate our own bodies with toxins) with our business.
    Congratulations on bringing your yard back to life (or at least allowing this to happen in partnership with the natural world). It has always seemed strange to me that we could think dandelions (all of which are edible and some parts medicinal) as ugly whereas dead zones created by herbicides as “neat” or “attractive” To use Ashley’s phrase above, “Hello.”

  5. […] In this sense, both the partnership model and the resilience paradigm offer an alternative to the dualistic split of the worldview that sets humans apart from and above nature. Both concur with the modern science that tells us whatever we do to our natural environment, we do to ourselves. Thus, for instance, the pesticides and fire retardants released into our environment have become ubiquitous in U.S. breast milk. […]

  6. This is the first time I have read anything about the contaminated breast milk issue. I was never aware it existed before. I knew mercury existed in the fish but I never knew how it got their and how big of a problem it is. I am really disappointed in the U.S. about these issues. European countries have taken more steps in addressing it then our country. The United States is considered to be the greatest country in the world, but the greatest country in the world does not take a long time to conquer a problem. This issue affects women’s health and their babies health. By not taking initiative to solve the problem, future generations can suffer. We all have a stake at how this problem turns out. Individuals need to become more informed and educated. If I didn’t know about this I’m sure so many others are unaware as well. How can we not know about these things that are affecting our well being? We need to do what we can to make sure that this world we all live in and share with is a safe healthy habitat. When there is a problem we can’t just sit back and say “oh that’s awful.” Everyone plays a crucial part and can help improve.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your comment and obvious personal passion on this issue that, as you note, effects us all. I’m not so sure who considers us the “greatest country in the world”– but in any event, we need to earn that title. And I don’t think we have earned it in this arena. Hopefully, we will be expressing more leadership in the environmental arena in the future. Meanwhile, note that this post has some ways that individuals can also help to make our breast milk supply safer–and support change on the system-wide problem that this is.
      And also note, that breastfeeding is still the best way to feed your baby but it certainly needs to be made safer. Babies have done nothing to deserve these toxins.

  7. I’d like to share with you a poem that I wrote last year, called “Skin of My Chest”

    Under the skin of my chest my breasts
    express the facts that were left unwritten
    in this morning’s newspaper.

    Every mother’s milk is poisoned–
    dioxin–milky toxin–
    seeping out of all women in the world
    from West Baltimore to Shanghai,
    Albuquerque, Dubai–
    This attack unfurled upon future generations of the world without
    explanation, compensation,
    reclamation, or reparation.
    Location non-specific, we are those
    who sip and suck the poison that was
    spilled by corporations
    who would not clean it up,
    would not clean it up because in their
    cost-benefit analysis of production,
    they missed a line item–

    All of us.

    And these crimes against humanity, against you and me
    are taken as What Is, What Was,
    the Shoulder Shrug is soon to follow because it’s
    hard to look this in the eye,
    hard when they will not tell you the real reasons why
    Why you found that lump this morning hard,
    like a tiny pebble under the skin,
    hard like a tight, tight muscle, where
    only your softness has ever been–

    It’s hard when they will not tell you the real reasons why,
    and here I am,
    with my breasts,
    just trying to get by
    I don’t have time
    to write Congress to explain my concern for my community
    to ask nicely that Someone create some unity of motion
    someone please start a commotion,
    someone pass some legislation to clean the oceans,
    regulate emissions,
    and give us back the Commons of the Sky,
    because from where I stand
    between the smokestack and the tarmac,
    legislation, legislation looks like
    mutual three-piece-suited masturbation– politicians and corporations
    oh baby, Dupont is so good in bed, and baby,
    what’s good for you is good for me–I mean–
    what’s good for business is good for the economy.

    Yes, my breasts, on my chests
    are an “externality” of the economy
    and industry doesn’t give a shit about your mastectomy.
    so NOW is the time to stop asking nicely.
    Time to create some unity of motion,
    Women, come together to create our community,
    Women are the ones who start a commotion,
    with or without legislation, we WILL clean the oceans,
    regulate emission, and reclaim the Commons of the Sky

    Because the storm is rolling in and we
    are running out of time.

    • Thanks for sharing this powerful piece, Rachel. It indicates how the contamination in our bodies touches us deeply– and especially those of us who are mothers. This poem indicates the imperative of doing something about this as other countries have done, for we are indeed “running out of time”. But there is striking hope in our assuming responsibility to change this, as you say, we WILL make the changes we need with those like yourself modeling the changes we need!

  8. The reason alarm bells were not going off about these issues was because of who was leading (really, not leading) our government for the past eight years. This all has to do with their philosophy of government and what government should do for us. This will sound strange but Bush/Cheney’s whole theory of governement is that the government is in the way of progress and market forces (greed) will drive the country in the best direction. Their recognition that the governement will not dissolve itself means that they had to find a way to have the governemnt be there but not to work in the fashion it is supposed to. This was done by not enforcing any real regulations on business and industry (see Interior Department officials sleeping with and doing drugs with oil company execs they are supposed to be regulating), and also by putting people that were completely unquaified (see “Brownie” at FEMA) in specific positions so that their department would not perform its proper tasks. Bush/Cheney did their job very true to their ideals when looked at in this perspective. Sarah Palin is of this same ilk.

    I would disagree with their idea of government as would the vast majority of Americans and that’s why Republicans were soundly defeated in the November elections. Indeed you wil be hard pressed to find a Republican that will say anything good about W. I’m not a fan of big government. I do not like a lot of government dictating what I can and cannot do. HOWEVER, our government has a purpose and part of its mission is to make sure that our nation is protected from general health problems as best it can. These are the reasons we have the EPA and FDA and other governmental agencies.

    The US is undergoing a change in its social mentality. Corporate greed at the cost of the consumer is on its way out. US corporations have long been treated to lax government regulation and now they are starting to see that can longer be the case. Corporations have so much money that they can quite often make decisions as to whether or not to recall a product because of a health risk to the consumer or just financially plan for the potential litigation. That era has to come to an end. It should be enforced that if a company ever makes a decision like that, if it leads to the death of their customer, and it is proven in court, that CEO should be tried for murder. Do that once, and it would stop.

    Change is coming, patience and vigilance is tough but well worth it.

    • Hi Joe. I think this is a good political perspective. The info about the pressure on EPA folks NOT to do their job listed on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists is a case in point. Yesterday, we could all see the TV footage of the CEO of the peanut corporation responsible for salmonella deaths take the fifth when asked about a memo that warned him the peanuts had salmonella before he shipped them– he also took the fifth when asked if he would eat his own product.
      I think the use of some of the pesticides most hazardous to infants is so prolific in this country, corporations will put up a fight to keep them in use. I certainly hope watchdog agencies do their job in this regard! Not using these as consumers and keeping the political pressure on to support health over profit are ways each of us can help.

  9. This article hit very close to home for me because I have been breastfeeding my daughter full time since she was born 7 moths ago.

    As a mother you worry constantly about the potential hazards that may be harming your child. The contaminated breast milk relates very closely to the recent BPA findings. Recently, it has been highly publicized that we avoid all contact with plastics containing BPA, especially in childrens bottles and toys. So as a mother you automatically get rid of anything that might harm your child, replace all plastic bottles with glass, and what not.

    However, contaminated breast milk has not gotten the publicity that BPA has. In fact this is the first I am hearing about it, and that worries me. Not only am I worried about my child, but if toxins are in breast milk, toxins are in mothers, the long term effect although much more dangerous to a child, must be harmful to a mother as well.

    The amount of plastics, and toxins the average person gets exposed to must be immense for it to show up in breast milk. Something must be done. Someone needs to step up and protect humanity. Testing of the safety of products needs to be done before they reach the market. Everyday the list of dangerous products grows, from testing after the products have already reached the public.

    back to breast feeding….
    The vast majority of people think it is strange that I am still breastfeeding my daughter…and she is only 7 mo old. The AMA suggest that you breastfeed until the child is at least one years old, but if you do this you are usually seen as a “hippie”. It aggravates me so much that breastfeeding is seen as unnatural in America, how did the most natural process of mother feeding child, become socially awkward. You cant talk about, or be seen doing it, especially if your child is over a couple months. I can compare formula to dog food, can your child live off of it? yes. Is it natural in any way? no! Is stake and fish flavored and fortified dog food the same as stake and fish? I dont want to trust my diet to Pedigrees pebbles, and I dont want to trust my babies diet to Similac’s powder.

    However, I have to disagree with you about the convenience of a bottle. Breastfeeding is hard work! from the very beginning its a learning experience. You are committed to your baby the whole feeding, there have been many times I wish I could hand my baby a bottle, and have sometime to myself (nursing and doing home work is very tricky!). Also, breastfeeding is physically demanding, you have to constantly watch your diet, your hormones change, your are tired. Your body has to work very hard to keep you and your little one going. But, the rewards far outweigh the negatives, and I commend all nursing mothers, as well as orginazations, such as the le leche league, shich promote breastfeeding. I hope that breastfeeding will be one day seen as natural, and American.

    • Hi Kate, thanks for your heartfelt reply and sharing your own experience. I do want to emphasize that all the data suggest that breastfeeding is still best for your child. And on a personal note, I must have been very lucky, since I found breastfeeding to be so very easy that I did it for three years (recommended in many EU countries). I was teaching full time most of that period and don’t know how I would have done it with a bottle regime. I know that this is easier for some babies than others. Good for you that you persisted in spite of the hard work in your case.
      The good news is that there is more publicity about this issue recently AND EU countries have indicated in their clean up actions that if we ban certain chemicals, we can make the breastmilk supply safe in a relatively short period of time.
      Your concern for your own body is well taken. Breastmilk has actually been used as a good (non-invasive) way to assess body burdens of modern chemicals.

  10. I was shocked after reading this. The Contamination of breast millk was an issue that i was unawear of. I cant belive that we are supposed to be this wonderull country, but obiouly we dont care that much about our future generations. This is an issue that effects everyone. It kinda make me sick, when i think about it. It deffently opens my eyes. I am going to take the step and make sure that i am doing my part by not using pesticides on my lawn ( i dont even know if we do , since i dont do the lawn,)but i will make sure if we were, we will no longer be doing that.

    • Thanks for your personal proactive stance here, Meagan. I certainly hope our country begins to follow the lead of the EU countries that have cleaned up their breastmilk supply by banning some chemicals in spite of the corporate lobbying to the country.

  11. I just do not understand why after studies such as these, the U.S. will ignore the warnings and go out of their way to ensure that changes are not made for the good of our mothers and their babies. Not to mention everyone else that is ingesting these harmful chemicals that are bodies are forced to deal with.
    It is disgusting to think about the fact that chemicals which are leading to the extinction of our salmon are being placed in our babies bodies every time they eat. There is so much wrong with that.
    This article makes me think of our Autism epidemic in this country. I worked for over a decade with Autistic youth and have read a great deal about the many things that could lead to this disorder. While there is a wide range of factors which contribute to the onset of Autism, one of the most hotly debated is vaccinations, and the presence of mercury as a preservative in them. Babies are fragile, developing, and each with a unique chemistry in their bodies. A huge regiment of vaccines along with a toxic amount of mercury included is too much for some of these young minds to handle. I believe it has led to a percentage of the higher rates of autism in the last decade. Unfortunately, the courts yesterday disagreed with me and thousands of parents that have been fighting this for years. It was ruled that vaccines do not contribute to autism. Hopefully, in the case of breast milk, the powers that be will just choose to remove these chemicals and create a safer environment for our children.

    • Hi Aaron, thanks for your comment. I have seen the autism decision and it seems that one thing it does not take enough into consideration is the cumulative effects of mercury exposure, and especially in small and developing bodies. Not to mention, mercury is simply used as a preservative in the vaccinations and there are very good non-toxic alternatives that can be used instead. That is where the precautionary principle’s emphasis on the “least toxic alternative” comes in.
      Sadly, the “clean and green” Oregon we love has one of the highest autism rates in the country; we also have relatively high mercury levels in our lakes and streams. Mercury is a product of coal-burning, as well as all wood burning (which I personally think should not be allowed in cities), and it goes into the atmosphere and then returns to the ground and groundwater especially in rainy climates. Incidentally, all carbon burning (like your fireplace) also off-gases other neural toxins like dioxin; about 200 of these pollutants have been found so far. The most dangerous aspect of this are the tiniest smoke particles, which, like asbestos, lodge in the lungs carrying whatever pollutants with.
      You might be interested in the autism working group of the Collaborative for Health and the Environment, an international consortium of health professionals and others with investment in health and the environment. (There is a link to CHE on this site). I have seen too much data linking mercury exposure to autism to blithely ignore. Right now our laws are such that chemicals are innocent until proven guilty. Thus it took so long to ban DDT, for instance. I think such criteria works for protecting peoples but chemicals don’t need this protection; in fact, as the precautionary principle specifies, they should be guilty until proven innocent. Otherwise, humans and other natural life become the test subjects for the effects of these chemicals.

  12. So far every article that I have read on here has struck close to home. Dr. Holden I feel like sadly common sense among our national leaders as well as corporate powers is lacking greatly in this era and perhaps it is simply negligence. Countless times my mother was told that breast feeding would not be convenient and that she should switch to formula for the sake of ease when she had both my brother and I. A poorly prescribed medication tainted her milk and I finished feeding early because I turned away from breast milk as an infant. It frustrates me that problems like this continue to happen, not just in third world countries, but in highly developed ones as well. This is unacceptable in the age of information, and yet it seems like this is the type of problem, while simple in theory to correct, at the same time hits low on the hot-button radar, therefore does not get the attention it deserves. Obviously it is encouraging that there are more regulations today, but contaminated breast milk is just the beginning.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience here, Calin. I am sorry about the unfortunate prescription. but good for your mom in nursing you in spite of the uninformed doctor. It is hopeful to me that the AMA has now come out with a statement that solidly supports breastfeeding as best for the baby (it makes some illness that might occur later in life up to fifty per cent less likely).

  13. This is the first time I have heard about contaminated breast milk. If i had not read this article I would have never thought that this was possible. It saddens me that the U.S. is not doing anything to try and stop this problem. We say we care so much about the prenatal care of women and how they care for their babies after birth but we are doing nothing to make it better. Unborn children’s health is at stake and we need to speak up to protect these children. Obviously if this is the first time many of us are hearing about this than the U.S. is not doing enought to prevent the problem.

    • Hi Danielle, it really is sad, as you point out, that we emphasize prenatal care but haven’t dealt with this issue. We need government action in banning the pollutants in question– but as consumers we can begin to avoid them in our purchasing.

  14. The greatest problem we face with issues of contaminants through production, is not merely the economics associated with a change in regulation due to these products, or the economics associated with the remedies sold by the same corporations for disorders and diseases caused by the very contaminants of their products resulting in the “hero” stance of these big corporations, but in our very ability to place power outside of our own bodies to nurture, and heal. If we had maintained our power to nurture and heal, the power these big corporations have would not exist; there would be no great need for alternative food for our babies and in turn no need for the remedies consumed to treat contaminated bodies.
    The milk we nourish our boabies with connects them with us, it reminds them of source; where they came from and what is real nourishment. Why we choose to perpetuate this disconnection and polllution of our bodies and minds is ludicrous and in order to see any changes we must start with ourselves. There has to be a point when we stop the the overconsumption of goods and realize we are consuming so much because we are simply using fillers to satisfy our hunger and without real substance we will continue to consume.
    I’ve heard that our bodies completely regenerate every cell in the body every 7 years. With the amount of chemicals we consume on a daily basis, between preservatives, fake sugars, chemical colors, and contaminated water, air and breastmilk, it is no wonder that parts of our bodies in the United States are failing to regenerate healthy cells resulting in breast cancer etc. which Rachel so powerfully illuminated. Why in countries where our cultural values are not present are so many of these epidemics not present?

    Our babies deserve a chance to know what it feels like to experience life without chemicals raiding their bodies. They deserve a chance to think thoughts not influenced by toxins produced by our own culture. We have to change our way of thinking, we have to educate ourselves– the water does not come from the faucet, it comes from the companies who make the money from selling it to you; what is in your water? What are you feeding your breasts, bodies, babies?

    We absolutely cannot allow excuses to be made for the compromising of life of our children by the money holders in our country– our milk needs to represent our ability in our nation to nurture our people, not our ability to buy and sell endless chemical treatments for our endless contamination.

    The emphasis in our country needs to change! I want quality to mean more that quantity, and I want life to mean more than money, when will we turn away from the ignorance of “we know best” and look to “success” through visible health of other systems employed around the world, as in Sweden.

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for your personal passion on behalf of children and other natural life. You have an excellent point about taking back the power to nurture. I certainly concur. When you and other with similar care insist that life mean more than money (as you eloquently put it), things will change as we need them to.

  15. Thanks for once again eloquently showing us how connected everything is. In these times of economic hardship, I have watched my commitment to organics waiver a bit; skipping out on an organic veggie here and there, for example. This essay is a timely reminder for me of the importance of that commitment. Yes, these toxic chemicals that we have deemed as unfit for our country do come right back in imported foods, etc.

    It’s so sad to me that we can be so careless about these things. Toxic chemicals in our breast milk! Toxic chemicals in the foods we eat! I feel like my right to live a healthy life free from these things has been stripped from me, and my loved ones. I can choose organics, which is very important, but how unfair is it that so many other people can pollute this world we share? Even if I choose to not put chemicals on my yard or garden, or eat only organically grown foods, I still am subjected to a barrage of toxicity because of other people’s choices. It seems very unfair.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dazzia. If we priced foods according to their real health and environmental costs, organics would certainly be way cheaper. If it is any consolation, a number of studies have shown that organics have more nutrients, including anti-oxidants and micronutrients that boost our health. As for unfairness: I concur with you. This is why I support the precautionary principle. It is our right NOT to be subject to these things as Sandra Steingraber eloquently indicates in her book Living Downstream, which is even more relevant today than it was when it was published a few years back.
      Other important protections are right to know laws that allow us to know what we are actually ingesting (and allow us to gather decent data on the relationships between chemical releases and health), adequate labeling, and there is a nascent movement on legal protests against “chemical trespass”.

      • True, we do have the right to know laws and studies show that at least 75% of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMF’s. However, it is also reported that “in the US, industry representatives and the USDA oppose such labeling , claiming that GMF’s are not substantially different from foods developed by conventional crossbreeding methods, and that labeling would be expensive” (Miller & Spoolman, Environmental Science, 2008). It makes things trickier when the law isn’t even on the side of health, as with so many things….

        • Thanks for sharing this info, Dazzia. The large support on the part of the public for labeling these products has held steady for the last ten years. It took some very serious lobbying on the part or industry to get this law passed about substantial difference. However, This is not agreed upon science: thus the EU refused many gmo imports for many years.
          If there is no difference, I would want to ask, then why not label? Why not let US consumers find this out for themselves? Of course, we know the answer; the vast majority of consumers perceive a difference–and these labeled goods would take a hit in the marketplace.

  16. Wow! When I read this article, I could not believe what I was reading. According to this the U.S. has clearly ignored this issue surrounding the “future” of America, our children. More mothers need to know about this; so, I would like to share this information with all the new mothers I know in the U.S. and where I work now in Mexico. I will not forward your article due to copyright purposes, I will just verbally steer them in the direction of pursuing research themselves.

    Hopefully, through the most effective communication and education, this problem will be reduced during the first term of the U.S. political administration.

    Thanks for sharing this insightful article,


    • Hi Paul, you are certainly welcome to share this. I concur that we should absolutely not allow this to happen. I do want to emphasize that breastfeeding is still the healthiest alternative for a baby. Thanks for your concern.

  17. I feel very strongly that something should be done about this issue. Contaminants in the food of our nation’s infants is a horrible situation. So many people are just out there to make a buck and will sell whatever they can, marketing it so that they reap the largest profit, many times having complete disregard for the consequences that consumers are going to have to face. Breast milk is one of the most important resources we have as humans. It is the direct nourishment from mother to child. Taking this away from children and substituting it with something as dangerous as the products that are currently on the market is showing disrespect for people as well as the future of our world. Our nation’s children are going to live on past us and change our world. If we do not allow them to grow and develop appropriately and healthfully, they are never going to be able to prosper and keep our dreams alive.

    • I certainly agree, Allie. Thank you for your passionate post. It is truly reprehensible to contaminate the milk of someone so vulnerable — of course, many do not realize they are doing this–given the displays in stores for spring herbicides and the lack of information they contain, for instance. We need to spread the word–and to make the information regarding these poisons true public knowledge. We also need to change the cultural mindset that finds a dandelion (every part of which is healthy and even medicinal) as “ugly” (because it is out of control?) and brown herbicided lawn somehow attractive.

  18. Puzzling how the EU seems much more able to get it together to ban harmful things than the US. It may have something to do with their longer cultural and agricultural history. America’s complacence seems to stem from being focused on GDP and the accumulation of material wealth above ALL else. We have got to get our focus off of this marketplace/product consciousness that is disconnected from people and the health of everyone/nature. What did we think would happen? Did we really think we could escape the side-effects of toxic chemicals?
    There is going to have to be this major shift to caring more about other things besides bottom line profits, consumption with consideration of costs, and maintaining free enterprise for CEO profits.

    On another note, I have been having a hard time battling blackberry vines taking over my yard (1 acre). I have never sprayed them. I will check out the website suggested and see if there are any alternatives that can be used, and will look into whether the iron to kill moss is also harmful.
    A lively discussion in the comments. I think a lot of us Americans are guilty of sitting back and watching with horror rather than taking an active role in making change happen. I guess I have to be more active and less complacent.

    • Thank you for both your personal perspective and engagement here, Lesley. It is interesting to contemplate why the EU (and even Canada, for that matter) seems to “get it” before we do. I did notice on the “integrity in science” website (see links here); there are far fewer listing of corporate sponsors of scientific research. Perhaps that has something to do with it. Or perhaps it is our “frontier” attitude, that sees our relationship to the environment as a kind of free for all (or, as Wendell Berry has put it, “a one night stand”). Certainly our youth as a nation has something to do with it: we have had less time to learn from history–or even to develop any respect for what we MIGHT learn from history.
      Thanks again for taking your part in helping to make this a lively discussion! Blackberries are a hard one. I appreciate your energy in looking for pesticide alternatives. Goat exchanges, anyone? They will eat anything, but you can keep them to a particular area and you could send them back to their owners except for maybe a bi-annual munching jobs.

  19. This is a prime example of NIMBY. I think its an atrocity as children and babies are a gift to us from God or the Creator and are nourished by all the life on Earth. This reminds me of an outrage expressed when tumors from animals were allowed to be in hot dogs. Without the public outrage change would not have came about. There is not much more sacred than breastmilk, in my opinion. It is not only vital for life, but is sacred in the action, sacred in the body, life giving and to be cherished.

    I’m proud to be a US Citizen and am proud of my country. We have done great things and can again and this should be a top priority for change.

    • Hi Tina, good observation about NIMBY–since those to whom breastfeeding is more important have cleaned up (or are cleaning up) the chemicals that pollute breastmilk. It is certainly time for us to do the same!

      • I checked out the NCAP website and will join soon. Thanks for the tip. This probably seems like a goofy question, but what are the major toxins they’re finding in breastmilk? Is it primarily from plastics or an equal combination of chemicals?

        I also took a look at the webpage concerning the organic formula. wow…scary.

        • Hi Tina, not a goofy question. They are finding the same toxins that are part of the body burdens of all of us today– depending on where we live, what we eat-and what time of year it is. There is some new research indicating that children conceived during spring (when agricultural chemicals are more in use) are more likely to be autistic, for instance. You may be aware of the study recently done near Seattle, where children’s body burdens of toxins went down dramatically within a few weeks of beginning a diet of organic fruits and vegetables.
          The chemicals of most concern are BPAs (from plastics), pesticides with chlorine in their chemical forumulations (since these are proven cancer-causers and endocrine disruptors), and other “POPs” (persistent organic pollutants) which disrupt natural systems in very small amounts, such as dioxins and furans.
          In case someone here wants more info on the latter (thanks for bringing this up, Tina) here is the World Health Organiztion’s page on POPs and the importance of reducing these in foods:

  20. It is unbelievable that the EPA is backing down on regulation of perchlorate due to White House pressure. Environmental Protection shouldn’t be about being bullied or being popular. Many people assume that the “city” water they are drinking is safe– I’m sure people would be outraged if they knew what “safe” limits of chemicals were allowed in their water. But with the perchlorate, there isn’t even a “safe” limit; it’s just not regulated.
    It is truly troubling that chemicals are showing up in breast milk. I suppose it just illustrates how foolish we’ve been to spread so many chemicals around, when everything is connected to everything else. And we thought it wouldn’t come back to us.

  21. Obviously at some point in history the western worldviews which enlisted the rampant use of chemicals and other toxins in our environment were doing so in effort to improve something. Whether it was cash in their pocket, the benefit of mankind via improved agricultural production, or eradication of a noxious species, the application of chemicals was in order to make something better. Nonetheless, it has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and obviously the pavement is a product of chemical engineering.

    All the retrofitting and recalling of our current chemical misconceptions makes case to simply reinvent the wheel; sometimes you have to cut your losses. The FDA fails to recognize the biological magnification and synergistic effects of chemicals in the environment and cannot be trusted as an administration of human safety. The intolerance is left to activistic scientists who are bound to research grants funded by organizations which are motivated by a myriad of reasons.

    Frankly, I find our toxic lifestyle a violation of my human rights.

    Toxicity is a political issue which is akin to opression on any scale. There are laws in place to protect children from drug exposure in utero and in their environment growing up – but endochrine distrupting, brain damaging, pollutant concentrations in water are acceptable? How is that so? I believe the current legislation on pollution, illicit and prescription drug laws and regulation of food additives all currently perpetuate an oxymoron. How much exposure is safe? The variable notion of “safe” and trying to generalize the circumstances for every individual is impossible. Therefore, the approach is flawed.

    We should not be looking to maximize our chemical use through studies which questionably determine food, drugs, preservatives, pesticides, etc. as “safe”. Instead, the effort should be to minimize chemical use in general. The only feasible way to enact such a polar shift in western society is by enacting strict legislation with costly testing requirements. The result is a disincentive for chemical application and use due to the environmental impact analysis which would be required to accompany drug, food, and agricultural additives.
    Make it expensive to drive – and we’ll walk.
    Make it expensive to buy prepackaged, factory farmed food – and we’ll grow our own.
    Make the prescription drugs too expensive – we’ll be more proactive about our health and use natural remedies. This is what natural resource economics should focus on when trying to account for extranalities; the extranalities are so vast, the market cannot account for them . We must manipulate the market which is inherently flawed by the lack of accountability for Earth services. We now know that without a resource base we will all be inpoverished, so who cares if we manipulate the market with restrictive legislation which protects the Earth from which all things are derived? I say we get rid of the “market” anyway, it doesn’t do a very good job placing a value on things. How much is mothers milk worh? – The success of our world and the human race is the cost and we are all selling out.

    • A very powerful response, Jenna! There are some very strong points you make– such as the oppression of toxicity and the failure of the approach that attempts to make chemicals “safe enough” so that some can still profit by them. The reversal you are asking for in this regard is precisely that of the precautionary principle, which shifts the burden of proof or danger and responsibility for harm from the general public to those who manufacture these chemicals. As you point out, this will make them very expensive indeed– perhaps too expensive to manufacture. As you also point out, the market is doing a very poor job of valuing things like environmental well being and human health– even when our very survival is at stake.
      We need some way to reward those who actually produce what we want– which is not all these “externalities”– toxic costs being passed off to others so that a few can profit.
      Thanks for your thought- provoking comment.

  22. I learned about the toxicity of breast milk in 1998 by a holistic doctor friend of mine. He simply agreed that lobbying and making the facts known to the majority of women is a primary concern for the health of infants in the US and worldwide. One point he mentioned to me is that the only preventive measure a women could take is diluting her milk by drinking pure water. He stated the of toxin would not disappear but the levels would become diluted and less harmful to the infant. The kicker to this is that the water would have to be “pure” which in our society is becoming a challenge as stated in this article. We face choices such as: drinking bottled water, (which isn’t safer or less full of harmful contaminants), purchase a filter, or find a another source of pure water. I found that many water filters are encased in carcinogenic materials. After mentioning this to some friends they replied, “Our drinking water isn’t that bad, It must be safe if the government allows us to drink it.” I find this statement shocking! Another acquaintance of mine shared a story her friend who died unexpectedly. After studies were conducted to determine a cause of death, the only abnormality they could find was an astronomically high level of chlorine in her tissues. She had led an active life and showered several times a day.

    Just like the article suggests the level of corporate greed and lackadaisical attitude among governmental decision makers has violated the rights of American people. Sadly enough some American people do not comprehend the level of deception occurring among decision makers. Our decision and policy makers (with the job of protecting the American people) perceive the cost of regulating, monitoring, and providing solutions to our problems to be too high a price to pay. If their family member became ill from water or infant died from toxicity I wonder if the cost would be reconsidered?

    I agree that we must all raise our voices on this issue and turn this toxic waste dump around.

    • Thanks for your passionate personal comment and for sharing your experience, Kaaren. The problem is (in terms of a family member being ill from the toxins in breast milk) that it may be years (or even the next generation) before the illness shows up. One thing to emphasize is that breast milk is still the healthiest way to feed your baby. I don’t know about deleting it with water– doesn’t sound quite like it is getting to the heart of the issue to me. The better solution that I have read is eating organic foods. This doesn’t solve the problem of other environmental pollutants. And organics can cost more, creating problems for low income families– though I understand that one mother is beginning a well publicized experiment of eating organically, locally, sustainably raised food on a food stamp budget. If I hear the results, I will place something about that here.
      Thanks again for your comment.

  23. This is just shows us that there should be no boundaries on getting rid of these chemicals that are infiltrating our environment.
    Two things have to happen here to starting solving these problems. The first thing that must happen is that we to have to put a lot of pressure on these companies that are making these chemicals to stop it at the source. The second thing that needs to happen is that developing countries that are wealthier and have more resources need to be helping out the poorer countries with making and enforcing laws worldwide with absolutely no country boundaries to stop the making, and marketing of these chemicals. There really needs to be a worldwide agency for this funded by all countries to really make a difference.
    I think this is the only way we will solve this huge problem.


    Troy Jonas

    • Thanks for the comment, Troy. Great action points here: Sweden went right to the heart of thinks by outlawing the sale and use of the offending chemicals with good success. We need to institute action, as you indicate, to do the same on a global level– for the sake of both breastmilk and drinking water.

  24. There seems to be a growing trend in this country that takes the most natural and phenomenal of life experiences and belittles them into something that is burdensome and unimportant. Reading this article coincides with a documentary I just watched on the whole birthing process and how contaminated the whole experience is. The film advocated home birthing because it is the only way to do it naturally anymore. Hospitals are first and foremost a business and they want to get you in and out of the delivery room on their schedule, not yours or your babies. Therefore, if you are taking too long, they induce you, which causes more intense pain so then comes the epidural. This in turn, leads to the uterus not dilating fast enough and often time lowers the baby’s heart beat leading to a country with an all time high of cesarean section births, and the numbers are growing every year. Or, if you’re trendy, you might do as some of the latest stars do; Victoria Beckham, Britney Spears, to name a couple; and just schedule your birth from the start. After all, who wants to be inconvenienced with a birth that will come in its own time; without drugs, and with the eventual release of a hormone meant to bond mother and child and provide the natural protective instincts to feed and nurture her new baby? A hormone that is otherwise suppressed by the cocktail of drugs given in the delivery room.
    After seeing this, I’m really not surprised in the stigma that is breastfeeding is getting or the fact that this country ignores such important findings like contaminated breast milk. It’s just not convenient or trendy to be concerned about family related issues such as these. This trend is not one that we can afford to live with.

    • Thanks for adding more examples to indicate this sorry trend that, as you note, we certainly cannot afford tolive with, Allyson. “New and improved” may sell products, but we need to view ads that claim with some critical skepticism if they alienate us from the natural processes that sustain us–if they alienate us from nature and thus our own bodies.

  25. “some US toy makers currently have two assembly lines. In one they make goods for the European market using EU standards. In the other, anything goes-and they sell toys made that way within the U.S.”

    Wow. That blows my mind. I have a little brother who is currently playing with toys that could’ve been made safely, but instead some companies are paying to operate 2 seperate lines, so that they can sell chemical laden toys to kids like him?? Why on earth wouldn’t they just be ethical and do the right thing? Is the cost really that much larger? This sort of thing, as you mention in your article, is all too rampant in our world today. If you ask me, I think it’s the special interests that are taking charge in Washington and keeping things like this, rules like this (which are already widespread in Europe) from being made. If we are supposed to be the leader of the free-thinking new world, as we call ourselves, then how have we let everything lag behind? Our car emissions, our chemical outputs, our healthcare system is lagging behind. Why do we let this happen? Apathy.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Josh. The question you ask about what motivates people NOT to make the obvious ethical choice is an important one that I have puzzled over myself. We obviously need to change some essential thinking–and a reward system that gives profit to such unethical behavior. I agree with you on your last statement; I would like to see the US exercise some of its potential for leadership in these areas once again. I don’t see any excuse not to.

  26. It is as if we are still feeling the repercussions of the industrial revolution where public safety was not a concern and harsh chemicals and processes devastated the population. I see it every time I go fishing on the Willamette River and am warned not to eat the fish because of the toxic chemicals they contain from the days of massive pollution from the paper mills upstream. Breast milk is one of those indicators that we can use as a measure of chemical levels because of the ability of many chemicals to cross the membranes in the breasts (According to my nurse friend who is sitting next to me right now).

    Another note: the European Union recently banned the use of lead in solder (for electronic circuit boards). Many electrical engineers around the globe complained about this move because the alternative requires more heat to melt. However, it was not long before many discovered that in the long run it was actually more efficient because you can use less solder. Now, its hard to find anybody that uses leaded solder. Its not only good for the environment but good for your pocketbook.

    • Thanks for your comments, Matt. One interesting thing about breast milk is that it is a non-invasive way to test for body burden toxins in all of us– a point made in the book on this topic I reviewed. I’m glad your nurse friend was able to add thr additional bit of information you shared here.
      The point about lead solder is a good example of dynamics I saw in my experience on the Eugene Toxics Right to Know Board. Many businesses were at first upset about having to report their toxics use–and in fact sued the city to rescind the law. But once they really started tracking their chemicals (many of which were quite expensive), and had some motivation to limit their use (public exposure), they found they were saving money.
      One local paint company, Forrest Paint, received national recognition for installing a state of the art release-filter and recapture process for its manufacturing.
      There can be, as you note, win-win propositions for the environment and business in many of these situations where people work together in fully thought-out ways. There is a good reason why the local businesses in San Francisco were primary sponsors of instituting the Precautionary Principle ordinance there.

  27. This is also the first time that I read about this problem. I guess it makes perfect sense to me: if we drink contaminated water and have unhealthy food choices (food with harmful chemical content, ..etc), then some of this is going to be “abosrbed” by our bodies. I wonder if it makes much difference if we did not care about the kinds of food we eat. For example, drinking water and eating apples is healthy, but if water is contaminated and apples are grown with pesticides, then what’s the point of having “healthy food choices”? In this sense, the problem is much bigger than just “For a healthy diet, avoid fast food and eat a lot of vegetables!”. In order for such “healthy” diets to be possible, we need to make sure that the basic elements we depend on (water, vegetables, fruits, ..etc) are clean of any harmful articial/chemical content.
    (sorry for the cheesy analysis :-))

    • Thanks for your comment, Yousef. Not a cheesy analysis at all! The research in the book I reviewed on this topic (Tainted Milk) indicated that it is not an individual lifestyle issue (that is, toxins cannot be avoided simply by cleaning up our personal diets– though I would certainly recommend that to any pregnant woman). However, as the concerted work Sweden has done to remove the offending chemicals from their environment shows, we can clean this up if we act in community.

  28. You are what you eat – our bodies are no more than a repository for all the chemicals, additives, and in general junk that is put in our food. I suspect if I went and had my hair diagnosed I would find that even with the care I give to eating organic and being a vegetarian, I would be upset at the amounts of toxins that reside in my body.

    I am amazed when I go to the grocery store or while I am in an airport waiting on a flight at what people put in their bodies by choice. As much as I love some of that food, I have had to look at as I would any poison to keep myself from indulging in a french fry or two.

    Right now I am wondering what our government will do with genetically engineered food? How will we know if it is safe? Will it be the food that can supply the world and stop hunger? Or will we find years later when a generation of people are affected that it was in fact unhealthy?

    • You ask some very large questions in your last paragraph, Liz. They are ones that we as a society will have to hash out–hopefully without tragedies caused by carelessness.The first step should be to require labeling of all genetically engineered foods; another would be to stop any gmo crops from being grown or planted when we cannot ensure that uncontrolled cross-pollination does not take place with non-gmo crops. The list goes on: I would love it if we could follow suit in the institution of the precautionary principle as has some EU nations.
      What people put into their bodies is often conditioned by lack of knowledge, poverty, and physical responses to fat, salt and sugar we are only just beginning to understand.
      In terms of chemicals, check out the Alliance for Democracy site linked under Legal Rights for Nature (the most recent post on this site): they list some suits resulting from “chemical trespass”. These are growing more common: seems to me we have a right NOT to ingest anything into our bodies we don’t chose to put there. And certainly children too young to make that decision for themselves merit clean water, food, and non-toxic food.

      • I believe that the growing nations will want to use these genetically engineered foods as they can grow more in a confined space, transfer them over long distances, and probably make a buck doing it. If I did not have access to food at all and this was my only choice I might thank my government for providing it for me – it kept me from going hungry. Now that is a sad statement on why GMO foods will most likely become common place. Although if I think about it, we have foods like that in our grocery stores now. I remember when my ex brought home some GMO berry vines that grew large fruit, but could not withstand the transportation so they quick working on them….

        • It is sad that large corporations, with the WTO behind them, are pressuring third world governments like India to replace their traditional oils with gmo soy oil they can’t currently sell elsewhere. Though gmo crops are billed as higher yielding, they mostly aren’t: over the whole specturm, they produce 10 to 30 per cent less–and that is not counting the fact that mono-cropping yields less than traditionally diverse agriculture if you count the whole crop. It is also not counting the expense of an addiction to chemical usage: in fact, more and more chems are used on gmo crops in India so that something like two dozen children have died from pesticide exposure near the fields where they are planted (and that is only the tip of the iceberg that can be verified). Though gmo crops (“round-up ready”) may be billed as needing less chemicals, because of the resistance they develop in weeds (and insects, in other crops), they actually wind up needing more and more chemicals. Because of this dynamic, to prevent the build up of super weeds and super insects, the US government requires that a certain percentage of non-gmo crops be grown in any gmo field in the hopes non-resistant crops will breed there. But the worst (from my perspective) are the “terminator” seeds which have a gene built in that prevents them from growing more than one crop lest farmers save seeds and Monsanto (who sells these and is also linked to Dow–the major pesticide producer) not gain as much money as they might by reselling seeds for each crop. Problem is, genes migrate to other crops and even other species in an uncontrolled way– so that these engineered genes may put our world seed supply at risk.

  29. This article made me think of a documentary that I recently watched on Frontline called Poisoned Waters that you can still watch on their website. While it details many problems that we have with pollutants in our water, one of the largest surprises was that fish and frogs in the waterways of the U.S. are mutating into intersex individuals due to the endocrine disruptors that are in our water. The scary part is that we don’t know the effects on humans of most of the chemicals that are in our water. But, if they are horribly disrupting the basic anatomy of amphibians, just imagine what they are doing to us, not to mention the more vulnerable members of our society, babies and children.

    It is sad that even thought the U.S. is a powerful nation, we do not care for our citizens like other smaller nations, such as those in the EU. We love our children and protect them by teaching them “stranger danger”, making them wear bike helmets, and strap them into their car seats, yet, we are failing them on one of the most fundamental levels by giving them poisoned food and water. While it seems impossible to stop the flow of chemicals into our natural systems, speaking out with our consumer dollar will often make a bigger difference than our votes will. Organic produce, free range, antibiotic free meat, and natural cleaning products are flooding our market which is making the choice to live healthier with a lighter footprint is becoming easier. Thank you for the enlightening article!

    • A perceptive comment, Bekah–and it shows the benefits of a holistic approach to understanding ways to protect our children. As you point out, we would be loathe not protect our children from someone who physically attacked them–while we ourselves are feeding them poisoned food and water. I think we need more information in the public arena on this point so that denial and minimizing our environmental degradation can no longer be done by those who can help us make the changes to care, as “green” architect and planner William McDonough has put, “the children of all species for all time”. As you point out in your comment on legal rights for nature, we cannot protect our children without protecting the rights of other natural life. The frogs that are becoming unisex are ingesting the same toxins that are causing human sperm count to plummet. (In this case, it might well be our grandchildren we need to care for).

  30. Having been breastfed for the first 3 years of my life, or as my mother puts it “you were able to undress me in public….it was time to stop.” I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding, the nutritional benefits are huge and with the lax controls on food production in this country you never know how safe formula will be. I had read a little bit about the toxins in breast milk but nothing explaining it this well, it scares me that things like this are not more publicized. Several other people brought up that our society shuns breast feeding; it amazes me that we as a society shun the basic exchange between mother and child. During my first term of college I was taking a debate class and the teacher had another student and I debate if breast feeding in public should be banned, much like smoking. She allowed people to volunteer for the debate and I was shocked when another woman sided with banning breast feeding in public. It shocks me that something so beautiful and basic is looked upon as disgusting or wrong in our society. Now I realize that not all women can or want to breast feed, but the facts show that it is nutritional and the best way to nurture your child. The modernization of our culture has caused many practices, like breast feeding, to be considered outdated or wrong, at some point we need to stop and see that we are moving to far away from our natural selves and becoming to reliant on outside sources.

    • Thanks for your articulate personal response on this issue, Rebecca. I certainly couldn’t agree with you more. I can’t imagine (well, I can, but I am expressing my feelings here!) banning something like breastfeeding in public when we allow pictures of humans being tortured and blow up in public. I would saw the latter is obscene, whereas the other is about the best natural process for caring for a child (for the majority of women who are able to do it). Time to get our priorities straight, I think. Perhaps most pointed is the way in which the positive public view of breastfeeding in other nations (e.g. Sweden and other parts of the EU) motivated them to clean up the toxins that contaminated it– thus benefiting their entire society.

  31. This was a very informative essay. The connection goes on and on. From a chemical used across the world, to our own drinking water, into our bodies, out through our bodies, and even possibly into the ones we love. My question would be, how do we dissipate or back-track on the damage already caused? I can see how changes can be made that limit future contamination, but that doesn’t stop issues at hand. The fact that we toss garbage into our water is obscene. Water is what makes up almost all of our composition!

    I think that the advertisements about formula being just as good, if not better are misleading. Nothing that is chemically produced is better for our bodies. Do people forget that we survived through an Ice-Age, Stone-Age and so on? We do not “need” half of the crap people advertise. Although a little questionable, I have learned about moms that breast-feed even past the age of three. I guess location of where you live influences that decision also. It is amazing what a society can do to a person.

    • Apropos of your point about garbage in the water, when Siletz Takelma elder Agnes Baker prepared a blessing for the Willamette River, she specifically wanted a sign that said, “The river is not a garbage dump.” Once that water was clean enough to drink–not a back standard to come back to, I think.
      Fortunately, nature has wonderful resilience when we stop our bad acts in time. The clean up of the Hudson River might well be considered a miracle, given its state in 1960. We cannot begin such projects too soon.
      I also think the formula “just as good” ads are misleading.

  32. This blog hit me on so many levels. I knew breast milk was better because of the immunities passed on to the infant, but I had no idea about the chemicals in the water being toxic to an infant. I figured if I could drink tap water, so could a baby. And the fact that these chemicals are present in the womb is disturbing. Even if you convinced every woman to breast feed, the infant would still be exposed because mom drinks tap water.

    I have read so many articles where the European Union is miles ahead of us. Whether it is chemicals, protecting the water supply, or protecting the food supply (they outlawed GMO’s).

    It really made me angry that some US companies have one toy processing line for Europe and a different one for us. Aren’t our children just as important?

    How do we get our politicians to wake up and change?

    • Your outrage is well founded, Julie. I think we should all feel this on behalf of our next generation. And as for our politicians–well, we elected them. Just as there was (hopeful I think) a groundswell for change on the national level, we can create one on the local level wherever we are. Wherever we have local power, we can try not only to educate but to pass local initiatives against pesticide use–as they have done in Canada (check out the Dandelion Wars here). It is utterly shameful that money is more important to some than the health of the next generation. Time to change a few things. Each of us can start by educating ourselves and others.

  33. This article shocked me and took me by surprise. I always thought that breast milk was the best way to nourish your baby, so I never even bothered to think that it may contain toxins that could be harmful to an infant. It is important for all mothers to understand that what they consume in their bodies could affect their babies even after they are born. This article also hit close to home because I had a close friend who was pregnant but did not know it. She did many of the things she normally did such as drinking and smoking. She went to the doctors office for a check up and when she found out she was already five months pregnant. Afraid and shocked, she decided to have an abortion because she was afraid that what she had been doing for the past five months would have harmed her unborn baby. The point I am trying to make is that I think it is vital for girls and women alike who are sexually active to be aware of what could happen. If there is ANY chance of being pregnant, take a pregnancy test to find out so you can start the right kind of prenatal care. Some girls like my friend shown no signs or syptoms and when they find out, they feel as though it is too late. The first few weeks are the most important part in a pregnancy and what the mother chooses to do to her body will affect her fetus. I think that babies are a beautiful gift that we must nourish to the best way we know of. Although, with everything we hear on the news, articles, ads, and commercials it’s hard to know what form of nourishment really is the best way. My question is, if advertisments and misleading products were banned or atleast reduced… would this be a start on helping provide nourishment to children…who are in return our future? Or do you think that it is too late and people are pretty set in what they consume for themselves and children?

    • Thanks for your comment, Jena. If I thought it was too late for us to change course, I wouldn’t be teaching this class.
      It is important for all of us to be informed–and I have seen some wonderful changes come about as a result of education. You can help by talking to your friends– by sharing your own choices rather than critiquing theirs. We have much to do for the future of our children.
      I think changing ads–and pulling toxic products off the market would certainly help, as these courses of action cleaned up the breast milk supply in other nations.

  34. This essay touches a nerve with me. Our children have benefited from the ability to have breastmilk. We never knew that there could be such things in something so natural. It would be nice to have the ability to get ones milk tested. If this issue was more widespread, or if the testing of breastmilk was more promoted, many would learn the terrible truth. Great report.

    • Good point, Ross. I think you are right, since we can turn to the EU example, where breastfeeding is much more prevalent than in the US–and the very possibility that that might be contaminated led to a massive clean up the government.
      Do know that breast feeding is still by far the safest and healthiest choice for babies.

  35. I had never considered that breast milk can be contaminated as well as formula. Breast-feeding has always been the best way to care for a newborn child because it’s the way nature intended–the best way to give the baby the right nutrients and avoid robbing its little body of what it needs. Since I had always considered breast milk the safest way to feed a baby, it’s a little scary to think about the fact that it could be contaminated, especially by things that we encounter everyday.

    • Breast milk is still the best, Sarah. But if we don’t clean up our act in terms of things like chlorinated hydrocarbons, our breast milk supply will continue to get more contaminated (unlike the same milk supply in Sweden, where they have cleaned up the sources of such pollution). Gives us something to work for–and to consider when we think about putting those pesticides on our lawns that wind up in our water supply. Thanks for your comment and your concern.

  36. I’m going to go off on a slight tangent, but breastmilk contamination immediately makes me thing of the Nestle formula debacle of 30 years ago, and the WHO’s subsequent International Code on the Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, which forbids the marketing of formula as a product superior to breastmilk. For those not familiar, essentially Nestle went into a number of third world countries and handed out free samples of their brand of formula to new mothers in hospitals (purported to be more nutritious than mother’s milk) – samples that lasted just long enough for the mothers own milk to dry up. Keep in mind that this occured in countries where access to safe drinking water to mix the formula with was extremely limited. Results painfully clear – mother’s milk dries up, she’s left with no choice but to buy the outrageously expensive formula, and mix it with whatever water she can find, clean or not. It is one of the most sickening, gut-wrenching examples of corporate greed I have ever had the displeasure of learning about. My connection to this story is that while living in China last year, I saw not one but many, MANY commercials breaking the WHO’s code, and marketing their formula to Chinese mothers as better than breastmilk for the VERY REASON that breastmilk has been found to contain too many contaminants. (And in China, staggering pollution is an everyday reality, so for these mothers to believe those claims is not a huge stretch.) I was very glad to read that in spite of the levels of toxins found in breastmilk in the States, Boswell-Penc is still advocating breastmilk as the most nutritious choice, but I fear that the formula trend will catch on because of increasing evidence of the presence of toxins, and not enough education about the importance of immunities that can only be passed through breastmilk.

    • The American Academy of Pediatricians also supports breastmilk as the healthiest alternative for a baby, Liz. You bring up a pointed issue with following the WHO guidelines. Whereas we have some international organizations–like the one oriented toward world health– designing such guidelines, you have others breaking them–or undermining the conditions for putting them into effect. I am thinking of the World Trade Organization, which states that you must compensate a corporation for its loss of business if you interfere with that. So Ontario is being sued on that basis for outlawing lawn chemicals and in Guatemala, one of the most successful campaigns to support infant health through breast feeding in the world was halted through Nestle’s pressure on the government as a kind of “blackmail” of the government stating they would sue for loss of business if they kept promoting breastmilk. Whenever our worldview puts profit first, must suffers–including the health of the most vulnerable among us. A great tragedy.
      And as for China, time to do something about those like Wal Mart who are pressuring manufacturers there for cheap prices, no matter what the cost (pun intended). Thanks for sharing your experience here.

  37. We seem to have a lot of blind trust in this ‘big brother’ who is regulating everything we purchase, from food to toys to building materials. I find it scary to not know what is in something or where it came from. Or, most importantly, where the products we consume go when we are through with them. We have a trust and expectation that our food, water, and consumable goods are being regulated to a certain standard, yet we don’t know what that standard really is. Michael Pollen in, In Defence of Food, states that we should not eat anything with more than 10 ingredients or has ingredients that we can’t pronounce. However I don’t believe that we can wait for proper regulation. If you look at the time span between when we knew that a particular chemical or material (lead and DDT for example) was harmful and when there was an actual regulation banning or restricting the use of that chemical or product it varies between 20 and 50 years! The state of California keeps a list, which it updates yearly, of chemicals which are known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. It is a 19 page running list of chemicals! The fact that many of these chemicals can be found in our bodies simply shows how we are connected to nature and what we do to the land, we do to ourselves.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chessa. Very important points about not waiting for regulation– that is why a number of organizations have taken the spread of information on such issues into their own hands (some are listed under consumer info links on this site). Perhaps we could also, like so many municipalities in Canada have done, began to ban things like lawn chemicals on a local level.

  38. Breastfeeding is the best for babies. Unfortunately the phrase “you are what you eat” is correct. The environmental damage has now been absorbed by humans. Women as well as men carry toxins in our body. This is transferred to newborns through breastmilk. But along with the toxins comes the nourishing elements found only in breastmilk. Follow the money. Of course doctors are saying its not the best because those doctors are getting kickbacks from the manufacturers. Why do you suppose there are free samples at hospitals to new parents? Come on people we have to realize that unfortunately those entrusted in looking after our best interests are not. I like the comment that we send the pesticide elsewhere but it comes back in the food we import. KARMA.

  39. I would think that it should be obvious to anyone who read this article that immediate action is NECESSARY to ensure the safety of our children. Dangerous levels of toxins in our water and in breast milk is definitely a ridiculous way to end up with unhealthy babies and future generations of people because it is clearly preventable. I’m shocked, to say the least, that political leaders would be so naive as to prevent the safe monitoring of our water. Clearly congress needs to sort out its priorities. It’s disturbing that anyone can care so little about the health of the environment and non-human animals, let alone their own children or grandchildren. Sarah Palin.. ugh.

    • Hi Karen, thanks for your passion over this issue– out of such passion will come action, I hope. This is an outrage. I think we only allow it because we close our eyes to it. The information is nowhere to be seen in public media. Time to change that, I think. And as for your little editorial on Sarah Palin. I agree! I think there is a sad irony in her portraying herself caring so much for her daughter and then doing things that trash the environment she and all the next generation will need to survive.

  40. I had not heard of this issue before, but again it doesn’t surprise me. There continues to be issues of contamination whether it’s pesticides, climate change, or breast milk and yet we as a society acknowledge the issues yet fail to fix and really act appropriately to resolve these issues. My mother had three children and we were all home births, she breast fed all three of us and for me to hear about something like this just makes me puzzled, shocked, disgusted, yet not surprised. We know the chemicals are out there, we know we use them, we know they can and do harm us, but we continue to use them. We see a dollar sign as more important than the health of our fellow being. I do say “we” because although there are those of us who may be doing something to help fix one problem, there’s always something more we could be doing. Whether that includes tackling another issue, talking to our neighbor about environmental sustainable behaviors, or passing bills that shut down harmful companies. As far as sarah palin is concerned, I find it interesting that someone like her who is known for trying to ban books, take away women’s rights, not being educated on foreign policies, giving up her seat in office with about 18 months still left, and so on…could still end up being our president. Why? Because of her faith?!? This is what worries me, that we follow our faith blindly, and don’t realize it’s okay to ask “why”.

    • Your health and that of your siblings can only have benefited by the manner of your birth and your early nourishment, Trevor. This is more the norm in European countries than in our own– maybe that is what makes us so lax to fix the problem of contaminated breast milk? I think we need to get at the processes of denial in our whole worldview and economic situation so that we can change the fact that we continue to use such chemicals even when we know the harm they cause.
      This leads me to wonder if the large number of folks who continue to use them REALLY have the info on their dangers– I can’t believe if this info sunk in, people would still be using them…

  41. When my son was born I tried very hard to breast feed for all of the obvious reasons. I had a lot of trouble with breast feeding – my son just never seemed satisfied – he wanted to nurse almost constantly. When he was five weeks old, I went to his pediatrician in tears about my struggles to breastfeed. She told me that the most important thing was to enjoy this time with my son and it was “just fine” to feed him formula. I had been feeling guilty because I was unable to supply his needs. I started to substitute some formula into his feedings and shortly thereafter my breast milk production decreased accordingly. I had always worried more about contaminates in the formula than any contaminates that my son would ingest from my breast milk. I ate mostly unprocessed, healthy foods and tried to eat my recommended daily servings of each food group. I drank the recommended amount of water and (obviously) consumed no alcoholic drinks. I made sure that I didn’t eat more than the recommended amount of tuna and/or salmon to ensure that my son didn’t get too much mercury in the breast milk. I took absolutely no medication (OTC or prescription). The point is, as a mother you make these sacrifices to protect your newborn baby. You do whatever it takes to care for and nuture your child. It is not fair to the baby, or to the mother, who is doing everything she can to protect her baby but ends up passing on hazardous chemicals to her baby. It is really unfortunate and surprising that the U.S. government hasn’t been more proactive about hazardous chemicals found in our food, toys, and almost every other type of manufactured products sold to Americans. Our nation is only as good as its people, and making sure that known harmful chemicals stay out of our products should be of the utmost concern. The large majority of women in Europe breastfeed, which is why this issue was met, in Europe, with swiftness and vigor. I personally think that the culture in Europe is much more environmentally aware and feels closer to nature than most Americans. This is an old culture, who hasn’t forgotten their roots or the ways of their ancestors. They eat a much better diet and live a less complicated life than the average American. I think that this cultural difference between Europeans and Americans accounts for the difference in both the governmental approach and media coverage regarding this issue. I think that environmental problems should be the top concern of governments across the world and the top concern of each capable person on the earth. This is certainly an issue of injustice done to the people, by the ignorance and unwillingness of governments around the world. The governments should be there to ultimately protect the people. Just as protecting an endangered species involves the protection of their habit; protecting the people means protecting the environment first because the environment is our habitat. Really enjoyed your essay – great work! I hope that more work in this specific area is carried out and more importantly more media attention.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal story with us, Heather. Your son obviously received some very good nurturing–I am glad you pediatrician told you to enjoy this time. You might be interested to know that in many societies, women characteristically helped feed one another’s babies– so they could sleep through the night, for instance.
      Wonderful point about how much you did for your baby–and what a violation it is to have contaminants still encroach on him. I do hope (see Legal Right for Nature here) that we will soon make socially and legally understand to chemically trespass on another– with a neighbor’s lawn chemicals or a corporation’s output of toxics into our air and water as is a matter of physical assault.

  42. It’s absurd to think what we put in, intentionally or unintentionally, to our bodies doesn’t affect something somewhere else. Breast milk and babies are just one of the many things affected by the chemicals. Why are our politicians and regulations that far behind the curve? What has changed things?

    I know I’ve seen studies where birth control and medications are being found in streams and drinking water sources. The treatment facilities are not capable of filtering or treating for this contaminents.- yet we and other non-human beigns are ingesting them. Hmmm, what does that say about us?

    • You have a question to ponder here, Christy–what DOES this kind of contamination say about us. That we are careless, I think, and ignorant (or purposely blind) to our interconnections (and the results of our actions). And other things like greed- if we can make a buck, we ignore all the external costs on someone somewhere else, including babies.
      Maybe a get rich quick tactic. But not exactly a survival tactic for our species.

  43. I don’t have children, but almost all of my friends do, so I am very aware of the importance of breastfeeding. It is interesting to me that fewer Mothers in the US are breastfeeding than in other countries with all the information we have today. Perhaps breastfeeding makes us too much like our animal kin, or the idea from the past that only poor people breast feed still exists. I was born in the 1960’s and my mother breastfeed me, but I know many other people born during that time that were not. I just wasn’t the think to do and I am not sure why. Have we forgotten what breast are for?

    The example of putting toxins in baby formula is appalling. Manufacturers creating toxic baby food and chemicals deserve to go to jail. I am well aware that our bodies are full of plastic and toxins. We have no control over the chemicals that we are born with and absorb from the air, through our skin and in much of the food we eat. I heard an interview on NPR about a guy who only ate organic food, used organic products and wore organic clothing and he had himself tested for toxicity. He had as many chemicals in his body as anyone else. I am curious to know how toxic we are when we are born and then how are toxicity increases as we become adults. Why do we in the US care less about ourselves and others than they do in Europe? Are we so afraid of not making a few more dollars at the risk of human health?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Christina. The good news is that Lisa Jackson, new EPA administrator, has called for the raising of US chemical safety standards to use the precautionary principle in a manner similar to which the European Union does. Something to watch and write letters about!

  44. How are we supposed to feel about being expendable? I was visited by a water conditioning agent who proposed to clean my water of the chlorine, iron and other metals for $6,000. Because the sanitation techniques for water are currently approved by the state and federal laws, it is on my shoulders to clean my water to higher standards. Why should we have to beg to have our necessary resources cleaned to a standard that doesn’t affect ours and our infants health adversely? The United States stands for protecting our inalienable rights…as long as they’re not too expensive.

    • I would modify your last sentence a bit, Jessica. I would say that such environmental standards don’t get upheld because of what they cost to corporate polluters. They cost us, as you point out, plenty, whether in preventative health care and care once we get sick.

  45. This says much of a society that values the all mighty dollar over the welfare of it’s citizens. It isn’ t a hard leap to make that because women in this society are not valued that corporations would take little notice of their contaminants and change. What they perhaps don’t realize is the personal effect those that head these corporations will feel when their offspring have medical problems as a result of those contaminations. Will that change it then? I think not. The only ways we can begin to change what chemicals are not used is through our consumer might and political pressure.
    There is no need to use these chemicals when we can find alternatives and achieve the same results. I would also wager that better results would be yielded as a result of not contaminating the environment.

    This article enlightened me in that I always thought that the U.S. was the first in safety for its consumers and was the toughest in the world as a global leader. It was most illuminating to learn that the U.S. government is no such thing! We lag behind and have both dangerous foods and products circulating without any type of warning or awareness. I will not be so blind in the future.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. Your personal awareness– which models the awareness all of us should have as citizens, is essential not only for response to chemical contaminants, but to the running of our democracy. I have said it before in these comments, but I think it is worth continuing to say. I think one important thing for all of us who care about this issue to do is to is to support Lisa Jackson’s request to congress to update the EPA’s policy to put it in line with the use of the precautionary principle with respect to chemical usage in the European Union.

  46. As pointed out in this article, the actions of people in one area have repercussions for people far away and in the future. While Sweden moved quickly to ban chemicals affecting breast milk, the U.S. has not only yet to take action, but has almost no campaign on the issue raising awareness. Last year in Austin, a series of billboards appeared encouraging women to breast feed. Apart for the seeming randomness of seeing a breast milk advertisement on the side of the highway, I thought these ads strange. A movement for breast milk has emerged in this country due to the positive effects of breast feeding infants. In the midst of this trend, however, I never heard any concern for the negative consequences breast feeding might have. Concern for the chemicals infants would ingest when breast feeding is non-existent. Where is our outrage? Where is our righteous movement and protective legislation? Where will we be in 20 years without addressing these issues now?

    • Thanks for your comment, Tabitha. It is important to remember that breastfeeding is still (by far) the healthiest way to feed your baby because of the immune factors involved and the way it is nutritionally constituted. Further, the widespread contamination in breastmilk reflects the widespread contamination in all our bodies–and the water with which formula would be mixed.
      Indeed, breastmilk has been used to measure contamination in particular areas– since it is a non-invasive way to draw body fluids and analyze them.
      The major and important point you make here is that the contamination of infant food should be an outrage–and the analysis in the book I reviewed indicated that if breastfeeding were more widespread in the US, there would be an uproar over the environmental contamination that causes breastmilk contamination in turn.
      It is certainly a concern where we will be twenty years from now. Some of the contamination that Rachel Carson first documented showed up in human health not in her contemporary generation but in their children and grandchildren.

  47. 1) This is just plain idiotic. Sadly typical, but idiotic. “Hey, Europe won’t buy our dangerous baby formula any more!” “Well, we can always sell it to Americans. Slap a new label on it.” Gaaah.
    2) Signed the petition and will gladly start telling my friends.
    3) Shouldn’t this be a part of the Health Care debate? I certainly haven’t heard word one about it, outside of Our Earth Ourselves. How can we have equitable, fair health care when we start our children with toxins, from what should be the safest of sources?

  48. I found this article to be very interesting, as it is something that I have considered in the past. While I was in high school, my mom gave birth to my two baby brothers whom she breastfed. A friend of mine’s mother had a baby around the same time and did not breastfeed. Stemming from this difference of opinion, I based a persuasive speech for my English class on why you should breastfeed your baby. In addition to the emotional and biological reasons, environmental reasons are equally important. An idea that I gained from this article is the importance of testing breast milk for contamination. Not only is it incredibly harmful to a brand-new, developing child, but it can also give a general idea of the chemical contamination present in the mother.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bree. Even more important than testing breastmilk for contamination– since that contamination reflects the background contamination of our environment–is to clean up (as Sweden did) the contaminants that cause this issue in the first place.
      Knowing the extent to which we are contaminated can be important–but fixing this is not so much a personal issue (as the book I reviewed stresses) but a social one in that we must do something about overriding environmental causes. This is especially true in the cases where toxins are pooled in poor or rural communities that have little ability to stop this environmental dumping.
      I appreciate your thoughts.

  49. Breast-feeding is so controversial in the United States. I have heard of many different arguments and, even just yesterday on Facebook, I saw a group that was supporting not covering up breast-feeding in public. I believe that breast-feeding is the healthiest option. If our babies are going to be ingesting chemicals, I think that it’s better for it to be a small amount, than a larger amount found in the water that you mix the formula with. I know that some women are unable to breast-feed, and that is why we need to clean up our water system.
    Another thing is the European Union’s standard for toys. I used to work at the Kid’s Shop in downtown Corvallis, and many people would come in asking for EU toys. Many parents are very concerned about what their babies are ingesting, but the options out there are very slim. Why are we not setting our standards at the same level as the European Union. I can’t understand why we would have the same company making two different products, it really doesn’t make sense.
    Even if it is going to cost more to change these standards, isn’t it worth it to live a healthy life?! I say this, but it is also very hard to live up to this standard of buying healthy things that are more expensive. Often times I find myself looking for the cheap alternative, not the healthy or most economically friendly option.

    • You are not alone in believing breastfeeding is the healthiest option, the American Academy of Pediatrics in behind you on this one. It is interesting that parents know enough to protect their kids by purchasing EU toys– but what does that say about our standards? I am hoping we change these soon! The only sense making two kinds of toys makes is a bit of extra money in someone’s pocket.
      I appreciate your personal reflection on consumer choices, Kelly. It is certainly time to end the “perverse subsidies” that cause toxic toys and chemically laden food to cost less than healthy and well made alternatives. Thanks for your comment.

  50. This article most definitely points out some very poignant issues. I guess I never paid attention to baby formula advertisements, or in general, the issue of breast-feeding. Being a young woman, I hope in the future I will have children, and with the facts presented to me, I most definitely will breast-feed if possible. As a biology student, I had that opinion anyway. We were taught that the immune-factors present in breast-milk were a huge benefit to infants, as well the fact that it supplied excellent nutrition. But, I guess I also assumed formula was safe, and breast-milk was safe. This article truly made me want to get involved and support the causes to help elliminate chemicals we use that could potentially contaminate breast-milk, or the water supply for baby formula. I find it very disheartening that these contaminants are being found in breast-milk, something that is so essential to a child’s life.

    • Thank you for your caring personal comment, Danielle. I think all of us– of all genders and ages– ought to be concerned about this issue-and get involved in supporting the move to get these toxins our of our environment as you hope to do!

  51. Something has to change! Our children are being poisoned with additives and chemicals not just through tainted breast milk, but through the umbilical transactions as well in the womb. It is time for our legislatures to get out of the pocket of industry and big business, and to start looking after the health and welfare of the American people first. I would like to see plasticizers outlawed, organic farms and products supplemented, and companies who continue to put profit over health in their production and manufacturing penalized. My wife and I are now 2 day overdue and waiting for the birth of our firstborn. We are purposefully planning on eating organic, buying unprocessed foods, using green/natural cleansers, and growing as much of our own food as possible. The word is a tough enough place as it is, and we don’t need to start our children at a deficit by feeding them chemicals from birth.

    • I absolutely agree with you, Peter! Time to change our habits and support a government that does its job for its country rather than a handful of tycoons. We simply cannot afford to continue as we have been. If we don’t care about protecting ourselves, we must care about protecting future generations. Change must come from the bottom up as well as the top down (in the construction of our government)– in the way you and your wife as doing.
      All best wishes on the coming arrival of your baby!

  52. This article was very interesting to me, I guess for one because I am a male, and for two because I haven’t heard anything like this before. This is very alarming for all women out there who have children they are breastfeeding. Like the article says breastfeeding is so much friendlier for the environment, there is no packaging to deal with, no bottles to worry about, and there is no waste to the environment. But, if there is going to be harm in breast milk, then one becomes very alarmed. It is almost like a double edged sword, darn if do, darned if you don’t. When my son was born he could not nurse do to a deformation with his mother’s body. Then to make matters worse he was lactose intolerant. So, when he was first born we had to rely on store bought soy formula. You get scared as parents because you are buying store bought formula and the waste you are doing to the environment, but when you have to have to make choices. Some are hard, but unfortunately one can magically make soy-based breast milk appear from the mother. So, we had to result to buying store bought things. But, you do it in a way that is as environmentally friendly as you can. I just guess in life there is going to be things that you cannot prevent no matter what you do.

    • One certainly does become alarm about toxins in the breastmilk, Jose– but we do not wish to scapegoat breastmilk for carrying the same toxins that the entire environment and all of our bodies do.
      And organic formula ought to be available to those families who cannot breastfeed. This is an important place where formula does serve a useful purpose. The book I reviewed also suggested that some women could freeze their breastmilk and share it with others to provide the immune factors important especially for very young children.

  53. I remember doing the research and staying away from all fish while I was pregnant and nursing. As I sit here, eating some smoked salmon on crackers, I am thankful I am not pregnant or breastfeeding. However, it does make me wonder what exactly goes into what I am eating. I do think that everything happens in a cycle. What we pollute does come back to us in the air we breathe, the food we eat. It should only make us more diligent about the circles that we’re in and how and what we add to them.

    • All this does come back to us, Jennifer-or to our children. It is great that you took special care of yourself (and thus to your child) while you were pregnant and nursing. The salmon you are consuming may be very good or bad depending on where it comes from–and whether it is wild or farmed. As largely vegetarian fish, wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest are among the cleanest fish around– virtually absent of mercury, for instance. Farmed fish are something else again, since the food they are fed is often contaminated and contains animal wastes.

  54. There are many important points in this article, exploring the vast problems associated with pollution. It is unthinkable that the innocent are suffering at the hands of the greedy that only care about profit, and do not care about the well-being of children. Understanding the implications of pollution in our environment is an essential step to preventing tragic instances of fetal and infant harm due to the presence of toxins in a pregnant mother’s body and in her breastmilk. During their development, babies are extremely vulnerable to toxins and we are accountable, as a society, for protecting developing fetuses and babies from being injured because of our own irresponsible actions. I think that it is very important that society is aware of the extent of the harm being done because of pollution. I worry that when I become a mother someday, my unborn child will be affected by the toxins I unknowingly put into my body when I eat food or drink water contaminated with them. Although I do what I can to limit my own pollution footprint, the government needs to step in and help stop what is avoidable: pollution in our drinking water, chemicals in children’s toys, and assist other countries in making good choices when it comes to pollution.

    • I absolutely agree with you on this, Lauren, that it is unthinkable that the innocent and the helpless (who also happen to be those upon our future depends) “are suffering at the hands of the greedy who only care about profit”.
      I also think it is unthinkable that you should have to suffer these worries as a future mother yourself. I hope we all follow the request of new EPA director Lisa Jackson to Congress that the EPA be able to regular chemicals more strictly than in the past– more in line with the European Union’s precautionary principle use. Thank you for your comment.

  55. I find it difficult to believe that the US has not yet adopted the same ‘precautionary principle’ as the European Union. I remember that when we covered this topic in my environmental politics class, the main argument that people put forward in favour of the current US system was that the people who are more risk averse should have the right to benefit from new chemicals and modern technologies. They claimed that if the precautionary principle was introduced in the US, they would be prevented from benefiting from the new technologies by people who are less risk averse – and who would therefore like to see implementation of the precautionary principle. I believe that when it comes to, for example, introducing new chemicals, one thing that we need to bear in mind is that we may not be able to take our actions back if unexpected and negative consequences occur. In many cases it takes decades or even longer to remedy such actions – in many cases it may be impossible to remedy them for hundreds of years. The risk is huge and it should be acknowledged by everybody – including the more risk averse individuals. As illustrated by your article, it will often be the vulnerable members of our society – such as children – who will be affected by introduction of new chemicals. And sadly enough, they are unable to express their opinion on whether they would be in favour or against the precautionary principle. Another alarming true – as also mentioned in your article – is that contamination by chemicals is a systematic process. We cannot limit it to certain areas – although that would also be incorrect. At the end of the day, no matter where the contamination occurs, someone will be affected by it. I very much agree with you Madronna that you need some national leadership on this issue.


    • Hi Iveta, thanks for your comment. You make some excellent points in support of the precautionary principle. In an environment in which ALL suffer the effects of the actions of some, it does not seem just those who cause this suffering should be able to continue to profit from this.
      I find it a bit bizarre that those who act with care in response to the fact that there are things we cannot “take back”–as you point out–are labeled “risk averse”, as if they are somehow holding up the ability of others to profit out of some sort of neurosis. It is true that many innocents such as these breastfeeding children are affected by such contamination–as you also point out. Are we planning to label babies “risk averse” as well?
      A hopeful fact is that the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, has sent a suggestion to Congress asking to update toxics regulations according to the EU standards of the precautionary principle.

  56. This article has made me so paranoid about my own breast milk now lol. I’m seriously considering moving to Sweden to have my children! *not really but it crossed my mind* What can we do? Are the women who don’t have children yet already contaminated? Are there ways we can rid ourselves of the chemicals now so that by the time we have children, our breast milk will be clean? I’m really worried about this lol…maybe overly so lol.

    • Hi Randa, see my response to the other comment you posted on this site tonight. I would hope you are not the only one worried about this–and that you understand that breast milk is still by far the healthiest alternative for feeding a baby if a woman is able to do this (there are women who cannot breast feed for whatever reasons).
      You may want to put some energy into some of the groups listed in our links to help stop contaminant release into our environment–and by all means follow and support Lisa Jackson (new EPA administrator) in her request to Congress that we update old chemical release laws in line with the precautionary principle.

  57. It is unfortunate that the chemicals that we are consuming are not only tainting our own bodies but also the bodies of innocent infants as well. This fact saddens me especially when I hear of all the benefits that mothers’ milk provides these growing and developing infants. Unfortunately many children will miss out on these nutrients not only from the chemicals are are tainting the milk but also because many women are ignorant and buy-in to the idea that formula actually is more convenient and just as good as breast-feeding.

    • I agree with you absolutely, Alana. I would only add that there are women who are physically incapable of nursing their babies through no fault of their own. The author of Tainted Milk points out the rather new idea of breast milk “banks” that such mothers might draw from. But formula does seem an important option for these women.
      And cleaning these toxins from our environment (certainly refraining from releasing more) is a viable option for all of us!

  58. Could it be possible that tainted natural breast milk, which could harbor dangerous toxins that can potentially produce a lifetime of chronic health issues to our children, be a blessing to huge and powerful baby formula manufacturers? Kind of like Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi taking advantage of citizen’s fear of polluted water by bottling tap water which is polluted by huge corporations like Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi? Would I be wrong to believe that something purposeful may be brewing in this tragedy? Is it irrational to be worried that GE is paying billions in the desalination of our ocean waters to produce “clean drinking water” and marketing it as “environmental stewardship for our planet”? GE who is the largest weapons manufactures on the planet. The same self reliance and sustainability that was an indigenous culture in Turtle Island, India, and globally which is now becoming more and more impossible because of capitalist globalization. The same industrial corporations that produce fear to Mothers who have to make the choice of breaking laws by not allowing school shots filled with thermerisol which contains toxic metals like Mercury and Aluminum, injected into their baby’s arms or face the (possibly irrational) fear of the baby contracting long gone diseases like polio? Why is it that Mothers are given only tow choices by big pharm industry? Your kid can get autism or he/she can get polio…Why not follow the precautionary principle when it comes to our children? Why can’t the toxic metals be taken out of all inoculations? Why do companies like Similac have more power than Mothers? Who owns Similac, GoodStart, Enfamil? I looked it up….Nestle, Abbott Labs Pharmaceutical, and Mead Johnson…All companies who have deplorable reputations for environmental injustices and human rights injustices, all owned by men……LUCY…You’ve got some splanin to do!……….

    • Thanks for sharing your obviously passionate feelings about these issues, Val. I absolutely agree that there is no excuse to pollute anyone’s drinking water–and certainly, breast milk so that a few can add more money to their coffers.

  59. Oh market forces, what won’t you do to ruin our day. It really is amazing that in spite of the overhead of maintaining two separate production lines it’s cheaper to cut corners in the US with chemical contamination standards. It’s a sad state of affairs in the west that money takes precedence over ethics. I’m rather surprised there hasn’t been more of a marketing push built around “buy our product, it won’t kill you, unlike those other guys”. Somebody has the “green works” brand, but I can’t remember who, so it couldn’t have been marketed that well, and only covers the cleaning products market. Cleaning products may be one of the more chemically active consumer markets, but there are still a huge number of product areas that aren’t being marketed this way. You would think “not deadly” would be a big selling point.

    Since Monsanto came up in your comment above, I thought I would take a moment to expand on their less than ethical dealings. As you mention genes migrate, which isn’t usually a problem in nature, unless it happens to be a “terminator” gene. There’s another problem with gene migration and cross contamination of traditional corps. Monsanto has patents covering their genetic modifications, if these patented genes cross over in to a farmers field, that farmer now has crops patented by Monsanto with no patent license. Through no fault of their own this opens the farmers up to huge liability for patent infringement.

    Why yes, I am in favor of patent reform, hard not to be if you pay attention to the more absurd things that have been patented in the last few decades.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for your lively and thoughful comment.
      On the issue of the Montsanto suit, you will be happy to hear that Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser has won the legal battle on this issue after years of fighting and a series of appeals that went to the Canadian Supreme Court. Check out Percy’s website here: He was sued by Monsanto for using their seed, though he had never bought any– and decided to fight a “David vs. Goliath” battle, as he put it. We need more Percy’s to fight such battles–for when they win, they win for all of us.

  60. How awful that the US lags behind on issues such toxic breast milk, although it is not surprising. The value of human life is below that of product, especially if that life is a women, child or the bond between them. The act of breastfeeding is of little value to the US government because it doesn’t make anyone money, there is no monetary exchange. Breastfeeding is free and supplies the baby with a foundation of health that will support them the rest of their lives and with this health there are less visits to the doctor (less money for the pharmaceutical companies), and a everlasting bond with the Mother (the feminine). When breastfeeding is seen as obscene and inconvenient it is obvious that there is an agenda against this power that women possess to feed and nourish their babies.

    I loved breastfeeding my daughter. Even through the pain of the first breastfeeding there was an intense love that breastfeeding supported and nourished. Friends of mine who chose to have hospital births told me how they were sent home with formula “just in case they needed it”, and the temptation to use it was there during the difficult moments of the first feedings.

    On another note, in Oregon, women on the WIC, a government program (Women, Infants and Children) are encouraged to breastfeed. I believe it is because the cost of formula is outrageous and the government would rather cut costs. How easily the government can turn the tables to supporting breastfeeding when they have to foot the bill for the cost of formula.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience in breastfeeding, Jessica. This is another arena where corporations are out to make money–often at the cost of the health of a child, on something that is otherwise free. Whereas a few women need formula because they are not, for one reason or another, able to feed their child, the use of infant formula is the cause of numerous deaths in the first year of life in third world areas where the contamination of water used to mix formula is a serious problem. There is a current uproar over problems with the new Prius because of the danger of its brake malfunctions- one might think that problems with use of formula that regularly kills children might be cause of a similar uproar.
      We obviously need another criteria with which to evaluate such things than cost.

  61. It’s a bit crazy that the US can’t pass the same kind of legislation as the EU has passed on the discontinuation of contaminated breast milk and toys. It is also appalling that the EPA and our government is failing to regulate perchlorates in our drinking water. I’m not sure why it’s ok to allow components of rocket fuel (which knowingly causes thyroid problems in infants and young kids) be drunk by Americans.

    • I think money is the only answer to your query as to why this should be allowed, Katy. The good news is that Lisa Jackson, new Obama EPA director appointee, is trying to change such dangerous non-regulation. We should be on the alert to support her in whatever ways we can.

  62. This essay is very interesting. I don’t have any kids yet, but I am certainly planning to in the future. I have never understood why people who were able to feed their children breast milk chose to go with formula instead. It seems like cheating your child from the very start. It’s clear that our bodies were designed to do produce milk so why don’t we just accept that that is probably the best way to do it? I think beyond the nutrition, that is such a special time of bonding for a mother and child, it’s the same with giving birth with out crazy amounts of drugs. I think all of those added chemicals in the drugs and in the formula must block certain bonding hormones between the mother and child.

    This also makes me want to be even more cautious about what I am putting into my body now, since things like harmful chemicals hang around for so long, I want to be sure that when the time comes for me to have a baby, I’ll have a nice clean body to grow it in. I would hate to have a sick child because I failed to take care of myself.

    • I think you have an important perspective, Alyssa. As for not breast-feeding, there are some women physically incapable of this for various reasons. However, both our culture and the infant formula producers predispose women not to breastfeed, as indicated in some detail in the book I reviewed (check out the link here for my review if you want more details.)
      Though our personal actions are important to protect the health of ourselves and our children, this is a society-wide issue– related to environmental racism, for instance, in that certain poorer communities are subject to more toxins than others, and many of us do not choose to have our neighbors (or the US Forest Service) spray pesticides that drift onto lands where we live.
      We need the broader protections outlined in “Dandelion Wars” here.
      Thanks for your comment and congratulations on taking care of your body!

  63. I feel as if the leaders of our nation’s priority list is out of whack. If there is direct evidence in which accounts for health devastation then why don’t we do something immediate about it?! From what I have been told, it gets “complicated” when you get “higher up” on the political ladder. To me I would think it would simplify when you have less people to persuade. I am interested in reading “Tainted Milk”. I recall hearing about the circumstance not too long ago. I do not have any children and therefore I have never breastfed. Nevertheless, I am a huge advocate for it! From what I have researched, only 2% of our species cannot do it. Yet, especially in the United States, less than around 30% of mothers do it for over a year. From my research it is primarily due to the lack to applicable support. Mother’s milk should be one of the least tainted form of nutrients we have. Overall, I am frustrated with the United States’ level of tolerance for the dangerous demons we are contaminated by.

    • I agree with you about the skewed sense of priorities here, Dana. Very good points on breast milk. I share your frustration, but your personal care also gives me hope for changing this.

  64. Thank you for the format of your article, in which you first inform us of the issues, then give us alternatives for action. It’s particularly upsetting to me that the Environmental Protection Agency is not taking a hard line against toxic chemicals such as perchlorate. They should be unbiased by politics and should have the funding to begin clean up efforts immediately. If we can’t combat this in our own country, how can we effectively deal with international issues such as mercury contamination from China’s pollution? I am left with the nagging concern of how to prevent additional accumulations of toxic chemicals in my own tissues. As stated, breast milk is still the best way to nourish a child and some day I would like the option of breast feeding an infant without fear.

    • The good news, Taylor, is that the new EPA director, Lisa Jackson, is much more proactive than the one appointed by Bush. I find much grief over the fact that young woman must think about such issues. I think that we should support Jackson–and her move to institute the EU standards of precaution with respect to chemicals, in every way we can. As to protecting yourself, whereas you are not separate from the environment we all share, there are things that you can do to minimize your exposure to toxics, as a perusal of the links under “consumer info” indicates.

  65. The idea in this article of analyzing the contents of breast-milk to see what kinds of chemicals are being ingested by people is similar to using Antarctica as an indicator of airborne pollutants. Both examples show that there is no back yard. Antarctica contains a layer of radioactive ice from the time nuclear bombs were tested on Pacific Islands, thousands of miles away. I am shocked to find that so many of the toxic chemicals in breast-milk are related to pesticides and herbicides. Even pesticides that at first appear harmless can become concentrated in soil or water or air. Eventually these will end up back in our bodies; we depend on soil, water, and air. I wonder what the long term consequences are for humans. The buildup of chemicals in our bodies from pesticides displays another way that an attempt to separate ourselves from nature is not working.

    • Thoughtful response, Brandon. I am shocked that a recent McKenzie River study showed an increase of DDT–which we have not sold for us in the US for decades. We can no longer deny the interconnections of our lives in the global arena. As you point out, to separate ourselves from the natural world is impossible.

  66. I think that it is fascinating that many women ONLY think about what is going into their bodies when they are pregnant and nursing. Yes, these chemicals are present in the breastmilk, and that should certainly concern women. But shouldn’t we be concerned that these chemicals are in our bodies in the first place? I think that, while pregnancy/nursing is a good reason to get healthier and worry about ingesting chemical substances, we should all do what we can to avoid these things in the first place. A baby can be exposed to a lot of chemical substances before a woman even realizes that she’s pregnant. Trying to keep our bodies more pure will help those who are trying to conceive, those who are already pregnant, and even those who are childless. These are just some thoughts I had while reading this article.

    • Great point, Amanda. We should care for our bodies–and the environment that sustains them– whether or not we ever become pregnant. And if we do take care of these other things, we will be ready to bear a healthy child as well when and if the time comes for that.

  67. I truly appreciate your sensitivity in your essay on breastfeeding, particularly in terms of formula use. So many articles fail to mention the inability to breastfeed and only refer to it as a choice. It was so nice to read an informative piece with such understanding of both situations.

    Toxins in our air, water, food have effects not yet known. I feel as though they hold responsibility for the ever increasing infertility rates as well as the inability to produce breast milk. Both involve a balancing of specific hormones, quite possibly affected by exposures of the mother as a child or later in life.

    For some women, this might be a choice, but for me no choice surfaced. Your body either produces it or it does not and I did not. In the Pacific Northwest among mothers, breastfeeding rules, you are quite an outcast if you do not breastfeed in this region. I was the lucky recipient of many comments, all ignorant of remote thought that perhaps I wanted the chance to breastfeed my babies.

    A good many corporations in Portland and Seattle have nursing rooms and alternate work hours for the nursing mother. Groups, clinics, etc are even covered by most comprehensive medical plans so that if you can do it, you get all the resources you need to do and they ensure you do indeed do it. The push is very strong and I think that is a good thing to a point. Formula users can be non-milk producers or women who made other choices for whatever reason. There is definitely no convenience in formula and certainly no economic benefit. We averaged roughly $65 per week and this could be more or less, depending on what bottle system you use and what formula brand you commit to.

    For me, the blessing of my three children is more than I could have hoped for and I was able to give them the first few days of colostrum and found a new sensitivity to others unable to nurse their babies. From a bonding standpoint, I will go out on a limb and say it may have more emotional benefits to bottle feed. With the bottle, both parents can feed the baby and my husband formed a strong bond within days of learning the news. There is really nothing like the look in my baby’s eyes making eye contact with their Daddy during a feeding. It is indescribable.

    • I am sorry that this happened to you, Bernadette. Great point about the shared nurturance of children between men and women– and breastfeeding women can extract a bottle of milk that fathers can then feed as well.
      I think one of the worst problems for those who need to rely on formula these days is the genetic engineering of soy in infant formula (see the latest article on this sight).
      And congratulations on the blessing of your three children! Obviously, you are also a blessing to them since you feel this way!

  68. The difference between the EU and the USA is that the EU will ban the use of a chemical if it has any “possible” harmful effects on humans. The US on the other hand has a system that works but it does not ban chemicals until it has irrefutable evidence that there were damages made to humans. In America, because we are always ready to sue each other this is keeps people in check, while the EU depends on prior research, the US depends on hiding data from the public long enough that they can make a profit out of it. Therefore, both systems work in a sense, though I know I would prefer the EU system.
    One would think that breast milk would be morally protected by all humans as it is the means of life for our most innocent creation, children.

    • Interesting analysis, Tony. I think an important question to ask here is WHO a system such as ours works for. If US folks are suit happy, it would seem better to use the precautionary principle and give folks less reason to sue. As you indicate, I think our system only works to garner profit for a few rather than protect our health or that of the environment. I also prefer the EU system– which is also a system shared, at least with respect to genetic engineering by Japan, Australia, and Canada as well as the EU.

  69. If breast milk is so bad for infants why do so many mothers do it and why is it promoted. This is a very intimate connection a mother has with her child this is a time when they are one. If formula has harmful chemicals in it too why would someone waste the money on the formula when they are still pumping chemicals into there child? Is there a way for a child to feed and not be feed chemicals with there milk?

  70. I have often thought that toxic chemicals in mother’s breast milk would be what finally opened people’s eyes to the horrors of what we are doing to ourselves and the planet. This is something that clearly can effect every woman and does not discriminate against class. Why, then, are these chemicals stilled produced? Shame on the multinational chemical corporations for allowing this to go on. Shame on governments around the world for not putting an end to this right away, at first sign of contamination.

    What scares me even more is that armed with the knowledge that humans are not immune to the hazardous effects of the chemicals that we create, we are still moving forward with nuclear power. What is going on there?

  71. I am a mother, and I agree that breast milk is the healthier way to go, all around. I breast fed my six year old when he was a baby, and I will breast feed the baby I have growing inside me now. Not only does it provide numerouse immunities, it provides overall convenience along with a life long bond between a mother and her baby. It is alarming to know that there are contaminants that could potentially be passed through my breast milk. It just makes me more apt to make a conscious effort of what I put in my body and to be aware of what’s is potentially dangerous around me.

    • This is certainly a time when taking care of yourself and taking care of your growing baby are intimately linked, Amber. Congratulations on your pregnancy, which illustrates why we should all care about this issue.

  72. Breastfeed is always have been the best way to feed your baby not only because of the perfect nutrients that breast milk has but it is also because the baby and its mom would have close relationship as they both feel each other during breastfeeding. The problem now which I just realized it is that the breast milk is contaminated. We, human, destroyed our nature and the pay comes back to us and now we will be destroyed because we mistreated the nature. So we should all work together to enhance our relationship with the nature to provide us with the healthy environment.

    • I agree with your assessment of the reciprocity involved in our relationship with the natural world: receiving back what we give to it. That is what comes from being part of the natural world. Thanks for your comment, Duaa.

  73. I am reposting an old post from when I took this class before.

    Heather McNamara, on August 8th, 2009 at 5:57 AM Said:

    When my son was born I tried very hard to breast feed for all of the obvious reasons. I had a lot of trouble with breast feeding – my son just never seemed satisfied – he wanted to nurse almost constantly. When he was five weeks old, I went to his pediatrician in tears about my struggles to breastfeed. She told me that the most important thing was to enjoy this time with my son and it was “just fine” to feed him formula. I had been feeling guilty because I was unable to supply his needs. I started to substitute some formula into his feedings and shortly thereafter my breast milk production decreased accordingly. I had always worried more about contaminates in the formula than any contaminates that my son would ingest from my breast milk. I ate mostly unprocessed, healthy foods and tried to eat my recommended daily servings of each food group. I drank the recommended amount of water and (obviously) consumed no alcoholic drinks. I made sure that I didn’t eat more than the recommended amount of tuna and/or salmon to ensure that my son didn’t get too much mercury in the breast milk. I took absolutely no medication (OTC or prescription). The point is, as a mother you make these sacrifices to protect your newborn baby. You do whatever it takes to care for and nuture your child. It is not fair to the baby, or to the mother, who is doing everything she can to protect her baby but ends up passing on hazardous chemicals to her baby. It is really unfortunate and surprising that the U.S. government hasn’t been more proactive about hazardous chemicals found in our food, toys, and almost every other type of manufactured products sold to Americans. Our nation is only as good as its people, and making sure that known harmful chemicals stay out of our products should be of the utmost concern. The large majority of women in Europe breastfeed, which is why this issue was met, in Europe, with swiftness and vigor. I personally think that the culture in Europe is much more environmentally aware and feels closer to nature than most Americans. This is an old culture, who hasn’t forgotten their roots or the ways of their ancestors. They eat a much better diet and live a less complicated life than the average American. I think that this cultural difference between Europeans and Americans accounts for the difference in both the governmental approach and media coverage regarding this issue. I think that environmental problems should be the top concern of governments across the world and the top concern of each capable person on the earth. This is certainly an issue of injustice done to the people, by the ignorance and unwillingness of governments around the world. The governments should be there to ultimately protect the people. Just as protecting an endangered species involves the protection of their habit; protecting the people means protecting the environment first because the environment is our habitat. Really enjoyed your essay – great work! I hope that more work in this specific area is carried out and more importantly more media attention.

  74. Very informational. I hadn’t given much thought to the chemicals found in breastmilk, because it is “natural” Recently I became aware that my local hospital has a breastmilk bank for premature babies, who’s mothers had begun producing enough milk. I am curious now of the donors of this milk and the screening it goes through.

  75. I have never really considered breast milk contamination to be a problem before, although I have also never really given it much thought given I have no kids. Perhaps this is in itself a problem – awareness is somewhat limited to mothers, and even more so to those concerned or aware enough to look into it. There seems to be a larger focus on the products women are putting into their bodies during the actual pregnancy (again this is just my random observations talking to other people). This essay brings back the Not in My Back Yard idea as well – not only do mothers (and everyone else, male and female for that matter) need to be constantly attentive to the chemicals and toxins they are putting into their systems, but also aware of the fact that the body is being contaminated by pollutants from around the world in the air we breath, water we drink, etc. Without changing the way we chemically pollute the environment, it will be difficult to regulate the quality of breast milk given infants.

  76. This essay was very interesting and informative. The more you look around, the more you see danger signs everywhere. (Or dead canaries everywhere, to use your example) At this point I’m convinced that no one can honestly say that the issues environmentalist groups have been trying to raise awareness on for years are fake or simply scare tactics. The effects of our lifestyles are steadily catching up to us and as time passes more will surface.
    I should think that this particular example should hit home for many people, because the majority of people want to be good parents. They want to give their child the best of everything and allow them every opportunity to succeed. However, if chemicals we use are tainting even the breast milk and formula that we feed to our children, we have some major rethinking to do. And it is something that can’t be avoided. The world cannot be clearly partitioned and quarantined to protect certain areas from harmful practices in others. Lines on a map will not stop the flow of chemicals, as the existence of mercury and other harmful substances in the US from their use elsewhere indicates.
    It would do us all well to remember that nature is one interconnected system, and if we do not take care of it our children will pay the very real and immediate consequences.

    • Great point about natural interconnections that do not show up on any map, Spencer. Mercury is one of the most dangerous and tragic instances of this. I do hope that our care for the future as embodied in our love for our children may spur us to change what we need to change in order to care for the world they will inherit from us.

  77. Thanks for this article. I just signed the petition and am on my way to the website for alternatives to pesticides. I know neem oil is a great, natural repellent. Is all neem owned by Monsanto now? Will I be supporting them if I purchase it? I garden, but I didn’t use pesticides last year and lost a lot of leafy stuff. I also have a terrible weed problem, but I refuse to spray them, I just keep plucking them up. I am hoping to breast feed, too, when I have a child. Is there a way to get tested for contaminants, to make sure your breast milk is safe? Maybe the best thing to do is just try our best to keep chemicals out of our diets.

    • I don’t know about neem and Monsanto: I don’t think they have a patent on it, but if you find out for sure, you can let us all know. Good for you in refusing to spray: do check out NCAP for alternatives. And if you are in Eugene, check out the Lane County Extension master gardener hotline with questions for organic alternatives. I am not sure what you mean by leafy stuff or what pests you lost them to: I actually find that I have many less problems with pests if I let my (what some call) “weeds” grow (except for thinks like blackberries and English ivy and other invasives which I pull). The pests don’t seem to go for plants that are not “sitting ducks” with signs saying “come get me, I am all by myself!”. Did you know that insect pests will also go for less well nourished plants (and that some plants that insects have nibbled on like broccoli become more nutritious as a result: the stress causes them to produce more antioxidants).

  78. I believe that it was the Nestle corporation that was pushing their baby formula on third world women in the 80’s saying that it was better for their babies than breast milk. Talk about cruel! These women were the least able to afford the formula but what mother doesn’t want to do the best for their children. There was a big movement to boycott Nestle and they actually did back down (there might have been a lawsuit to speed the process along). There is such a break down between what we, as a society, claim about our children and the reality of how they are treated. If we care so very much, how do we sweep the issue of chemical contamination under the rug? Interestingly, Tainted Milk mentions that there was the belief that there were suspected hot spots of contamination which makes me wonder if there was less concern because of discrimination issues. I keep coming back to hierarchical beliefs and valuation of human lives. It seems to me, though the corporations would be the first to loudly deny it, maybe there has been a lack of concern because those in power have felt an immunity to contamination. Is it possible that not only do we set ourselves apart from the animal world but also expand that hierarchical thinking to each other? WR Grace put a lesser value on human lives than money and people died. If the families of the heads of these corporations were on the receiving end of contamination then things would change. Since it is so widespread I can’t believe they aren’t! When the frogs show such dramatic signs of deformation and destruction how long can it be before our children show the same? I think the signs are showing up already but the blame keeps being deflected.

    Thank you for the list of things to do. It helps work through the anger and frustration when we are given steps to take our power back.

    • Your anger over this issue is appropriate, Sue. The use of such toxins (and hiding their negative effects on the part of their corporate does no one any good). We can do as Sweden did: time we exerted a little more leadership on this issue.

  79. I had to look up what endrocrine disrupters were then I had to look up what PBDE meant. Whew! Nobody can write in English anymore. I can’t believe that the two PBDE’s that are doubling in American women ever year haven’t been banned like the two that were stopped in 2004. Europe has already gotten a clue, what’s wrong with us?

    While most of the measures this essay suggests we participate in are for locals there are some things I do here and have always done. Not because i knew of any danger from the chemicals but simply because I have always felt that if God didn’t make it I don’t need it. I’ve always used marigolds, onions and garlic for pest control in my garden. If I do get an aphid or similar infestation, I use a small amount of ivory soap mixed in a gallon water to spray and that takes care of that in a hurry without hurting my environment. Who needs herbicides anyway, what better do we have to do on a lovely spring/summer evening that pull a few weeds as the sun goes down?

    It makes me wonder how bad the contamination was thirty plus years ago when I was nursing my babies? And did I do wrong when I encouraged my daughters to breastfeed theirs?

    I can only pray that with the EPA continuing to support research into the chemicals contaminating breast milk and the rest of the human body. They too will get a clue. Like the essay said, we are all breathing the same air and swimming in the same water.

    • Hi Cendi, thanks for your comment. I want to stress as I have done in a number of comments and in this essay itself that breastfeeding is still by far the healthiest option for babies–as the American College of Pediatrics still stresses.
      As for “speaking English”– no one names the 80,000 human made chemicals we now have in our environment with English terms– what would we call them? And this doesn’t make reading food labels any easier.

  80. It is really scary these days when it comes to how easy it is to become contaminated with human made products. The fact that you can’t even get away with it for a little while as a new born is even scarier. It makes one wonders how this could change the evolutionary process if you were to look that far ahead. Would we be the first species to literally produce our own decline?
    I have never heard of a breast milk bank. It makes absolute sense and I thought it was a great remedy for those mothers in need. Is there a way to check your own milk to find out what you baby may be getting?
    One thing that struck me as idiotic was the fact that there is a toy maker out there who has separate assembly lines, one marked “safe toys” and the other one marked “American toys”. Doesn’t it strike you as funny that an entire continent, with different countries and cultures, unilaterally agreeing that something is not safe, yet America just keeps on making the questionable item for kids?

    • I am not aware of a specific test for toxins in an individual mother’s breastmilk, Zachary– though I am sure there must be if someone wanted to look into this. Your comment underscores the point that it is time for the US to assume some leadership in standards of chemical safety — and consumer safety in general. It is sad indeed that contamination exists in the bodies of those who are most vulnerable–and have no ability to change this. Thus it is up to us to stand up for them with our own choices.
      Thanks for your comment.

  81. Like many other people, I was not really aware of the problem of contaminated breast milk before I read this article. That’s what scares me the most! This is a really important matter, and I didn’t even know about it. I guess a reason for this could be that I myself am not a mother (yet, but hopefully someday). Although, this isn’t really a good excuse because this problem really does effect everyone in the fact that it will have a big impact on our future generations. Shouldn’t doctors be telling women about the possible consequences of feeding their children formula instead of breast milk? There’s a reason why a lot of mothers in the United States don’t breast feed. Like this article says, breastfeeding really is more convenient and not to mention cheaper! Is it because they don’t know about the risks they are taking by giving their babies formula? I know some women aren’t able to produce breast milk, but before now I had never heard of a milk bank. I’m positive that the government should be making the public aware of this problem, and other problems like the harmful pesticides and contaminates we have been putting into our bodies, but where are the people in charge of making the public aware of such things?!

    • Great points, Amy. I can’t think of anything more important than protecting our future generations from such contamination. Unfortunately, it is too often a case of the fox watching the henhouse–as indicating in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ survey of EPA scientists pressured to hide their data whenever it negatively reflected on corporate profit. I can only hope that that the new EPA director will set a very different tone. But we need to do watch for the opportunity something about corporate lobbyists while we “vote” with our dollars in our personal choices. Imagine if everyone just stopped using Weed n Feed, for instance– lobbyists wouldn’t have much recourse to that.

  82. The issues of using breast milk or other forms of such are of interest to me. My daughter had my first grandchild on Easter of this year. I can’t understand how we could allow for these chemicals to be even allowed near our children, or grandchildren. I am saddened to know that the government has not been willing to protect women on this issue, and many others issues, but that is a commentary for another day.. I can’t imagine the sheer horror that my daughter would have if she read this piece. She would be lost, and not know what to do.
    Why the United States can’t follow the lead of the European Union is beyond me. If the European Union can take steps to curb this contamination, why can’t the most powerful country in the world? The women and children of the United States need protection. If they can’t count on the government for this, who can they count on? The European standards for everything are higher than it is in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, I love our land; I just think the policies stink. We can put out millions for people to buy cars in the cash for clunker program, but we can’t protect our mothers and children? Something is definitely wrong with that.

    • Thanks for a passionate and compassionate response, Scott. It is sad indeed that we would not want our daughters to see such information because of the grief entailed. I do hope that she would take heard from the fact that breast milk is still by far the healthiest choice for feeding your baby by any measure.
      I absolutely agree with you about protecting our children: if we are not good for that, our ethical system is not worth much–nor is our world leadership. I look forward to the day when we will gladly show the news to nursing mothers because it honors their care for their babies and themselves.

  83. This was an eye-opening post for me! When I breast-fed my children years ago, it didn’t occur to me for a moment that I was passing on toxic chemicals to them. I though the complete opposite. The move on the part of our society to move away from breast mile and toward synthetic baby formula marks another step in the wrong direction, from the natural world where we came from and belong to the technologically advanced and “superior” civilized culture. As usual, it looks like we are paying the price, as now not even breast milk is safe from the toxic chemicals in our environment anymore. I especially appreciated the list of things to do at the end of the article!

    P.S. The link to the petition is broken.

    • Thanks for letting me know about the link to the petition– this must have just happened, since a classmate of yours indicated she signed it a day or two ago. I will check it out.
      Tragic as it is to know that US breastmilk is contaminated in these ways, it is important to remember that breastmilk is STILL by far the healthiest alternative for babies. So congratulations on giving your children that head start, Molly.

    • Hi Molly, just wanted you to know the link is up and working again. Thanks for letting me know that it needed fixing.

  84. Though I’m not a mother now, I very much hope to be in the future and I certainly want to breastfeed my baby when the time comes. However, it greatly alarms me that I could potentially be giving my baby harmful toxins when historically breastfeeding has without down been the best way to nourish a baby. While the benefits of breastfeeding still outweigh any other method, it is still of great concern that there is not more widespread alarm in our society about this problem. This is likely due to the low rates of breastfeeding in the US– which also alarms me. Again bring in my dietetics background, it is astonishing to me that anyone would choose to NOT breastfeed their child with adequate education regarding its benefits– unless physically unable. This leads me to believe that inadequate education as well as a presiding need for perceived “convenience” have led to the takeover of formula and decreased concern for the safety of breast milk.

    If salmon are dying from the same toxins that are showing up in milk being fed to infants, action needs to be taken similar to that in Europe. I think the lack of response shows that not enough people are breastfeeding and that not enough people are concerned with the state of the environment.

    • It is a great concern that such toxics exist in breastmilk, Ellie–and that mothers and young mothers to be have to be concerned with such issues when we could solve this issue with some resolve on the part of our regulators by placing the health of our children above profits for a few. I think you are absolutely right that the fact that this issue exists means that not enough women are breastfeeding–or there would surely be more of an outcry on this issue. And just wondering what would change if the mothers of the children of Dow chemical execs breastfed their children and had access to this data.

  85. Wow, contaminated breast milk. I really hadnt given it any thought due to the fact that my children are far beyond that point.
    This is a very interesting article. It just goes to show that when we don’t take care of the environment our actions can have effects a lot farther down the road than we think. Normal thinking would tell us that breast milk would be the purest most natural form of milk to feed a baby. However, logical thinking would tell us that the additives to include pesticides etc that are found in the food we ingest is then passes on to the baby as it feeds from its mother. Thereby not just affecting us but the generations to come.
    I have a daughter that will be having a baby in September. She is thinking of breast feeding. I am going to be sure to let her read this article. Thanks for the information.

    • You are welcome, Mildred. I do want to emphasize to you that breastfeeding is still by far the healthiest alternative for her baby if your daughter is able to do this. AND there is no ethical or logical reason we should have to worry about contamination in our breastmilk when other nations have corrected this in their milk supply.

  86. Would the faulty logic that these contaminations only reside and affect “hotspots” go along with the “not in my backyard” way of thinking? It is scary to think many people believe that our environments are not connected by the earth systems. After taking this course, it is hard to not realize the whole earth is my backyard.

    It is extremely upsetting that our American toy manufacturers care so little about people, including their neighbors, that they would have 2 assembly lines-one safer than the other. It is also true in China with regard to toxins (such as lead) in toys. The laws and regulations for manufacturing are stricter for Chinese children then it is for the exported toys to America. What does this say about Americans?
    I do like how this essay ends with some positive things for us to do. These are ways to get involved and help others become aware of the problem. If people become more aware of these issues and the behavior that leads to these problems, I think they would be less likely to be unknowingly contributing to the problem. I know that I am much more aware now of all the chemicals that I have used, and have made many changes over the last couple of years because I have become more and more aware.

    • Hi Erin, I think you have an important insight in linking the segregated thinking about breastmilk contamination in hotspots with the nimby attitude. I also think it is about we asserted leadership again, so that toys going to the US aren’t the unsafe ones because of our lack of ways to protect our children.

  87. This was an enlightening essay as well as scary. Scary because tainted breastmilk was a subject I was reading about when I was nursing my two daughters. They are both now graduated from high school and the problem is not decreasing. “More effective” pesticides are being created each year which makes me concerned for my future grandchildren. And that makes me angry.
    We can control what we eat, play with, and use in our yards, but now to be concerned about the water we swim in and drink – and water our yards with. It makes me look at that saying differently, “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” (not trying to be crude) but I guess the same can be said of breastmilk too.

    • Thanks for your response, Mary. It is a tragic point that the breastmilk contamination has still not been cleaned up, as you point out. You are absolutely right that if we continue to pollute the waters that we rely on for our lives, it will soon be a case of “water, water everywhere….” After all, two hundred years ago, we could drink from the Willamette.

  88. In our modern society, there can be a viewpoint that breastfeeding is a taboo. Woman constantly have to duck out of sight to feed their infants, and have to fight for legislation to be able to do it at work. Maybe this stigma contributes to the lack of awareness and lack of debate about these important issues.
    Unfortunately, pesticides aren’t the only thing passed to infants. Antidepressants, monosodium glutamate, and genetically engineered corn also have the potential to do significant harm. It’s up to all of us to spread the message that breastfeeding is one of the most important ways we contribute to our children’s health and well-being. And all of us, as a society, will benefit when we ban the chemicals that are polluting our environment.

    • Thanks for filling out the list of chemicals in our water that wind up in breastmilk, Kim. You have a solid point that we too often treat breastfeeding as something to hide (has much to do with our fetishes about women’s breasts, I think); I know a woman who was asked to breastfed her baby in the restroom who replied, “You don’t eat your meals in there!”
      It is important to remember as you note that breastfeeding is important to infants–and by supporting the most vulnerable among us in cleaning these toxins from our environment, there is substantial benefit to all of us.

  89. This was a very informative article. I think these are things that all mothers, or mothers-to-be should know right away. Many expecting women will quit smoking or drinking right away when they find out they are pregnant. If they know about many of the hazardous chemicals that they can end up feeding to their babies, I am sure they would quit consuming many other things as well.
    I believe that this problem is a matter of education. The general public needs to be more aware of the dangers of certain chemicals.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ashley. I agree that this is a matter of education: I also think that it needs a more comprehensive treatment than that of individual women trying to eat healthy food.

  90. With the impending birth of my second child, this article gave chilling information about a subject in the front of my mind. With our first child, my wife was unable to breastfeed, a circumstance that was difficult for her. However, she is looking forward to the opportunity this time. Although I never dreamed that this activity could be potentially hazardous. I was shocked to see how we are not only poisoning fish and other animals with pesticide runoff, but ourselves as well. In many science classes the idea of magnification over generations is presented. This is a sad example of how the greed of chemical companies and the vanity of green-lawn suburbia have magnified their impact over the decades. I lament for future generations and the price they will pay for poor decisions on my part whether intentionally or ignorantly. But for now, knowledge is power, and all this data will help me and my family make better choices. So, I guess my neighbors will just have to deal with the weeds!

    • Good for you in making this personal decision: perhaps your neighbors will understand your priorities with a new baby coming, Sampson. And if you every get enough rest in the next few months, you can always take out the worst weedy offenders by hand as a break in the outdoors. Congratulations on expecting your second child.
      For myself, having just gotten a hive of honeybees for my yard this year, I am beginning to look at dandelions in a much more positive light– they are one of the major sources of pollen and nectar for bees. And state departments of agriculture everywhere are asking homeowners and gardeners NOT to spray their flowers (even with “organics like pyrethrum) when plants are in bloom. We are suffering a severe collapse of pollinator populations of all sorts–and poisoning blooming flowers is one of the major contributors to this.

      • We have had the same issue here in Englewood, CO. I have beekeeping neigbors on my block and they have been impacted by the heavy use of pesticides and other weed control. The city is currently deciding whether or not to lift the ruling on the acceptability of weeds in our local landscaping. Currently, they require the removal of most weeds to avoid a ticket. Unfortunately, many of these flowering varieties provide the staple foodsource for honeybees.

  91. Other than the great importance of breast milk as an indicator of toxins, the nice thing about using breast milk contamination as a campaign point against toxins is it is very believable. I think it’s common knowledge that a nursing mother has to watch their intake of such things as caffeine or alcohol because it’s easily passed on to babies. It would stand to reason that toxins would pass from a mother’s body as easily, so it would be a hard point to argue or ignore.
    What stands out most in this article is that manufacturers will have two assembly lines – one with and one without acceptable chemicals. That tells me more than I really want to realize about toy makers and their ability to generate quality products. I wonder how easy it is to buy products from European stores online – although then I’d be contributing to greater shipping emissions. The people of Europe had to do something and take a stand in order to see this change, which is why we see a call to action on this matter toward the end of the article. The companies aren’t going to change on their own just because I stop buying their products, so it does appear that it has to happen through legislation.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jamie. One thing the EU has that we do not is the REACH program which institutes the precautionary principle in the use of chemicals: that is, they have to be proven safe being approved for release. About time the US got in step with both the EU and large swathes of Canada on this issue. And toy manufacturers obviously can’t claim they can’t meet these standards. There are links to sites that give info on save toys (some made in the US) under the links to consumer info here. Sen. Frank Lautenberg recently introduced a bill calling for manufacturers to prove a chemical safe before it can be introduced into the environment. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has called this a “major step forward”– let’s all watch this and support it in any way we can. Here is a link to the senator’s press release on this topic:

  92. The information in this article is disturbing. When a mother has to worry about breast feeding her infant because shes worried that the chemicals in her body will be passed to her infant, you know that we have a serious problem. In the past year or so I have been more and more conscious about chemicals in our foods, and this article kind of took that to the next level. Also the part about having two assembly lines for toys is just as disturbing. Its really sad that our government choices to call the U.S. the world leader when you hear information like that. This article gives some prime examples of the wrongs done by private companies. I agree that there should be some extreme government regulation done quickly, even if it means financial losses for many. I would live the rest of my life dirt poor to provide a healthy environment for my fellow man, I just hope that the FDA’s friends who are producing such chemicals feel the same way………

    • I agree that this info is disturbing and that it should not need to be in the radar of any nursing mother– or any father of a young child for that matter, Benjamin. The report that just came out from the President’s Panel on Cancer uses a disturbing term: children are born “pre-polluted” (that is, polluted before birth). This is outrageous!
      And the report, written by members of the mainstream medical establishment think so to. They support the new Child-safe chemicals act that has just been introduced in Congress and I think we should as well. You can follow its progress on the website of the Environmental Working Group (linked here under consumer info).
      I appreciate your compassionate priorities–they jive with those of Evo Morales, indigenous president of Bolivia (where the people’s conference on climate change recently took place): and one of the first things he did on coming to office was cut his salary in half.
      I would maintain that the legacy of a healthy environment is priceless– and if we have that, we can live a simple and happy life. Thanks for your comment.

  93. A couple of points have hit me reading this.

    First, breastmilk contamination is not unique to, nor did it start recently. Studies were done years before on indigenous cultures in Alaska, whose main food staple came from the ocean. The amount of mercury and other toxins that were found in the breastmilk of those women was astronomical. But while a small fuss was raised, it wasnt until European and more “advanced” societies started noticing a problem, that is suddenly became such an issue, showing that there is discrimination even in environmental issues.

    Secondly, breastfeeding has been naturally to the human race for thousands of years. The main reason that bottle feeding became the thing to do was a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. The wealthy saw bottle feeding a privilege of the rich, they could afford to do it, as feeding their own child through breastfeeding was deemed something better for the lower classes. It became a status symbol, to now, breastfeeding is unthought of for most women. Now more are trying to get back to it, through education means such as WIC programs, doulas, lactaction counselors and Le Leche League.

    Obstacles still exist, such as women breastfeeding in public, still being a taboo, though having come from Texas, I have noticed that Corvallis seems more in tune with this need. These women who breastfeed should be made to feel respected for their choice, and not belittled for the healthy choice they have made for themselves and their child. There are too many incentives, breastfed children have better immune systems, grow up healthier, development has been studied and shown that a breastfed child develops faster and more appropiately. And for the mother: can extend their own life and reduces risk for breast cancer!

  94. (PHL 443 Student Reply) As an Industrial Hygiene technician, I can vouch for and agree with everything in this article. It has been shown through numerous toxicological studies that chemical contaminants continue to have a detrimental effect on the production of breast milk in mothers. I am pleased to hear that Europe has pressed forward with strict standards and protective measures. Unfortunately, the US is still lacking in that department. We seem to let economics govern our safety and health issues too much in this country, which often leads to damaging effects. This should definitely be a top priority of the EPA and OSHA in regards to female workers and employees.

    • Indeed, Heather. When the dollar rules, we have opposite priorities– such that women may not be hired in certain industries because of the danger of suits resulting from exposure if they get pregnant. At one plant in the south which shall remain unnamed, women had to get their tubes tied in order to work there.
      I cannot repeat enough that the Kid Safe Chemicals Act now in committee is absolutely essential–and each of us should do whatever we can to see it passed.

  95. First of all, I have never heard of this issue before, and I am completely shocked that our government is fully aware of these pesticides and the harm they cause, and yet there is no urgency to fix the problem? How can they sleep at night knowing this is happening, and not feel the need to take action to make change? These are things that are effecting our future generations, our children, and they are okay to just stand by and do nothing? This seems like it should be priority number one…and yet disturbingly is not. We all know the benefits and necessity of breast milk, and formula is a sad substitute, yet we are being forced to use a lesser substitute, which by the way we have to pay for, because the breast milk we have for free has been contaminated? Does anyone else think perhaps the government has some stock in the formula market? It’s almost like they are purposefully neglecting this issue so women are forced to buy formula. Although, even through the use of formula, we are passing along chemicals through the water used to mix this formula. What a sad tragedy this reality is.

    • I second your sense of personal urgency here, Megan. I want to repeat that breastfeeding is still absolutely the healthiest alternative for infants.
      I also think the Kid Safe Chemicals just introduced in Congress is absolutely essential. We should all support it in any way we can.

  96. I love that my mom already does many of the things listed here without the knowledge that it makes breast milk healthier. She is not breast-feeding my half-brother and half-sister anymore but raised them on her all-organic farm. I know that she did use formula at times and was concerned with using only bottled water to mix with the formula. I am a bit lost as to why this is not a more prominent national issue, perhaps it just needs leadership. I know that the health of our children is a value that everyone in the country shares.

    • It is wonderful that you mom made such choices, Findlay. I do think we need leadership–and we need to do something about the ways in which we let those who sell things lead public opinion just because they are selling something and thus adding to our GNP. There are some economists (e.g. Daly and Cobb) who argue that we need a better indicator of economic well being.
      I also think the Kid Safe Chemicals act that has recently been introduced into Congressional committee to absolutely essential.

  97. I cannot believe that the people who are putting these chemicals in these breast milk alternatives are not put in jail. These chemicals are extremely dangerous to our infants, and ultimately set our infants up to live unhealthy life. While their are safer beast milk alternatives that do not possess these chemicals, the majority of them do have these chemicals. The marketing teams do a very good job at convincing the public that these are safe, and the more convenient alternative, like you said.

    If we are more aware of what we are putting in our bodies, our babies bodies, and our water, we can be a much safer population. I can’t believe that fact that a toy company makes two batches of toys, one that does not contain many hazardous which is shipped to the European Union, and one that does contain them that is shipped to other countries, including the United States. This shows that we are truly not aware what we are putting in our bodies, and giving to our children. We desperately need to make a change, and I think that if we were more aware, we would make the necessary changes.

    • I think you have a great point, Daniel. Instead of jailing those who harm others in this way, we are rewarding them with monetary profit. This is why I think the new law now in congressional committee stressing the precautionary principle in terms of chemical use is so important– it stipulates it is up to those who manufacture such chemicals to prove them safe, rather than the public to try to fix the repercussions.
      In your analogy that is letting some poison people because it makes them a profit. The new report by the President’s cancer panel is a step int he right direction in terms of awareness.

  98. From what I have heard, Gaviotas is still doing fine. Check out their website (linked here).
    A wake up call would be great: we cannot do enough to support the Kid Safe Chemicals Act now in committee in Congress.

  99. I am currently nursing my first child who just turned a year old on May 1. For me, breastfeeding has been so convenient (I always have nutritious food at the perfect temperature that my daughter loves) and healthy both physically and emotionally. In my own life I have always tried to pay attention to the types of food that I eat and the other types of commodities that I buy (especially now that I have a child) to try and minimize my exposure to harmful chemicals. But at the same time, I know that I have been exposed to numerous hazardous chemicals especially after living in the South (New Orleans) for several years and working in the field of marine environmental response. It makes me incredibly sad that the United States has made continued growth, consumption and increasing profit margins into a higher priority then reducing the production and utilization of harmful chemicals that are negatively impacting the health of people as well as the health of the ecosystem. With that being said, I liked the section at the end of the article that provided courses of action that individuals could take to try and address these problems. I think that it will take a cooperative effort from all levels of society (individual, local, national, global) in order to implement positive change.

    • You are boosting your child’s health in numerous ways by nursing, Natalie– according to the American Pediatric Association– even given the toxins in breastmilk, it is still by far the healthiest option.
      Eating a healthy diet (including as many organics as possible) is great for you and your child.
      It makes me sad as well that you should even have to think of this!

  100. This essay is one of the greatest examples I have encountered so far that portrays how our actions end up having a negative effect upon us. It shows that the world and our lives are so interconnected that we cannot possibly think of all the consequences that could occur from our actions. While I think that the idea of a “breastmilk bank” might just magnify this issue or add other contaminants into the system I do believe in bringing back the idea of community to child raising. Also instead of our population working on cleaning out the breastmilk and the contamination of our bodies people have created alternatives for babies to drink. This is not the best route to go as babies still are not gaining the proper nutrition.

    • Are you thinking a breastmilk bank magnifies contaminants by mixing milk? I am not aware of this problem in other countries that practice breastmilk sharing. It is only my guess, but it seems to me that a woman generous enough to contribute to such a bank (and to feel enough in touch with her own body to do this) is likely eating a pretty decent diet. But as the book I reviewed points out, this is not an individual problem, but a systemic one– which is why the Swedish approach worked and why individual mothers cannot entirely clean their milk unless we change some of our practices in terms of toxics usage.
      Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

  101. Professor Holden,
    I first must ask, did the book mention any statistics comparing to how many people breast feed in other regions compared to the U.S.? I know you mention Sweden and the rest of the EU’s efforts in contamination of breast milk and really was just curious. Also, is their any other process they could do at these banks to where they test and remove certain chemicals? Again, just curious.

    Overall, I thought the article pointed out a problem with harmful chemicals that is really just starting to show itself. These chemicals could have bigger effects after doing more research I think. Sadly, the policy makers aren’t really jumping out to help in the situation.

    Also, I think the main problem America has is with such programs as WIC, where they clearly push formula as an equal or better substance than breast milk even when women are capable of producing enough breast milk.

    • I love that you pointed out WIC. As a mom, I am frequently asked about WIC. This is just another broken federal program. It provides wonderful aid to those in need, but gets taken advantage of by those who don’t necessarily need it. Providing formula should be a last resort in this program. Unfortunately many of the women I know that use WIC only use it for the “free” formula, even though they are more than capable of breastfeeding. Thanks for bringing it up!

      • I appreciate your thought, Megan, but I would not say that any program that provides food to mothers of newborns (and pregnant women) is “broken” in all its aspects. I understand your concern about formula, but I am also concerned about babies whose mothers are not able for whatever reason (including education or inclination) to breastfeed. Besides formula, WIC has very specific foods only (proteins and fruits and veggies) that it funds. It was motivated by research that links child development to the healthy diet of mothers.
        It would be great if there were more of educational element about breastfeeding, but I also want to add one another thing here: welfare has been changing in recent years to pressure mothers to look for work after their child reaches six months of age. And the work search schedule required does not jive very well with breastfeeding (which is an on demand sort of activity– though one can also pump one’s milk, it takes some motivation and social support to do this.
        In this context, I think Birth to Three (begun in Eugene) is a great program
        And this is a bit of an aside an drug-effected babies and mothers:
        I can think of one circumstance in which formula is healthier than breastfeeding– when mothers are abusing drugs, which is unfortunately the case with too many young mothers in Oregon. I just heard stats that 49 per cent of the Oregon prison population is female–and the vast majority of those are there because of drug addiction. This, by the way, is considerably larger than the national ration of male/female prisoners.
        Portugal many years ago de-criminalized addictive drugs, and opted for treatment over jail terms (treatment, by the way, is much less expensive than imprisonment on a day to day basis)–and usage has fallen there, since de-criminalization removes the major economic motivation to sell/push drugs.
        In this sense, I don’t believe we should decriminalize marijuana (which gives the sense IT is singularly not capable of being abused, which it can be and is), but all drugs-and get our treatment facilities in line immediately. Would save money, lives–and terrible costs to society of when young spirits with the illness of drug addiction are blamed and punished rather than helped–and thus wind up spreading their disease to others and exaggerating this epidemic.
        And another aside: we could have cut the supply of meth entirely at the source a few years back (sadly we have gone beyond that point now). But we would have had to act on a national level to prohibit two or three pharmaceutical companies from making it and its precursors. The government decided not to tamper with the profits of these companies.

  102. This essay hits very close to home for me since I am a mom, currently breastfeeding my 10 week old daughter. It’s amazing how blinded the government is to the needs of nursing women. Even with my son I refused to give him formula because something didn’t seem “right” about it. Nursing a child is natural and a wonderful bonding experience.

    It should also be known that not only are there chemicals and toxins in the formula and water, but there are also chemicals and toxins in the bottles used to feed the baby. While there are toxins in breastmilk, at least we are able to cut out the water and bottle toxins.

    Our society must take on a better role in incorporating the precautionary principle. It is necessary if we want to cut down on illness and disease. Our health care system is broken, and getting worse every day. We only believe in trying to fix problems after they occur, and on an individual level. Our following generations are born with toxins in their little bodies because of this oversight.

    • There is a concern about BPA in baby bottles (plastic ones): check out some of our consumer info sites– I think this is not allowed in Europe and there was a move to change it here, though I am not sure it has yet happened.
      I absolutely agree with you about the precautionary principle, Megan. Mothers should not be struggling with this issue as individuals, but we need to clean our entire environment (as Sweden has done) to protect the vulnerable among us.
      And wheres I encourage breastfeeding your child (as worked for me), women should not feel guilty if they cannot manage this–as is the case with a diabetic mother that I know who has a complex of reasons why breastfeeding is not working for her.

  103. We often forget that “we all swim in the same waters and breathe the same air,” as evidenced by a common NIMBY attitude that allows us to think we can benefit from destructive practices elsewhere while suffering none of the consequences. The contamination of breast milk shows how fallacious this thought is, as the chemicals used to manufacture products in other countries come home to roost (in us). The solution–banning these chemicals, as Sweden did–seems so simple, and yet it is so difficult to actually implement here in the U.S. A significant hurdle is the power of the chemical lobby against implementing anything like the REACH program here, although I’m sure that could be overcome if the general public were to gain a greater recognition of the true implications of breast milk (and other bodily) contamination and to make a concerted push for change. As it is, many people tend to think that they can turn to bottle feeding to get around passing these toxins on to infants (and some media coverage does nothing to dispel this myth), and so they feel no real urgency to address it (if they even caught the relatively trivial coverage of it to begin with).

    • Thanks for the reminder (we cannot be reminded enough, I think) that “we all swim in these same waters”– indeed, carry them with us in our bodies which are a good portion water, Crystal. It is a sad situation when a chemical lobby is allowed to hold sway over the health of our children (and of course, ourselves). I am heartened by the idea of “green chemistry’ (linked on this site), designed by those who work to avoid toxic results in their work.
      Bottle feeding is hardly a solution (as we should also remember), since the infant can receive just as many toxins this way–and none of the benefits in breastfeeding.

  104. I had no idea that their was a contamination of many types of formula and milk! It was definitely an issue i was unaware of. It just seems obvious and natural that woman breast feeding is taking care of their child the way they should be, they way they are made to. Women’s bodies should be respected for that. There are many different toxins that are in formulas. I remember when i was working at a day care center and in our infant room we had alot of formula issues. Specific bottles that did not have certain plastics that were toxins and soy based formula that was supposedly safer. I think organic breast milk sounds like a good option for mothers that are unable to breast feed.

    • Thanks for your response, Jessica. It is a strange thing that companies can sell formulas as a supposed improvement on breastmilk. I think we need to applaud women who are doing this for their children, have empathy for those unable to breastfeed and focus on cleaning up our environment to secure the purity of breast milk.

  105. Just as the essay says, “… we all swim in the same waters and breathe the same air…” This could not be more accurate. We all share this earth and therefore need to all pay attention to what is going around. Breast milk is the very best way for babies to receive nutrients, however if the breast milk has toxins in it what does that say about our environment. Just as they saying goes, “We are what we eat”, we are also what is in the environment. This is a huge red flag. So many other countries have taken this seriously why has the US just turned a deaf ear to it? We must be proactive about these sort of issues because if we are not the children it effects cannot be.

  106. The toxins that we are putting into this world are slowly but surley killing us. its like we are commiting a slow mass suicide and very few people actually care. When I tell my parents or some of my friends that they are drinking and eating things that are killing them their response is either ” I havent died yet” or ” I have to die from something”. Its so sad, that we are doing this to ourselves and the rest of the world. The US should be ashamed of its regulations on plastics that enter our country. Letting toxic poisons into out country for our children to play with, it is almost like we dont want to have a future! We would rather save a few bucks and get the cheaper toy.

  107. It amazes me how much the U.S. lets companies get away with when it comes to toxic chemicals. They weigh the benefits of using them compared to the amount of deaths it causes. This seems like some demented logic. If breast milk is contaminated, how much of the rest of our body is contaminated solely because the loose standards companies are held to? Eventually, if we already haven’t, are going to mass produce a chemical so disruptive to human life further down the road that we don’t foresee, and we can end up with a mass amount of the population with severe health complications. Going cheap for more profits is putting the entire world at risk.

    As for companies supplying baby formula, I don’t see how they can argue that it is better for your child. Breast feeding is the natural way to give your child proper nutrition, because it contains all the essentials your baby needs. Humans wouldn’t have evolved this way if breast feeding was not the proper way to nourish a child.

    • It is mind boggling to imagine that corporations somehow think they have a right to pollute the environment on which we all depend, Kyle. In a system in which money rules, we don’t get enough arguments in support of the commons.
      There are some new laws just coming out with respect to “chemical trespass” that are interesting: where individuals have made the point that it should not be legal to allow someone to trespass on one’s own body with certain chemicals.

  108. It is unfortunate how ignorant we americans seem to live our lives and bury our heads in the sand whenever news of this caliber infects our consciousness. Instead of proactive participation, we tend to ignore and pass off our civic duties in favor of an “other” that will take care of it for us. Hopeful attention and awareness can spread and infect peoples awareness that what we put into the world will come back to us, be it chemical toxin or apathy.

    • I also have the hope that awareness can and will change things– when confronted with such issues, many don’t just assume someone else will handle it, they don’t want to think about it. I’m not sure we can blame them: it takes courage to face such news, but unless we do face it, we are on a self-destructive course. Thanks for your comment, Christopher.

  109. I never really thought about the contaminated milk before, not having any kids of my own. It was interesting to me to think about the contaminants brought in by the water added. I always think about what is in the product itself, what is used in processing, and things added when growing ingredients, but I don’t really consider what is in the water itself. I just assume tap water is safe and that the water control company is doing their job to keep us safe. To hear that the EPA lets chemicals (at an unsafe level) remain in our water was disturbing to me. I think I need to quit putting my personal health in other people’s hands, and be more holistic and conscience of what I am putting in my body.

  110. How disturbing that such chemicals are still being manufactured here. Doesn’t it seem like a no brainer to outlaw them if they are causing irreversible thyroid damage in some infants (not to mention causing huge problems for salmon populations)?? Breast feeding children obviously has huge health benefits for the child, but what will happen if more toxins make their way into mothers’ bodies and breast milk? It’s just ridiculous that as a society we are essentially defeating ourselves by damaging our children. Every action has a reaction; we shouldn’t expect to be able to pollute and violate the earth without seeing any consequences! I am glad that I now know about this issue, and I can choose to take action about it.

    • Unfortunately, it seems like what should be a purely rational decision (based on the science at hand) turns into something else when profit is threatened, Allison.
      Otherwise, we wouldn’t have all that political pressure on scientists not to reveal their findings when it reflects negatively on industry that has been documented by the Union of Concerned Scientists. There is no excuse for this: as a society we are not only letting these manufacturers get away with immense harm– but we are rewarding them for it with profit.
      Thanks for your comment–and your choice to take action (see action list for ways to support the Kid Safe Chemicals Act: that is also mentioned in our “quote of the week” (left sidebar here).

    • Hi Allison, it is certainly amazing that issues beyond our citizen’s health and wellbeing are what drive this countries democratic society and capitalism forward. If it was profitable for companies to produce healthy products that made people well, they would do this, but it is not in many instances. Many big conglomerates are comprised on companies that produce processed foods as well as health care items including over the counter and prescription medications and other products like tums and pepto bismol. It pays for this conglomerate to make food that is going to make people feel sick to their stomachs. Beyond preservative riddled food being convenient for the people that eat it, it is cheaper to manufacture and certainly cheaper than replacing the infrastructure in Frito-lays factories to produce healthier foods that are not genetically modified and chemically altered. It is all about profitability and material gain for a select few.

      • Thoughtful points, Lizzy. I am not sure that processed food is cheaper to manufacture– even if it is cheaper for the consumer after all the government subsidies gifted to large food growers and processors.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more Allison. We will most certainly reap what we sow in regards to polluting the Earth and using toxins in our foods. These effects are already being felt in our children, where girls as young as 7 are entering puberty. Doctors and scientists have attributed this to the hormones found in milk and the effects will only get worse if we don’t change.

  111. 1) Reading this article just reinforces why I chose to live where I do and why I try to avoid all of those chemicals in our foods, and in our soils. We humans have been convinced that the world is a better place because of our attempts at controlling and eradicating things we deem less than useful or unnecessary. We have developed methods to test our world and the things in it, and have determined these methods are the only way to qualify hypothesis, and conclude and classify. But how do we know the analysis and methods are even correct and are determining the correct answer? Newborns should not be predisposed to problems due to exposure to chemicals through breast milk. Knowing that The United States has not done something about this that is more aggressive is troublesome. Why, what is the motivation for us to stay in the same mindset when our knowledge base is expanding and we have learned that what we once knew or thought about these pollutants of concern is not correct and the reality is alarming for every single thing? It always comes back to the very same thing; money, lobbyists’ for big business, promises between fortune 500 Companies and Elected Officials’; all acts of greed. Everything that seems to be the positive for this country is also the biggest problem for this country; the democracy and freedom minus values, morals and ethics makes for a really negative situation that targets the innocent. No matter how hard I try, I don’t have total control over what I am and am not exposed to, and this is not right.

    • Hi Lizzy, we can replace such “acts of greed” with focus on the health of ourselves and our children with the Safe Chemicals Act: S.3209 (Safe Chemicals Act) and HR 5820 (Toxic Chemicals Safety Act). I think we should do all we can to help get these through Congress (see our action list for ways to support the Kid Safe Chemicals Act– the first naming of these acts in committee).
      You bring up the idea of what some are now calling “chemical trespass”– an idea to watch that means others do not have the right to “trespass” on our bodily integrity with their chemicals. Would create quite a change in our choices if we were seriously about enforcing such a precedent.

      • Madronna,
        Is there any pending legislation of discussion of drafting legislation about “chemical trespass” and how would or could this be enforced across oceans? Whenever I hear the term enforcement, I worry that passing such a law would only be symbolic as there is no way or means to enforce this unless we all enforce it upon ourselves, or at least there is no established organization that has an enforcement arm that is funded to stop this from happening. Maybe it is time such a branch of the government was created, beyond the EPA, they can only do so much before it goes to the DOJ, just like with any other agency enforcement act, once it gets to criminal negligence it is passed over to someone else, all the while the guilty party is still violating. This is very interesting, and very important.

        • Lizzy, I am not aware of such legislation, only have heard in passing of suits raised on this issue: these suits were more on the issue of forest herbicide spraying effecting the health, land and water of neighbors of the forest, for instance.
          Enforcement is an important concern, since so much harm from chemical exposure takes years (perhaps even a generation or two) to document. However, it would seem that we might apply the data we do have in prohibiting such trespass. I know there are tests for chemical contamination, so that if you have an organic garden and your neighbor sprays next to you, and you test quickly, you can get financial compensation. At least in Oregon, the agricultural department helps press such suits, since there is farming money at stake…
          On a global scale (and given the widespread body burden of toxics we now carry), to disallow chemicals that wind up in our bodies would have an immense effect. I would love to see a suit on the basis of chemical trespass brought on behalf of babies for instance. And it would set precedent to see such a suit brought on behalf of the next generation given some of the pointed data about passing on of gene vulnerabilities in even small exposures to toxics on the part of parents or grandparents at any time in their own lives (epigenetics) as reported here:

  112. Why doesn’t the US start putting a stop to these chemicals? If they are potentially going to harm us why keep them on the market? I wonder if it because they chemicals are cheaper to use and thye would not have to worry about spending to much money.

    • Actually, they aren’t cheaper to use, Kim. They make a profit for some… can you think of any other reasons we might opt to use them over other ways to raise crops or tend to our yards (linked to our worldviews)?
      You sound like you support the safe chemicals act listed at the end of this essay.

  113. The fact that the U.S. government allows these chemicals to make their way into our food is appauling. After all, what is the job of the FDA and other government agencies if not to protect our food products. We are pumping cows full of hormones and steroids with the sole purpose of making them bigger. Does the goverment not think about what the effects will be on our children who consume the milk from these cows. If the goverment will not step up and protect us, I feel we need to be proactive and protect ourselves. We need to be better educated on what is in the foods we consume and stop feeding dangerous chemicals and hormones to our children.

    • I agree with you that this is absolutely appalling, Jamie. The good news is that the current EPA under Lisa Jackson is more proactive– doing what she can to support the safe chemicals act currently before Congress, for instance.
      And as for protecting ourselves, I am heartened by those (a number are linked here) non-profits who are working to make information available to those of us who wish to make wish choices for our health and that of the environment.

    • I absolutely agree with you. Our taxes are going to these agencies to protect us, yet chemicals and steroids keep making their way into our food. This is unacceptable behavior from the leaders of our country. Not only is it important for us to self educate ourselves on the dangers, we have to be smarter in the way we buy things. Protect the next generations, since they will be doing the protecting later.

    • i completely agree with you Jamie! I think it is crazy that our government is not doing something about this problem. Something i recently thought about was how little the FDA is screening these items that go out to the public, but what is worse is the items that are not screened are allowed to be sold. There should be a law that everything must meet a standard of safety before it is put out in the market. i cant even say how many times i have looked at the ingredients of something with it only telling my things like “Natural flavoring” in food, or “Fragrance” in dish soap. I feel that these must be explained a lot more on packages so people can become more aware of what they are using and putting into their bodies.

      • I agree with you, Jason and Jamie. An encompassing law (like the Safe Chemicals Act currently before Congress) would support the FDA in upholding these standards. Meanwhile, there is education of the type you are doing, as well as the internet sites of non-profits (see our “consumer info” links) that offer opportunities for consumers to understand consumer choices, both for their own health and the sake of the environment.

  114. Wow! What a scary, informative essay.

    There are two things that scare me in particular. One, is that I am a young woman who someday plans to have my own child. The fact that there are very dangerous chemicals and pesticides in the milk that I am to feed my child is frightening. Luckily, breast-feeding would be my first choice anyway…but what if, for some reason, I discover that I am not able to do so? Then I would have to rely on formula that could very well be harming my child. It really inspires me to action in supporting the safe chemicals act as well as informing others of this issue.

    Another thing that scares me is the fact that very little women in the U.S breast feed. I wonder if that would change if this issue was made a bigger deal? People need to be more aware of information like this, especially when future generations are at stake. It also surprises me, like you mention, that the U.S is not the leading country in doing research surrounding this issue. I really hope that changes. We need to be informed on what we are putting into our bodies, and more importantly, the bodies of our children.

    • It is a “scary” essay, Hana. It makes me angry that you– a young woman who will someday wish to breastfeed a child– has to think about contamination in breastmilk. I do want to emphasize that breast feeding is still the best alternative for a baby in terms of health and there are organic formulas coming on the market. Moreover there is breast milk banking proposed by LePenc.
      The issues you raise make it imperative that we clean up breast milk contamination. Sweden did it and so can we: we just need to prioritize the health of infants over the profits of toxic chemicals producers.
      It is a bit unsettling that so few women breastfeed. As you note, education (and cultural change) seems to be the way to address this.

      • “Cultural change” is definitely a factor needed in the US to obtain higher rates of breastfeeding. It amazes me how many people are appalled to see a woman breastfeed in public. In most developing countries, no one would even bat an eyelash at this! Education is another key component. Most women don’t know realize that exclusive breastfeeding should continue at least through the infant’s sixth month. Maybe if we had FMLA policies similar to Sweden, who enforces both paid maternity AND paternity leave, would support for breastfeeding increase.

  115. What an alarming article to read. I had no idea that the milk that we feel young children. Knowing what the Europeans are doing, and what we are doing is very disturbing. We are the land of the free and everything we do, everyone else wants to do. So why is, that we can not keep the citizens and future of this country in good health? From breast milk to pollution, we have to take the initiative to take care of the next generations because they in turn will be taking care of us. I found it very disturbing know that the pollution form China is being found on our own coastline. The government must get it together and work on this. If manufacturers are creating separate assembly lines to sell regulated versions in Europe and Anything goes here in the US, that is wrong. Not only is it the governments job to protect the people, but the manufactures also to protect the people they are selling to.
    Tell the government to protect the people they serve. Stop regulating the world and start regulating the country. If Europe can make US businesses change the way they sell things over there. I am sure the US government can change the way things are made and sold here.

    • Some excellent perspective here, Will. I agree that we should stop “regulating the world” and regulate our own industry instead. The good news is that our current EPA is more proactive in protecting the environment from toxics: supporting the use of the precautionary principle. That is a world of difference from the previous administration’s appointees who worked to inhibit scientific information contrary to industry profit.
      That alone should motivate us to vote on this election day!
      Thanks for your comment.

  116. I have brought up a lot of this in past comments on other essays of yours. I think it is ridiculous that these problems are becoming apparent to the government and even the general public and nothing has been done about it.

    Especially when things relating to this article are said. Children are our future and passing on harmful chemicals from our currently misinformed way of life is crazy. I had brought up in other essays the fact of biomagnification and what this process does. Things like mercury, DDT, BPA, and many other harmful chemicals are passed through the environment and animals, starting at really low levels of concentration in small insects and gets larger and larger ass they are passed down the chain until they end up back in our bodies.

    We are putting out extremely dangerous chemicals into the world and if we dont do something to end the use of these chemical things are only going to get worse. For example BPA has been found to cause ADD in children and cancer in humans, to name a few. These problems are only going to get worse the more they are used and the more frequently they are passed down.

    My sister recently had a baby and all the way through her pregnancy i taught her and made sure that all of the things that she was putting into her body was safe for the baby. Everything that you eat/drink/ or even chemicals that you are around are passed on to your children through your breast milk.

    I hope people can become more aware of this and start doing something to change the problem.

    • Hi Jason, I agree that awareness of such issues should lead to our doing something about them. Biomagnification is something we all ought to be aware of as we make decisions as to whether or not to use pesticides on our lawns, farms or gardens.
      It sounds like you performed an important service for your sister–and the new life she brought into this world.

  117. I think its also interesting that compared to the EU and other Western countries, we tend to allow hazardous chemicals into our food and environment that are known to have negative health effects. A good example of this is the heavy use of artificial food colorings, some of which have been shown to be carcinogenic, mentioned in another essay on this site (link to essay and supporting article below).

    It seems economic interests in the US outweigh the health of our citizens. During a time when health care costs are a major political issue, I think that the EU and the US need to be working together to reduce the release of carcinogenic and other hazardous chemicals into our environment. Many of these chemicals can be substituted with less hazardous alternatives or practices so there is no excuse for not reducing the use of them.

    Hazards of Food Coloring Article:

    • Hi Darcy, I appreciate your information sharing here. I would just say that it seems the short term economic interests of a few outweigh the “health of our citizens”, since such interests do not benefit all of us– nor any of us for very long.
      Working together on inhibiting toxics in our environment is a great idea. I think we are part of a treaty (if I am remembering correctly) to do this in the case of the especially toxic POPs (persistent organic pollutants), like dioxin. (The “organic” here is in reference to chemical designation–not the “organic” certification for your food!)
      We might certainly expand this– and work in conjunction with other nations as well. It does seem imperative that we get our own house in order as a first priority.

  118. With regards to environmental contamination, as stated in “Hunger Hell”, “infants bear this burden especially uneasily”. Most individuals assume adult humans are at the top of the food chain; in reality it is our infants that are at the top of the food chain. This is of particular concern considering bioaccumulation and evidence of toxins in Inuit breastmilk, who don’t use these chemicals at all. Environmental scientists have proven the widespread travel of these toxins (often Persistent Organic Pollutants, aka POPs). These POPs have been found in glacier melt, thousands of miles away from the source of their use.

    It gives me hope to hear of Sweden and the EU’s response to contaminants in breastmilk. I would hate for decades of public health promotion of breastfeeding to fall to the wayside!

    • Very important point about infants being at the top of the food chain, Breannon. POPs like dioxin are of exceeding concern. It is great that you are going into a field that will allow you to spread education in this respect. I also think the Safe Chemicals Act now before Congress is a very important one to pass.

  119. This article also made me think about the labeling of GMO food, which is currently the norm in Europe, but the U.S. and the WTO are trying to make the labeling of GMO not just non-mandatory, but illegal. Here in the U.S., GMO’s are not required to be labeled, and so consumers cannot even have the info they need to make the choice. Also, I believe that consumers, given the choice, would choose non-gmo every time. Do you know of any organizations that are currently fighting for the labeling of GMO’s? I would like to join that fight. I am part of a campaign against Monsanto, one of the worst corporations in history, and labeling GMO’s would be key in bringing Monsanto down.

  120. The article is disturbing indeed. I found the Swedish solution to prohibit the manufacture of the toxic chemicals found in breast milk the best solution for the dilemma. How incredibly simple and effective, putting the health and welfare of infants above corporate demand. Thank goodness we have countries like Sweden, ad the EU REACH program are willing to step out and be forerunners.
    The absolute ridiculousness of running 2 assembly lines in Toy makers facilities, where actual toxic toys are still being made and distributed along side the safer toys is the height of irresponsibility and concerted capitalistic pigheadedness.
    There have been bills put forward in the last two years such, as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), that would have made it easier for the EPA to take dangerous chemicals off the market and out of our babies bodies, but the billions of dollar chemical industry and lobbyists were able to stop the bill dead in it’s tracks through the Republicans in the House and Senate. There are still Representatives dedicated to passing such a bill, that hope to reintroduce new bills in the coming year. That is why it is so important to get out and vote! Love the links to local action sites.

    • I want to second your last point first, Maureen. It is “so important to get out and vote!” At least with Obama appointees like Lisa Jackson (EPA director) we have a chance at science (rather profit) based control of toxic chemicals. It is absolutely tragic when corporate profit comes before children’s health. And I agree about the ludicrousness of the two assembly lines: there is no excuse whatsoever for such things. I wonder how the CEOs of these toy manufacturers justify this to themselves. I think there is a mentality that if it is legal, it is ethical…
      I’m glad you like the links to actions sites, Maureen. Thinking and acting must go together–as many of my students have taught me over the years.

  121. I agree with what you have to say. I think this completely devalues a relationship a woman and child are trying to have if we try to have if we turn to using milk that we can make out of a container and especially something that can contaminate our child. I am not a mother yet but it frightens me that one day I wil have to make this decision and by reading this article I obiviously do not want to put toxic chemicals into my childs mouth. I want to stay connected with nature. Why would you NOT want to breast feed? I love your point about NO packaging, NO harm to the body, NO contamination… why would you not stay with what is right? It seems unreal to me that people would want to choose the quicker faster way, and take the risk of harmer their child, and it not only can harm their child but it is also increasing the toxins that are going into our environment.

  122. I personally feel that breastfeed is still the healthier alternative. I breast fed by kids because I wanted to give them the best start possible because it contains the immune factors and helps with brain development of children. You also do not need to worry about toting bottles around everywhere. Also the formulas out there do not compare or contain the amount nutrition that breastmilk does. Some formulas out there are powerdered and require you to add water. A baby who is formula fed can get exposure to this percholate if they use drinking water filled with percholate to moisten up the formula and so a baby can still be at risk. So I still feel that breastfeeding, in spite of this revelation, is still the better alternative

    • Your feelings about breastfeeding are backed by the American College of Pediatricians, Elizabeth. And if more women felt this way, they might pressure the EPA to do something about cleaning up the toxins in the breastmilk supply.
      I hope that this article stresses that point strongly enough. Thanks for your comment and added info here.

    • I agree with you Elizabeth. Breastfeeding is the healthy and best choice. My wife is very proud that she breastfed three of our children for the first year of their life. My first born was from my first wife who decided to use formula while he was an infant. But she was dumb so maybe it was for the best. He turned out great.

  123. I’d never heard of breast milk banks before, but they sound brilliant! That paragraph also reminds me of the other articles I’ve recently read on here – about learning from non-human sources of wisdom. Anyone who has been around breast-feeding animals knows how cooperative they can be with each other – taking care of each others’ young and even adopting in other nursing babies if for some reason, the other mother disappears or is no longer to breast feed. I’m a little disappointed that I hadn’t made the connection between these natural interactions and the current human possibilities before. (Of course, I’d heard about “wet nurses” but usually only in the context of U.S. slavery, where it was clearly not about women entering in partnerships to help each other.) I also wish that our society could look at the need for quality, natural breast milk for infants the same way it looks at our need for healthy, clean supplies of blood for those in need. If we can recognize the need for blood banks, donors, and toxin and disease free supplies to those in need- why can’t we do the same for infants in need of quality nutrition?

    Also quite glad for the ‘ways to help’ section, especially the link concerning Corvallis.

    • Thanks, Lauren. I love the potential parallels between blood banks and breast milk banks. Of course, one obstacle to the milk banks is that someone is making a profit on selling women manufactured milk supplies.
      And in a number of indigenous societies, women bear children at the same time and share their nursing (a natural event as you note in the more than human world). In some, the mothers who nurse children are referred to as their “milk mothers”– and honored throughout the whole of the child’s life. Meanwhile, the newest mothers are getting more sleep. Seems like a win-win approach to me– all we need is the community to carry it out…

  124. Breastfeeding has enough benefits to outweigh the toxins that inevitably concentrate in human fat and can be passed on to babies who would probably be worse off on formula mixed with treated water or hormonally-altered cow’s milk containing said chemicals and most likely worse. Sharing milk also sounds like a great idea, given enough social acceptance and support.

    Breastfeeding is good for mother and child, and should be encouraged except where medically inappropriate. That we have allowed the business of peddling baby formula to impose a negative effect on the future of our nation’s children and their health is irresponsible in light of a higher social trust and good will.

    • It is important to emphasize, as you do, Amanda, that breastfeeding is still best for mother and child. I agree with you about “peddling baby formula”. I also think it is essential that (as this essay stresses) we clean the toxins out of our breastmilk supply, as other nations have already done. Thanks for your comment.

  125. Thanks for posting this article. I have enlarged my knowledge a lot after reading it. I have known that breastfed milk is best for babies but I have no idea about the contamination part. My Mom used her own milk to feed me when I was born till I was 12 or 13 months after. People thought that was crazy (that time, people’s knowledge about breastfed was limited and they thought expensive packaged milk is much better.) However, Mom just focused on what she was doing because one, she believed that her milk is better than the other types and two; my parents did not have lots of money to get me expensive milk. She ate a lot of green onion (Asian green onion, stem, soup or stir fried) at that time so that she could create more milk for me. That’s our tradition and it is always true. I have grown up healthily and normal like others, even smarter since I am always in the top list of excellent students at school.
    I think women need to take care of themselves before they even get pregnant (try to drink more milk and eat the right and healthy food) and do not wait until they are actually nourishing their own baby in their body to take action. It is going to be too late. The dangerous chemicals may present in women’s body before they have babies. If we concern about our next generations, please care for the mothers today.

    • Last night I was with friends who also noted that their mothers had to search high and low to find doctors who would provide health care for them if they planned to breastfeed. I am very glad to see that is changing– and you are fortunate to have such a great start in life, Vu.
      It is fortunate that their economic status led them to eat healthy rather than fast foods!
      I just saw an interesting bit of research– the longer women breastfeed their child, the less toxins in their breastmilk.
      Thanks for your comment.

  126. Look at all the labels out there that say consult doctor if breast feeding. It is scary. They are finding things we have done is causing changes in nature that can have affects in breast milk. The dams on the Columbia and Snake have slowed down river flows allowing mercury to leach out of the soil and rock. There are cautions and suggested intake of some game fish from those rivers in the Washington State Game pamphlet for human consumption, especially mothers breast feeding. What about the things that has labels cautioning females of child bearing age. Why are we ingesting these products?

    • Good observation about “consulting doctor if breast feeding”, Bob. It would seem that this should let us know standards that we don’t want anyone to experience in terms of the toxins they take into their bodies.
      Why, indeed, are we ingesting these products? Very important question.

    • That’s a very good point Robert. Why do we still invest in these products? Even if the organic choice ss more expensive Americans need to look at the big picture and make wise decisions. Our health and nature are more important than a few extra bucks.

      • Indeed, Josh. And we also need to get the influence of the “few extra bucks” of lobbyists out of our governmental structure in any way we can. I think voting with our dollars in making wise consumer choices is one way to diminish their influence.

  127. You would think that if there is a chance of a negative side-effect that people would be extremely hesitant only using it, or at least use it as a last resort, especially when concerning our newborns. I think many of them get caught up in the numbers game thinking that so many people are doing it out there that maybe those who stand against it don’t know what they are talking about. What will it take to change this attitude? Since the government isn’t stepping up on this issue I would like to see the market try. Maybe just one major store that ensures that all their toys are from places reputable enough not to use lead or have a department that ensures what it is selling is safe. I know a business like this may fail in today’s market place of finding the lowest price but they would at least have my business.

    • I think you have a point about the “numbers game”, Phillip– which allows us to reduce others suffering from such toxins to statistics rather than persons like ourselves (to help us feel less vulnerable? See the new essay on vulnerability here).
      Great business idea: I don’t see why this couldn’t work as well as farmer’s markets.
      I don’t know of anyone taking up this challenge, but I do know that some of the folks at are doing a good job of providing corporate leadership in environmental and ethical issues.

  128. The way I feel about breastfeeding is that it is a natural bond between mother and child. I do not agree with the fact that if breast milk is so good for us that if the mother cannot provide that it should be found elsewhere. I am glad cows milk is offered. I could never give my son some other woman’s breast milk. Breastfeeding is a great experience and I highly recommend it if a mother can do it. Sometimes it is hard. Whatever we eat comes out in the milk provided for our babies.

    • Indeed, it is important to provide support for mothers who cannot, for some reason or other, breastfeed– which is why the author of this book suggests breast milk banks. Certainly cow’s milk has has many toxins in it as does breastmilk.
      If we valued breastfeeding more, do you think it might motivate us to clean up our supply by cleaning up our environment, as Sweden has done?

  129. If I had a kid, the last thing I would do is start them off with artificial chemicals and hormones in formula, it is so unnatural to me (I know some women don’t have a choice).

    If breast milk has so many toxins in it then it appears that is next to impossible to raise a chemical free baby. From what I’ve read we also are facing problems with toxins in our drinking water from hormonal birth control and prescription drugs. Issues like this are part of the reason I don’t want children. I would be worried to death about this stuff going into my baby’s body.

    Air, water, ground, and food pollution are all around us, and a logical way to begin cleaning up would be to make laws and regulations for industries that produce toxins to contain them and then get to cleaning up. After we fix that is being produced now then perhaps we can clean some of this mess up.

    • Parents should never have to make the choice to start off their children with toxins, Tiffany. And if Sweden can clean up its environment, so can we. As you note, it takes making a priority of human and environmental health over quick corporate bucks: regulation and making “externalizing costs” illegal, so that those who make the pollution need to pay to contain it or clean it up. Thanks for your thoughts here.

  130. I agree with you on people using formulas without a second thought. Something that has always bothered me is the whole debate about breastfeeding in public. Shaming women and making them feel dirty to breastfeed in public has to play some kind of role in how popular formulas are.

    I think an eco-baby business would be a huge hit. This business would not be looking for people who want to buy the cheapest product, but rather a quality product. t have noticed tons of stores here in San Francisco that cater to eco-friendly kid market and they seem to be pretty popular. One of my favorite sayings is “quality doesn’t cost, it pays”.

    • I would love to substitute “environmental care” for “quality” in this slogan, Tiffany. I am not sure there are not eco-baby businesses around, just as the environmental working group (under links here) gives parents a file on toxin-free toys. The good news is that this would also support businesses who produce the results we want– rather than paying them to produce pollution and ill health.

  131. A side note to this article is necessity for society to more broadly accept breast feeding in public. For example, the health department where I work has recently committed to a ‘breast feeding promotion’ which focuses on the important benefits of breast feeding while at the same time providing public space in the office for mothers to learn how to breastfeed! Our office even invites mothers to come in and use the office in confidence during business hours and to promote it to their friends around the community. I think that society needs to accept breast feeding more regularly for more then just the health and environmental benefits for us all, we need to make mothers feel comfortable doing it!

    • It is great that your workplace is doing this, Brad. You are right that we could use more to do the same.
      I think you are absolutely right about not simply accepting breastfeeding but encouraging it.

  132. In learning about all the toxins showing up in breast milk, I can’t help but think we are so full of chemicals we probably don’t need to use formaldehyde anymore to preserve a deceased individual. I also wanted to share this link I just received from Initiatives of Change:
    Monsanto’s Roundup Triggers Over 40 Plant Diseases and Endangers Human and Animal Health
    I will never purchase a non-organically grown soybean product again!
    What sort of diseases will overtake us when all the healthy food is killed off by chemicals and all the bacteria are resistant to every antibiotic ever invented?

    • Thanks for the note, Reb. The Institute for Responsible Technology is also listed on our links page here (under consumer info). This is very important information as we choose how to vote with our dollars. It is frightening to me that gmos are spread without our being able to control this– in terms of the potential crop and seedstock contamination.
      Soy is everywhere in processed foods we purchase, so to avoid gmos means to largely avoid processed food.

  133. Have you heard of Human Milk 4 Human Babies? It is a grass roots organization, organized by friend and fellow lactvist Emma Kwasnica. It is a milk sharing network organized using Face Book as an engine. It is a valuable resource for babies of the world.

    • Thanks for passing on this link, Erica. I will add it into this post to update it when I get a chance!

    • I am so excited to hear about the milk sharing options listed by Erica and Valerie! I produce a lot of milk, and have always been interested in donating. I was thrown off, however, by the process that milk undergoes and the price tag on milk at milk banks. I had no idea there were big networks of people donating and receiving milk without payment. I am going to look further into this and try to contribute. Thank you for the information!

  134. Reading about the dangers of formula was very scary to me since my sister is unable to breastfeed, and uses formula on her daughter.
    This article makes it very clear that breast milk is the best choice for babies as well as the environment. I had no idea that there were also dangers involved in breast milk – that really makes me stop and think that given the effects of the chemicals around us, we probably shouldn’t use them at all.

    I will keep this in mind next time I am at the store contemplating whether or not to buy the cheaper cleaners and such with chemicals, or the more expensive natural and organic product. Though the organic, natural product is more expensive, it seems that in the long run it is worth it for the benefit of our bodies, the bodies of our children, our wildlife, and our environment.

    • I think you are right about the best product for the money, Samantha. And if we no longer had perverse subsidies (such as those for large oil companies), we would be paying less for better products.
      It is important that alternatives are available for women like your sister who cannot breastfeed. She can still offer her baby the love essential to its thriving, even as she chooses her formula carefully.

    • Hi Samantha,
      I just wanted to point out that natural products do not need to be expensive! All I use for all of my cleaning is vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda! All very cheap and effective products. Using vinegar and peroxide as a 2 step cleaning process even kills most bacteria and germs if that is important to you.

      Also, see if your sister would consider using banked breastmilk. I know several women who contribute to banks and it is very safe process. It’s an excellent solution for those who can’t breastfeed.

      • Thanks for the information here, Val. This essay mentions banked breastmilk, but I did not know that that milk is readily available.
        Great point about safe and inexpensive cleaning products.

        • I should clarify that milksharing, not milk banks, is readily available to the general public. The following website has information on milksharing.

        • Thanks for the very useful link, Val! I had no idea that milk banks were so expensive– I think they are not that way in the European Union (the model cited in the book I reviewed in this essay). I am adding this info to the essay, along with the links Erica Henderson provided earlier here.

      • Thank you for the information Valerie! I also was not aware that banked breastmilk would be that readily available. I did some research on the internet after you brought this up, and it is much easier than I would have expected. She lives in a small place, but packages can be delivered anywhere in the United States! I have sent her the link to a few of the websites I found on the internet.

        Also, great point on the natural products being inexpensive! Now that I think about it, I do have a cookbook that has a bunch of natural recipes like this for cleaning. It may take a few extra minutes to make this cleaning solution, but it seems like it is well worth it! Thanks Valerie!

        • And thank you for following this up, Samantha. Best wishes and good luck to your sister in her quest to do the best for her baby: she is obviously fortunate to have such a supportive sister!

  135. Once again, the EU has taken action to safeguard it’s people while the U.S. takes action to safeguard corporations. It seems like a no-brainer to protect babies. I breastfeed my children well beyond infancy, as is the norm throughout most of the world other than the U.S. I strive to limit my exposure to toxins – no plastics, chemicals, I know where my food is grown, etc. I wonder how I would go about getting my milk tested for toxins. I’m curious to see what I am being exposed to, and am exposing my children to, unknowingly.

    • Sadly so: I just updated the “do not buy list here” with another example, the EU just banned the use of the dangerous herbicide atrazine– but it continues to be the most commonly used herbicide in the US.
      I am not sure how you would get your milk tested: a sad statement that any mother would feel the desire to do this. If you do find a way to do this, you might let us know– since there are other nursing mothers on this forum.

  136. People really need to be further educated on this issue. If only people could really understand that we continously create chemicals that are bad for us, and that they will never really go away! We all share the same planet. Just because we dump our waste in another country, definitely does not make it okay. Considering that chemicals are even harming our newborn babies, should really be a concern for people. But people just seem to want to ignore it, in the hopes that someone else will take care of the problem, and that it is not something that everyone needs to contribute to fix. It just seems so selfish that more people are not making an effort.

    • The combination of limited (and sometimes hidden) information regarding such toxins and the power of the corporate lobbies on the part of those who produce them makes for a dangerous combination. But citizens are not all sticking their heads in the sand: note the work of NCAP and PAN–and lately, the Oregon (anti-) toxics Alliance. If we cannot lead at least we can follow as the EU bans so many chemicals we sell based on their harm to humans and the environment.

    • Michelle,
      I think what you said here directly relates to the “Not in my backyard” principle. This time, what we have been doing in our backyards is coming back to haunt us directly. By “hiding” crucial information about the things we feed our children, we are creating a virtually never-ending, compounded problem within ourselves. I wonder what the executives at the formula manufacturing companies tell their friends and relatives. Do they warn them of the possibility of estrogens, etc., or do they keep it quiet only to keep their profits up?

      • This is something I myself have often wondered about, Gabe. What level of denial about the future does it take to be an executive at Monsanto– or do they just partition themselves from the world, and focus on making money/asserting power– so they lose track of everything else. Then there is George Bush (remember him?) who supported big oil in every way possible, but took his ranch in Texas totally off the grid with alternative energy.
        And you can bet that those CEOs who conspired to hide the fact that the bones of their workers (plastic manufacturers in the 1950s) were dissolving according to the xrays of their own doctors did not spend a lot of time in the working area.

        • I think this is a really potent question. How do people disallusion themselves enough to allow bad things to others while going out of their way to protect themselves? I find this even more disturbing when they are hiding bad from others taking their ability to protect themselves away, to some extent. I think that one of the big hurdles against creating a unified world, fighting for the preservation of a sustainable world, is finding out how mothers and fathers who know love and happiness and who have been taught many of the same morals as myself are different enough that they can function after doing immoral things.

        • I think you are right that experiencing love and nurturance helps us be able to pass it– and perhaps it is also true that those who missed out on such things but want to make sure others do not have the same loss–and thus work to pass on love and nurturance of a kind they never had– have much to offer us.

  137. I was unaware that contaminated breast milk was an issue, so this essay was very informational for me. Although i was unaware, it doesnt surprise me, contamination, pesticides, bacteria, viruses, etc have been a problem since as long as I can remember. As consumers we probably take in more contaminated products than we know which probably, in turn, causes the contamination of our own human made products, like breast milk.
    I agree that even though breat milk has been found to be contaminates on occasion, it is still better for an infant than formula, or manufactured milk. So many unnecessary chemicals are put in manufactured formula that are likely unsafe for infants.

    • Thanks for your comment, Courtney. It is important to be informed as consumers–not to mention, as parents or potential parents.

    • I agree courtney, I was not suprised either. Only if we could inform other women of these hazards that surround us and prevent harm to babies who do not have a voice.

  138. I thought this was a really interesting essay. As a person who doesn’t want to have kids I don’t know nearly as much as I should about child care. I never even imagined a place that was a breast milk bank. What a great idea! I also really liked the comment about how communities shared the burden of breast feeding so that mothers could sleep at night. I think if there was a way to create that communal, helping atmosphere in the mainstream U.S society today we may have stronger, closer nit communities (it’s hard to rob the lady whose mom helped breast feed you as a child). I say this with the thought that I agree with the earlier post that a mother’s relationship with their child is special and should be preserved. I would say that I don’t think reserving breast feeding to yourself, as a mother, is essential for that special relationship but I don’t know.

    • Thanks for sharing these thoughtful considerations, Caroline- your post indicates how one can share the responsibility for our coming generations without biologically bearing children.

    • Caroline,
      Your observance that shared breastfeeding would strengthen communal bonds is a good one. I hadn’t considered that benefit before. Thanks!

      • An important way of bonding in many ancient indigenous societies. In Africa, for instance, there was the term “milk brother” or “milk sister” to indicate this.

  139. It is fascinating that the food we consume can affect breast milk to such an extent. Honestly, it is only natural to think in simple ways, the ways our ancestors used to live. The healthiest way is not always as obvious as I have seen from my fellow pregnant girlfriends who crave KFC. The phrase “you are what you eat” I think is appropriate here. I am going to make sure I send the link to this essay to my sister-in-law who is due in September

    • Michelle,
      I think you bring up a great point – simplicity. In the past generations have grown up with just breast milk, or just one toy and no electronics. I think there is something to be said for the simplicity of the past. Although we have made many strides and improvements over the decades, I just can’t help but wonder when do we turn that corner when we were better off before all of these new inventions? It is so complicated as a result of the different options for everything, that it is frustrating and overwhelming for the consumers.

      • Simplicity– and such “free” things as breastmilk– don’t make profits for anyone. The frustrating and overwhelming part of this can be alleviated in some part by the informational links on this site. All my best wishes in your important work to protect the health of your family, Ellie.

    • Great, Michelle. I am glad you found this useful. The problem is the manipulation of our tastes by the fast food industry– which does not, unfortunately, exempt pregnant women.

  140. What an informative piece. It concerns me that not only is our government lacking in their leadership but that this is not common knowledge to Americans. I do not want to give my infant anything that might (even has a chance of) harming them later. If we do have the ability to breastfed, I think it is the safest and most natural way to go. I personally do not want my child eating genetically modified milk. How is the general public supposed to know that those options are not as healthy – and could be dangerous? It must be hard with all of the media and promotion these companies do to endorse their products. I have a question – way are we so far behind Europe, not only on this subject, but also on the toy safety? I explored the Toy Safety weblink this week and it is so disturbing that we are giving our children toys that contain harsh chemicals. Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the highest standards – on all of these issues?

    • I agree with you Ellie that this piece was a real eye opener. With the US having such a large portion of the world’s wealth it is appalling to think that we don’t take more measures to improve the situation, or adhere to the highest standards in environmental and human care. It gives me the feeling that the US is manipulated into a money making scheme for a very small portion of elites with more political power than the rest of us. Television takes huge role in manipulating people into the consuming goods hazardous to our health. Thanks for the great post and questions!

      • Your comment gives us pause to re-define what wealth might mean when a wealthy nation cannot deliver well being to its citizens — or make that delivery a priority over money making schemes of a few.

    • I absolutely agree with your indignation on these points, Ellie. I think we can use a single word to answer some of your questions: lobbyists, not elected by the voters, who influence our laws and protect corporate interests. I hope there is information here to help you protect your children–and link with other voters to insist that the health of our children is placed above corporate profits.

  141. I would almost guaranty that the US’s laziness when it comes to ceasing the use of hazardous chemicals and blocking the entrance of them from abroad stems from ego and pride. The USA is seen as the world’s most powerful economic force with a piece of pie awaiting any person to come and work for it. It would take a HUGE movement and waking up of the government to force powerful and rich corporations to act responsibly and make an effort to spend more money while getting less in return. For some reason American corporations care more about making a buck then taking care of their consumers. Consumers who end up being themselves and their families, this is the most shocking of all. In reality, they are not just hurting poor people who can’t afford better, they are poisoning everybody and everything that lives and breathes on the planet.

    • You make an interesting connection here, Amy: certainly our “ego and pride” goes hand in hand with corporate lobbyists who play off these traits to make us thing we are both impervious to toxic harms and at the forefront of “progress” as we spray our laws with “weed and feed”.
      It is tragic that the choices for use of such toxins are made by those who sometimes feel fewer of their results; however, in an interdependent world, this is only a short-term dynamic. This is going to catch up with all of us soon enough.

  142. This is insane. We don’t even have respect for our own bodies or our children. If Americans cannot clean up the products that contaminate us directly, how can we expect to treat animals any different. What’s really incredible is that the factories are already producing cleaner products, but are hanging on to the cheaper options because they can. There is just such a lack of responsibility and honesty in our governing bodies, that as consumers we need to step up. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn what I can do about some of the issues. Thanks.

  143. It concerns me that breast milk contains so many contaminants. I still believe it is far safer than formula, and am glad to see data showing as much. I, too, can’t believe the marketing of formula as more convenient! Breastfeeding is so easy and so much more convenient (and cheaper) that formula feeding! I am still breastfeeding my 17 month-old and plan to continue as long as possible.
    In the first few weeks of breastfeeding, I received in the mail a free sample from Enfamil formula, along with a pamphlet explaining the benefits of formula feeding and all but directly claiming to be better than breast milk. I was determined to breastfeed, but was angered to think about other mothers who were struggling with breastfeeding, who received this sample and placed in the cabinet and maybe used it later, under pressure. The pamphlet did not inform them of the chemicals in the formula, in the water used to make the formula, or in the plastic lined packaging.
    It is alarming that we are delivering – from our own bodies and from formula – chemicals into our tiny infants.

    • The market push to formula feed is insidious, Isabel–and there is no one who is going to admit anything that would cut into their profits. It is sad that such tactics hit women when they may be vulnerable. Thanks for your comment.

  144. This was a really enjoyable and appalling post about breastfeeding. My mom has always been an avid supporter of breastfeeding in a prudent world were women aren’t even allowed to nurse their children in public places. In her college years, I was breastfed by one of her close friends who had a son just one month older than me while my mom went to night classes a few times a week. Today, she has a “mommy” group that she started when my little brother was born through La Leche League and advocates that it “takes a village (of women) to raise a child.” She also feels that the best nourishment for any child is breast milk and it is also the cheapest and most convenient especially in times of need.

    That’s why it is appalling to think about the contamination of breast milk in the US and, I’m assuming, in many industrialized nations like Argentina. In Concepción where I live with my partner, the municipal water system is fed by a very contaminated river and is then loaded with chlorine. We’ve already taken measures for drinking water by going to local farms off the water grid where we are generously given water pumped from the aquifer Guaraní.

    It is really heartbreaking to imagine small, vulnerable lives being contaminated by our global toxic wastes just as heartbreaking as the potential extinction of salmon species. I had always naïvely believed that somehow breast milk was immune to toxic substances as if it were a feminine mammalian superpower. Mother’s breast milk is a primary example of the importance of providing a better future for new generations through our everyday lives and decision making.

    I had never actually heard of a breast milk bank and thought of the previous experience my mother described to me as weird and little embarrassing (not to mention the fact that I wasn’t fully weaned until I was almost four years old). A Global Breast Milk bank was an even more innovative idea! I was disappointed, however (although not surprised), that Argentina wasn’t on the list for the global breast milk bank.

    Contaminated Breast Milk as well as contaminated food and water should remind all of us that we are not super-beings capable of maximizing consumption at the cost of others and not of ourselves and that we all truly “share the same fate.”

    • I agree with your point about how sad it is that the least fortunate have to bear the greatest burden with regards to polluted breast milk. These women living in highly polluted environments have very little choice.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal story, Emily. It must be great to hear that your situation was not so weird after all–and that Argentina is also on the list for milk sharing.
      It is indeed scandalous that formula manufacturers would encourage women to feed formula made with contaminated water instead of the breast milk that boosts a baby’s immune system.

  145. I stand very happily corrected that Argentina WAS on the list for a global breast milk bank 🙂

  146. A lot of the information in this essay was new to me as I do not have kids and do not plan to have any and I found several points to be very interesting. The fact that some toy makers have a European line producing safe toys and an US line producing unsafe ones is particularly disgusting – the fact that they care so little about the health of children that the would not bother to make all of their toys safe, especially when they have the means and equipment to make it happen. The fact that breast milk is contaminated, which leads to the contamination of babies, reminds me of the Puget Sound orca whales who reduce their contamination load by unwittingly passing it on to their offspring. I wonder if men, who can not pass bioaccumulated toxins on to their children have a higher toxin load than mothers, as in the case of the orcas. And lastly, reading this essay has made me think of how strongly people fight against abortion and how passionate they are about “saving a child’s life” and I wonder where they are in this issue. Why, if they care so much, are they not fighting just as hard to keep chemicals out of the babies that are born?

    • You make excellent points Sarah. Many folks in this country seem to have blinders on when it comes to issues like this.

    • The point regarding the orca whales is very interesting. I was unaware that the mothers pass toxins on through the babies. It would be interesting to see if the men indeed do have higher toxin levels..

    • Thoughtful question, Sarah. And to lend some perspective. Though many originally assumed that since sperm is manufactured daily, contaminants are not passed on from accumulations as they are with women. But we have recently found that there are effects on babies of the fathers who were exposed to Agent Orange in Viet Nam– so men are not quite as immune to this contamination as was once thought.

  147. I had previously known about the chemical pollutants in breast milk. I was not aware, however, that other countries have had the foresight and intelligence to ban damaging chemicals while America has not. I wonder what is different about our worldviews here in American vs. the EU? They have labeling requirements for GMOs, they get rid of chemicals as necessary… Is it our capitalist society? Our blind trust of the institution? Whatever it is, it makes me incredibly angry. I have joined several causes and will be volunteering over the summer with the Nature Conservancy, but I wish there was more I could do. Whenever I try to educate people on these issues, I face disbelief and even ridicule.

    • I agree that the US standards are aggravating. I believe that it is our money hunger that stops us from having the bad things be removed or regulated. Unfortunately this is how bad things have gotten, that money tops health concerns.

    • The EU is also capitalist, although not so subject to corporate lobbying in their governmental levels as is the US–and the recent Supreme Court decision giving corporations the legal rights of human persons did not help any. The other thing is that their sense of history and confined (and pluralistic) geographical areas give them some perspective I think. We are still stuck (all too often) with a rough and ready frontier mentality. Interestingly, Canada has done better on pesticide regulation–and they do have a more “socialist” leaning– at least it is not a dirty word to them– not a label one can use to inhibit caring political action.
      Thank you for your work on these issues: I know that it seems things move frustratingly slowly, but think where we would be if everyone pitched in as you do– or if no one did.
      In Eugene, check out the Oregon Toxics Alliance (renaming themselves Beyond Toxcis shortly to avoid misunderstandings!)

  148. I think it is great that more research is being done in this field. While I am not breastfeeding now, I do plan on having children in the next few years and would like to give my baby the best chance for a great start. It is scary to think of all the toxins that are present (and have probably been present when we were children) that can affect the development of babies. Hopefully more mothers will become well educated with the proper steps to take involving healthy eating for healthier milk.

    • More mothers, more mothers to be–and hopefully, all of us who care about future generations will become concerned about this issue, Samantha. Thanks for your concern–you are not alone.

  149. II have always heard that breast milk is healthier for infants but I had no idea the extent of how harmful chemicals are. Cow and soy milk have proven to be problematic. They lack the natural nutrients infants need and even the organic formulas have harmful chemicals. It’s extremely important for mothers to breastfeed their children. Although breastfeeding is healthier for infants, not all mothers are able to. So now there are breastfeeding banks, where mothers can receive breast milk for their baby if they aren’t able to produce it. Even with article like this not everyone knows the damage these chemicals can do to our children. We as a class need to spread the word to our friends, families, and co-workers in order to protect the infants of America

  150. First off I do not know why anyone capable of breatfeeding would not…I have heard this is the most amazing bonding a mother and and child can have. Secondly, even if you do not want to actually breastfeed why not pump and bottle feed later? I actually just babysat for a friend who has a 2-month boy and she feeds him “Kirkland Sginature” brand (cheap costco brand) baby formual!! I could not believe it, I personally would never do that. Especially becuase there so many chemicals out there and things must be processed to be put into a can ofr your convience.
    We have been breastfeeding our children since we as humans have been on the earth and there were less problems becuase breastmilk does offer all of the necessary nutrients that a baby needs. As the environment and pollution get worse I think it is even more vital that mothers breastfeed even though they can contain chemicals within their bodies, but it is the most natural way to nurture your newborn.

    • I agree with you on all points, Cyria. It is obvious that parents do not take nutrition seriously if they buy a “cheap” formula; this is the most vulnerable time in a child’s life in terms of good nutrition, and, as you point out, there is no more suitable nutrition than mother’s milk.

  151. Sure, breastmilk has huge benefits to both mother and child, but the most alarming aspect of this article is the toxins that the mother has in her body and is passing to her child via what is supposed to be the best substance a newborn can get. It is really scary to know that we are inadvertently passing on these toxins to our kids, especially when many have made the choice to breastfeed in order to avoid toxins in formula! It is so important to know where your food comes from, where anything you apply to your body comes from!

    • Indeed, Susan. Your comment indicates how very important it is to care for both ourselves and the earth that sustains us: we want to make sure there IS clean and healthy food to eat. And as you note, it is not just want we ingest, but what we apply to our bodies–many things travel into our bloodstream through our skin. I hope everyone who wishes to takes advantages of the links here that tell what is in cosmetics as well as foods. (Too bad we have to have volunteer websites that publicize what they have worked hard to find– rather than having such info readily available to every consumer– but thank goodness for those sites!)

    • Yes, very scary. Especially since it seems like we don’t have much control over it. Even bottled water isn’t totally clean! I was alarmed after reading one of the toxins links on website links page. It was describing how there are toxins found all over- even in organic foods.

  152. In the essay the quote “we all swim in the same waters and breathe the same air” may seem like it may turn people off because it sounds so romanticized, “hippie” “green” or any other term that is given to people who may agree with a more natural and interdependent outlook on the world. But this is is just a simple fact. I don’t understand why people DONT think that everything we do that damages other living things wont damage us. The majority of animals we hurt are complex organisms similiar to us and the chemicals affect us in the same way.

    For the most part our human bodies can withstand higher levels of intoxicants and that is why we are and have ignored pollution for so long. Because we have been negligent for so long we have exponentially polluted our land and other earth inhabitants. Following this route iomagnification occurs in other animals and because so when it reaches us we receive some of the highest levels of pollution through food sources.

    It is too bad that we are hurting our future generations; because this is the exact issue that arises with breast feeding and intoxicating our infants. Apart from biomagnification it is disheartening that many women do not breast feed to begin with. Why would you use a synthetic of processed substitute for a natural process? That is just another sad effect from our industrialized, instant gratifcation culture that is alienating us from our natual state of being.

    • Carly, I really appreciate your passion here – it is definitely palpable. What I think is so interesting is your comment about human bodies being able to withstand higher levels of toxins. I have always wondered about this. It seems as though our bodies may not be as resilient as we once thought. Take for instance our skyrocketing rates of cancer or asthma – why are we experiencing more now than ever before? I think we assume that non-human animals cannot process or handle as much as human bodies, but in reality, almost all animals (especially mammals within which humans fall) have the same types of bodily systems. I think the difference is the rates at which we are contaminating ourselves versus the contamination of non-humans. I mean we, as humans, do not drink the pollution that we spill into our oceans; the fish do. Thus, the toxins that the fish are exposed to are much more concentrated and harmful than those that we ingest as humans. Regardless, it is an interesting phenomena to ponder.

      • Thoughtful way of carrying on this discussion about our own bodily resilience, Amber. Something else to consider: sometimes the problems in human bodies don’t show up for decades– or until a generation or two after exposure. I am quite sure how resilient this makes us if it puts the future of the species at risk.

    • It is in fact merely a simple fact that we all share the same water on an interdependent earth. Thoughtful response on this point. It is a tragedy indeed that we are hurting our future generations.

  153. An aside: Breast feeding is the most nutritious and best for your child yes but it is not always a possibility. My aunt had to bottle feed to to chemotherapy she was receiving, I could not produce enough milk. My daughter would have starved. I know there are breast milk banks but they are expensive. Who wants to choose between buying breast milk and not feeding your other children or buying formula and having enough money to feed all your children? We need to regulate our formula better.

    Toxins in our environment and everyday products need to be eliminated. European nations have fewer cases of ADD and ADHD then the U.S. has. ADD and ADHD has been connected to pregnant mother’s exposure to cleaning chemicals.. Europe has stronger laws against chemicals in their cleaners than we do. See the connection?

    • And we might also develop breastmilk banks more extensively. Women in indigenous societies have always shared milk– as do many modern European women today. Formula is not the only alternative, AND I think we can indeed see the need for stronger laws to protect nursing mothers. Thanks for your comment– your situation is precisely what breastmilk banks are meant to address.

    • And thanks for sharing this reminder about mothers who cannot nurse with us.

  154. This essay was very eye-opening especially as I too would like to someday experience being a mother. It is indeed scary not only that toxins could be directly transferred to the infant but that toxins in the environment are also all around us. What goes into our bodies that affects children directly makes me think, on a broader scale, of what goes into the environment that affects future generations.

    • Indeed, Marissa. And as we are now finding out, those effect may be passed on to our children and grandchildren even if they don’t become directly visible in ourselves.

  155. I thought it was really cool how native tribes used to share breast milk- that is such a good idea! Nowadays- I couldn’t see anyone doing that. We don’t live that closely with our social and family network as our ancestors did.
    It is nice to know that breastfeeding still is the hands down healthiest method. I breastfed my three children and by the third one I was really done with it! It was hard to keep it up but looking back after reading this I am certainly glad I did!:)

    • Good for you and your children, Jen. Throughout the slave era, white plantation children were largely fed by African-American slaves– this is the whole idea of “wet nurses” used throughout European history. So it would not be so unusual to see breast milk shared in a democratic way instead.

  156. This article really intrigued me because I had always heard the “rumors” about breastfed children having stronger immune systems and being more intelligent but never really investigated why. I do not think I need to investigate any further. The idea on the “breast milk sharing” site of “Human Milk for Human Babies” makes complete sense. I thought that for mothers who had difficulties breastfeeding or had extenuating circumstances that prevented it, the only option was formula. Upon visiting the linked site, however, I found that there is an abundance of opportunities for mothers in need to get connected to women who can provide them with the nutrients their newborns need. I was very pleased indeed.

    On a side note, this article reminded me of a friend that just recently had a baby boy. She chose to use the “traditional” (I really think I should say here American) method of hospital delivery, and fortunately everything went fine until after delivery when the first feeding arrived. She wasn’t producing breast milk, so the nurses took the baby from the room and told her that they would wait a bit longer to see if it would start to flow. What actually occurred was the nurses bottle-feeding her son formula. After 24 hours, her milk began to be able to sustain her child, but he refused it. The baby NEVER breast fed from my girlfriend because of a decision someone else made, and she was outraged and upset. I only bring this up because I think our marketing and health care systems have a strong influence on what we choose to do with our children regardless of the motherly instinct most women have to breastfeed. It is a sad but true reality that sometimes we don’t even get to make the choice.

    • I appreciated your thoughts and the story you told about your friend. I think it is important that we recognize the benefits of breastfeeding and the variety of other alternatives. I wonder if some hospitals have these “banks” and could utilize breast milk from others while waiting for the mother, or as alternatives to those who can’t breastfeed. It sounds like this may have been a better situation for your friend.

      • Likely the banks are more easily found in healthcare facilities in Europe. Seems like our own health care facilities are a bit behind in this regard–and indeed, it would have been wonderful to obtain milk for one’s child in this way.
        Thanks for this comment from a prospective father.

    • It is great when such “rumors” turn out to scientifically founded. I absolutely agree with you about the missteps in the marketing and healthcare system we have today. I am so sorry your friend missed out on this experience– fortunately, there are many other ways to bond with our children that I am sure she took advantage of.
      And on a side note, I can’t believe the nurse could have been so dumb– no woman’s milk comes in until at least a day after they give birth. At first it is only colostrum, which has immune properties for the child. Who put this woman in the nursing profession and gave her control over young lives? Thomas Goldtooth– an indigenous environmental activist– notes that in his tradition, only very special caring and “pure” people were allowed to touch a new born.

  157. This was an interesting article that provided some useful information. My wife and I are expecting a baby soon and she plans on breastfeeding. It is good to know that this is the most supported/recommended method. It is alarming the amount of toxins and chemicals that are found in common items, and ourselves. I was especially surprised that the EU has higher and stricter guidelines for their children’s toys than the US does. I think food and items for children should have stricter regulations than items for any other age group.

  158. It seems that we have little control over what we can do to stop the complete pollution of our world when we make laws in our country and make resolutions with other nations to be more environmentally conscious and then some other country comes and pollutes the ocean so much that it affects us all the way across the world. If we aren’t able to stop the entire world from creating such toxins, I feel that all the efforts may have gone to waste.

    • I can understand your sadness, Ben. Would you want your argument to be a rationalization for not doing anything to clean this up. And there are always the stats in countries that HAVE cleaned up the breast milk supply– who have been rewarded by plummeting cancer rates.

    • I am not quite sure what you are referring to here, Ben. It is always good to deal with specific cases– makes our issues not quite so overwhelming.
      As for “others” creating problems for us, I would go back to our own behavior. We have a good deal to do to fix that–and fixing that can also model things to other countries. By the way, “fixing that” includes doing something about the anti-environmental policies of the World Trade Organization that we so readily signed onto.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I think i see where your going Ben and I think one of the big problems is that we (as in the US) decides to stop using a chemical due to the health hazards but the companies that manufacturer it ships it to a developing nation so they turn a small profit. The big problem I think is that our government in trying to maintain our countries standard of living, they are easily swayed by business to allow the exportation of these chemicals. Also, I think with many developing countries, US companies can unload no longer legal US products onto them and still recover some of their funds. Its really all about money and until big business steps up to the plate and takes responsibility pollution will never really be resolved (in so much as it can be because there will always be some pollution).
      I don’t think that our efforts have gone to waste though. By reducing usage in the US we have reduced the worlds usage and thus reduced perhaps a small amount of pollution overall.

      • ‘Seems like we have to re-evaluate what counts as “standard of living”– it would be great if children’s health were figured in there. And I agree with you about the acts of each of us never being “put to waste”. Thanks for your comment.

  159. As a mother of two who has/is breastfeeding I am saddened that our government has not stepped up to this issue more rigorously. However, I cannot say that that is not expected. I would suspect that they are not making a grand attempt at cleaning up the US breast milk supply because in the end it would hurt the bottom line of all the companies that manufacture the chemicals which are linked to the issue. Which would also impact our nations GDP. And of course, why would they want to do that? The US is consumed with being the wealthiest. To bad we weren’t more concerned with being the wealthiest by having the healthiest, and highly intelligent citizens.
    I also completely agree with the statement about how mind boggling it is to hear formula as being more convenient. I think they only conveniences of it is that you do not sit down with your child and fed him/her; instead they learn at a young age to tip the bottle up and feed themselves. This gives the mom and/or dad more time to do other things but they are making a trade off in not giving their child the amazing health boost they get from breast milk.

    • It says something sad about social values when we have a choice, as you present it here, to put babies rather than chemical companies in harm’s way.
      As you also point out, we sorely need a redefinition of the word “wealthy” on the basis of other criteria than money.
      Congratulations on taking advantage of the opportunity to feed your own children!

  160. There is a great article on National Geographic from June 2010 about how Americans in comparison to other countries care little or not at all about environmental concerns. This is alarming, and it would explain a lot in regards to breast milk and water contamination that affects us and many other life forms.

    The article is at

    Is there a psychological willingness on the part of Americans to ignore inconveniences? Al Gore may think so, but you don’t have to be Al Gore to see the truth. The truth is all around us. Take one day and count how many cars driving down the road have one person in them. Or how many people you know who have had heart attacks from poor diets or lack of exercise.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the warning signs around us, but I guess many Americans don’t really care after all.

    • This is very sad data, since it indicates how little information and memory many of our citizens have–and without informed citizens we can hardly call ourselves a democracy. To counter this, we see the comparative statistics of commitment to the environment of people of color (see our “quotes to ponder”) and I have actually seen counter ideas to this article point that two-thirds of the US wants better and stronger environment regulation. Unfortunately , the barrage of ads on TV (courtesy of folks like big oil and big coal) that tell us the environment is doing just fine influence too many…

  161. I am currently reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson who set inmotion the ban on DDT use in the U.S. She made a great point by insisting what Science conceives and Technology makes must first be judged for it’s safety and benefit to the “whole stream of life”.
    We come into so many toxins everyday most of which we will never fully know the effects that they cause to not only our body and our young but the environment as well. It is unforunate that the U.S. lags behind the European Union when it comes to almost everything environmentally. There is some much ignorance and greed in U.S. politics.

    • That is an excellent point about science and technology. Through day-and-night R&D, technological achievements are being made constantly and then products rushed to market before effects are fully known. Companies want to be at the forefront and produce the ‘next big thing’. They think if they wait at all they may miss the boat and some other company will beat them for consumer attention. Greed is a huge driver of our sad world. Without proper testing we don’t know what we’re dealing with and become uninformed consumers. They said DDT was safe, it wasn’t. They still try and claim there’s no difference in milk with or without BGH (or rBST), but there’s been evidence for years about the negatives associated with its use.

  162. My wife has breastfed our children as well, for the nutrition and for the money saved! Yet another reason why we want to grow to be self sufficient when it comes to our food. The link between the chemicals in our environment and brain develolpment in children is astounding, especially when it comes to mercury. When my wife was pregnant her doctor could not express enough how serious it is for pregnant women not to consume fish exposed to mercury and its effect on brain and spinal development. I was unaware of the mercury contamination from China. I wonder how much of the mercury in the pacific originates from China? We need to make the difference and teach our families how to eat. U. S. citizens need to come to the realization that it is the CITIZEN that makes the country great, not the government; we have become too reliant, and I believe that is why we have become so unattatched to the realities of the way we live.

    • I don’t know of any studies that indicate how much mercury reaches our shores from China- but we might also wish to give up corn syrup, since the manner of processing leaves mercury traces behind in the final product.
      It is a tragedy that there are so many chemicals currently spread throughout our environment; and I agree that consumer choices could make a difference– not only in the health of your family, but in choices as to what consumers are offered by food producers.
      Within the last week, customers caused the Bank of America to rescind their planned debit card fee when so many threatened to pull their money out of that bank as a result. Of course, there may be an argument that consumers ought to take their money out of big banks anyway–and patronize local credit unions or “state banks” (in the few states where these exist) instead.
      And congratulations to your wife for being able to give your children such a healthy start in life!

      • I did not know that about corn syrup! Thank you for the info. It really does start at home and what we are willing to change or give up.

    • Michael,
      I was intrigued by your posting so I started searching Mercury articles pretaining to China and came across this article published in The Oregonian in 2008 :

    • Fish, corn syrup… these are only two of SO many foods that one is recommended to stay away from while expecting a child. Being pregnant the last 9 months has turned me into such a NEUROTIC person when it comes to foods, chemicals, toxins, cleaning products, fumes, contaminates, and plastics (BPA and other “ph” starting chemicals that are particularly proven to affect hormones in male babies). I feel so unprotected by our government when it comes to what I am exposed to that I have taken full responsibility for my and my baby’s health – I do not trust the government and products in the least. I have resorted to doing the research on almost every product I bring into my house unless it has some kind of Federal certification or other official branding, (or is a natural product that I already trust). After checking out some of the links on this site, I have already began to mistrust some products I previously thought of as “natural.” This particularly comes into play with cosmetics and bath products. I have reverted to using only natural products I trust, such as Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bronner’s soaps. It feels so good to know that I am not using products with chemicals in them that are far longer than I can pronounce for myself, my husband, my pets, and soon – my child.

      As you addressed in your response, fish has been a particular concern of mine. It seems impossible to avoid all the bad things, so I suppose all a parent cant do is their best in keeping young children away from these harmful agents and chemicals. It’s sad and I wish we had more help from our government but one thing I have already learned about parenting is that no one will care for you child like you will. That gives us all the responsibility when it comes to their health and well-being.

      • Do check out the Monterey Aquarium link here on the links page– they have a list of comparatively “good” fish to consume, both from a health and an environmental perspective– and healthy fish are something very good for you to consume at this point.
        Caring for your health and that of your child should not make you neurotic! Let’s hope for a different way of things–and meanwhile, I hope that the information here gives you some sort of personal support.

  163. This article was of particular interest to me, as I am expecting to give birth later this month and begin my breastfeeding journey. I have already read up extensively on the subject. Some information I find discomforting, and some I find very reassuring. While many mothers and stories leave me terrified of the pain and woes of breastfeeding, (i.e. the fact that it is/can be painful, often the baby doesn’t take it, the milk may not come in, etc), I find myself comforted in the fact that I will be providing my baby the best nourishment possible. I am willing to go through all of the discomfort in order to provide the immunities and nutrients for my child and I keep reminding myself that it is a natural process that women have been participating in since the beginning of our existence. I hear so many other mothers talk about how they are not going to breastfeed because they do not want the discomfort or inconvenience of pumping their milk when they are going to be away from the baby, (I understand not everyone has the ability to stay with their baby due to work, etc.), but my personal decision has been to stay away from formula and breastfeed if possible, (contingent on the fact that my milk will come in and I am able).

    Everyone has stressed to me the importance of my nutrition while I am breastfeeding – as it appears that what I will be putting into my body will also be going into my baby’s body. While I am trying to eat healthy now, (aside from the exceptional junkie craving), I am hoping to eat even better while breastfeeding – simply to start the child off with a good start, health wise. I find it sad that the U.S. has neglected to protect the children and new generation of this country from the toxins/chemicals in the formula and toys they are exposed to. While I believe that a child’s health and safety is ultimately up to the person raising it, it would be nice to see some support and help from the government and the agencies that regulate our food and chemical exposure. After doing research about chemicals, (particularly BPA and other plastics that are present in many baby toys and bottles), foods, and parenting in general, the conclusion I have drawn is that it is a more pressing and more important issue in some other countries – especially European ones. It was interesting to read about how Sweden has regulated certain chemicals found in breast milk. And why wouldn’t they, especially if it is affecting the youngest and most important up-comers of their country? It appears to me, from my research, that the U.S. has neglected parenthood and its babies far more than Europe has. An example of this is the amount of parental leave that is standard (by corporations and the government) to take. I have read in many places that European countries, on an average, offer far more paid leave and leave in general from work than the U.S. There is also more leave for fathers, (paternity leave), than is typically written up in FMLA, (Family Medical Leave Act). It seems as though these countries know the importance of a parent to be with their child and parent them, rather than stick them in day-care and get back to the widespread U.S. value of a Monday-Friday 9-5.

    I believe that the U.S. could learn a great deal about childcare, protecting the children of our country, and parenting from other countries – such as Sweden and other European countries. I think you make a great point in suggesting that we need some national leadership on this issue. Babies obviously cannot represent themselves on matters of toxins and nutrition – they need someone to do it for them. It is a pressing issue that the U.S., in my opinion, should take far more seriously.

    • Also, here is an interesting response to a question asked to the NY Times:

    • Perhaps you have summed it up with your statement that what you are putting into your body you are putting into your child’s body. I absolutely agree that we need to protect the most vulnerable among us, since, as you say, babies cannot represent themselves. You might take some heart from a study recently done with children on Puget Sound that found that the toxins in their bodies radically and quickly plummeted when they were fed a diet of organic food.
      Congratulations on taking good care of yourself and that new life you are bringing into the world.

  164. Wow this article is very disturbing. It is very upsetting that our government would knowingly let US organizations poison its people. Our children are really the ones that are suffering the most because their bodies are fragile. We don’t even know the implications these chemicals are causing in our bodies. It was insanely frustrating when they talked about having two toy assembly lines one for the strict EU standards and one for slack US standards. The US government is really messing up here. We need to make this stop. No person should have harmful health effects just because they played with a toy that is made in the US. Its just not RIGHT to be knowingly poisoning people.

    • Yes it is true. The US is a slacking nation. The large companies are all about nickle and diming everybody. We have become a scam artist nation and not even health standards apply anymore. I am not a wall streeter or anything but this country has problems. I believe in low taxes for the rich because rich people create jobs but they also need to follow rules, regulations, and standards. Disregarding these standards was probably a pay off from Similac or some company that was losing money over it.

  165. This article helps solidify my plan to try and live off the grid and produce my own food. I have long known about the dangers of products such as corn syrup and the high mercury levels of fish. I however only knew about the dangers of these products in relation to me( being a male), I did not realize the effect that these products hold on breast milk and newborn children. I think that the dangers of these products need to be more widely publicized not only to mothers to be but to everyone. I feel that if more people understood the effect that these chemicals had on infants they might change their mind on some of the practices that allow these contaminants into our food supply.

    • Its true that producing ones own food gives one a great feel of accomplishment. my family all have always grown our own gardens. We try to live as much off our own grown foods as possible. My father even raises his own chickens, in the middle of a city! However it is very difficult to grow enough food in most yards.

  166. I did not know that so much pollution can seep into the breast milk from our surroundings but after reading the whole essay it makes sense how it does. I have to say that this might be the cause of one of the ignorance we studied earlier in class, the NIMBY. Another really sad issue mentioned in the essay is how European and American toys are made at the same place but one is safer than the other. I agree that we really need some national leadership to work in this issue.
    The more I read about the politics behind EPA and our congress, the more gloomy our American future looks on the environmental scale.

  167. I like this article. I remember that when the warning came out about BPA found in plastics were causing problems for woman. I was at work and a lady asked me about why scientists were more worried about BPA affects on woman than men. I said it was because BPA acts like estrogen. I was interrupted by a coworker who stated that it was all a farse made up by “hippies” to scare people. This coworkers reasoning that plastic was not leaching chemicals because plastics made in the 70’s could still be found today. I was amazed that people do not understand much about chemistry.

    • Or what they do understand about chemistry comes from the manufacturers of these products– like those lead manufacturers in the ’50s whose ads said that they were supporting infant hygiene by using lead solder on infant formula cans.

  168. As the article pointed out it seems that United States is widely lacking behind in the control of toxic chemicals. I did not realize that this would have had an impact on the issue of breast feeding children. This article really shows how damages to nature would have a large impact on the health of the populous. One of the points that I like form the article was how people in the past used to have breast feed other people’s babies. I thought this was an excellent example of how we can solve some of the problems that impact our health by looking to the past. I knew that DDT was used in the United States and was banned but I did not realize just how much of it is still around. It really does take a long time for those kinds to chemicals to disappear.

    • In my forestry 111 class my instructor says that DDT is still around and people are still being infected by it even though it has been outlawed for many decades. DDT keeps getting past on to new generations. Very sad if found to be true.

      • I understand this is true, Wil, as DDT is so persistent AND I understand it is still being used to other countries that US manufacturers were allowed to sell it to when it was outlawed here. Sad indeed.

  169. There are actually a lot of arguments as to how much BPA is actually leaking from the bottles. It depends on the scientist and how they performed their experiment. Some will choose to simply fill a water bottle with water, let it sit for a couple hours and then test the water for BPA, then grab a new water bottle and test it again. Others will test the same water bottle several times by filling them with water, washing them, then filling them again, attempting to mimic how the bottle would be treated if owned by a person. Others will use solutions similar to saliva to imitate a child sucking on the toy. Still others will use a powerful solvent to completely dissolve the plastic, which releases BPA that would otherwise remain trapped in the plastic. A difference in methods can lead to drastically different results. Also many of the BPA free products are made from materials very similar to BPA. Plastics are long chains of molecules with a base repeating unit, BPA is an example of a base unit. Simply by changing one atom of that base unit, you essentially create a “new” plastic with almost identical properties as the last one. Companies can then market their new plastic as BPA free.

    • And yet the EU (and Mulnomah County, for that matter) has banned any packaging with BPA leaching, given the very small amount of BPA it takes to create some serious health effects. I also understand that much proto-estrogens (of all types) leaching in plastic is linked to the heat to which something is exposed, which is why one should never microwave anything in plastic.
      We can discuss certain details as to BPA leaching– the kind industry threw up for discussion in lead and tobacco and yet, I think, better safe than sorry.
      You have a very important point in asking–as others are– if what we are producing to replace BPA any safer. This question seems to throw a light on the problems of all plastics. You also have a point in ponder in the creation of supposedly BPA free products–and though I am not rather obviously on the side of the manufacturers here, one atom’s change can radically alter the character of a product.

  170. I find it very disheartening that breast milk is being contaminated, it’s the very life source for a new child. My boy is a weak old today and breastfeeding, I would hate to know that he is ingesting chemicals that are bad for him. My wife and I have made a pact not to eat salmon from the Columbia River, for fear of high mercury content that has been found in the past.

  171. I am very proud that my wife was adamant about breastfeeding our children. We didn’t have to talk about it and she didn’t need convincing of its health and wellness benefits by anyone, she instinctively knew what she wanted to do and what would be best for our children. The evidence is overwhelming and I am thrilled to know the benefits they were getting right from the start (outside the womb) of their short little lives. The earliest stages of development for children are so critical and of course the nutrients that they take in at this time are equally vital. The leaching effect that toxins have had is a scary prospect, but I hope it will wake up many people in this country who have just been going blindly about their business, oblivious to the exploitation that corporations exact upon them.

    The canary in the coal mine analogy is a sad truth. Many people are completely unaware of the toxicity in their environment; in the air, the soil, the water, and the food they eat. They are completely uninformed of the scope of the infiltration and penetration that toxic chemicals have had upon not just a specific area, but the planet. Due to our interconnectedness and globalization toxic chemicals travel to every corner of the globe.

    The shear existence of two separate product manufacturing lines alone should set off warning bells, but here again lies the sad fact that most people just don’t know. The public doesn’t know, and if you think that those at the company would have a moral obligation, theirs is only to stockholders and their paycheck.

  172. Micro pollutants are becoming more and more concentrated in the US. These are hormones and other chemicals that make it through the filtration systems at waste water treatment plants. The waste water after its been treated is injected to the rivers/ocean as non contaminated and can end up back in the drinking water supply, often building up in the human body. These chemicals along with other that are deposited through the soil can build up higher and higher concentrations over time and end up back in the drinking water supply. This is epically prevalent where water is scarce like Texas or Arizona. So far there are little to no regulations been set on micro pollutants and there is very little technology to filter these. The alarm bells haven’t been sounded because there is a lot of research and money that needs to be put forth in order to find how to effectually get these out of the water supplies, and frankly with the government being in as much trouble as it is and the country calling to dial back EPA regulations this might not happen very soon. I think if more people were aware of why and where the contaminants and evidence comes from calming Brest milk is unsafe they would be more like to vote for higher regulations on micro pollutants in the drinking water and rivers. This won’t entirely solve the problem, as you stated there are chemicals like DDT being used in other countries that get imported into our bodies because they like thous regulations. But it will help to rid us of some of the latent pollutants that we drink everyday.

    • And in this context, I find it utterly inexcusable that we keep on manufacturing such toxins and allowing them to be placed in our environment.

    • Regulation does need to happen. I work in an area where fracking is the new fad of getting gas from the ground. Two years after that tests were done on the water supply showing high levels of toxins in there “unrelated” to fracking, according to the report. Just a year after the report children surrounding the well are now developing cancer, and yet the gas company reports safe levels in the water supply but will not allow any independent studies to be brought before them.

      • This is important information to share on the tragic effects of fracking in the use of toxic chemicals. There is more and more info coming out on the toxic chemicals used in this process–and now, in Ohio, there is even a connection between fracking and earthquakes. We absolutely need regulation–and the precautionary principle would be a good standard to use.

  173. This just shows the NIMBY mentality. That if a banned chemical once used in the U.S. is now used in Mexico, people think it is okay because it is so far away. The entire planet is the backyard and these chemicals ending up in our bodies just prove that. It all comes down to greed, how cheaply can something be made, and how long can the companies get away with it. The same goes with pharmacy companies. The chemists make something cheaply and quickly to help people without concern of the long-term problems. If they would take their time, along with companies not being so greedy, and look at what the possible outcome could be, then I think these chemicals would be less in our environment and out bodies.

    • Thanks for your comment, Stephen: the problem is indeed short term as well as thinking that our actions are those of isolated individuals, so that one of us can use such toxins and not be concerned about where else it goes.

    • But, Stephen, if we cared about our planet, we wouldn’t have such rich, profit seeking role models to look up to!! ;0)

  174. As a mother of two who has/is breastfeeding I am saddened that our government has not stepped up to this issue more rigorously. However, I cannot say that that is not expected. I would suspect that they are not making a grand attempt at cleaning up the US breast milk supply because in the end it would hurt the bottom line of all the companies that manufacture the chemicals which are linked to the issue. Which would also impact our nations GDP. And of course, why would they want to do that? The US is consumed with being the wealthiest. To bad we weren’t more concerned with being the wealthiest by having the healthiest, and highly intelligent citizens.
    I also completely agree with the statement about how mind boggling it is to hear formula as being more convenient. I think they only conveniences of it is that you do not sit down with your child and fed him/her; instead they learn at a young age to tip the bottle up and feed themselves. This gives the mom and/or dad more time to do other things but they are making a trade off in not giving their child the amazing health boost they get from breast milk.

    • It says something sad about social values when we have a choice, as you present it here, to put babies rather than chemical companies in harm’s way.
      As you also point out, we sorely need a redefinition of the word “wealthy” on the basis of other criteria than money.
      Congratulations on taking advantage of the opportunity to feed your own children!

    • This is very true. America if focused on being the wealthiest instead of the wisest. Very true statement. Instead of spending money to ensure the future they put money into making sure their taxes don’t get raised. The idea of sharing the wealth is lost on them.

    • Your right it is ridiculous how some consider formula more convenient. My daughter was breast fed for the first six months and at first i felt bad because i couldn’t do anything but after the first month we got a breast pump and i could fed my daughter. I thought that was more convenient just warming up the milk and we could also freeze some. Better for my daughter and way cheaper.

      • Thanks for sharing your personal experience that worked out better on all levels.

      • Cameron I agree with you completely how some consider formula more convenient. I can’t imagine waking up, fixing a bottle and then feeding my baby. Even when we would go out and do things, so much easier to just throw a blanket over my shoulder. Maybe they think its more convenient because you don’t’ have to sit with them while they eat, unlike breastfeeding. I prefer sitting and hanging out with my baby any day! Healthier for the body and spirit.

        • Thanks for the delightful response from a mother who has been there, Brandie. And I can’t imagine one who feels there is no time to “hang out with their baby” giving them much of what they need in the emotional realm.

  175. The canary in the mine comparison is very appropriate here. I, too, had a baby in Eugene, Oregon (way back in the 80’s), was unable to nurse and did, in fact, use formula. My son had very bad asthma in his toddler years and I always suspected the formula, since neither his father or me had any kind of respiratory ailment. We were so naïve back then. I didn’t even know you could buy breast milk, and even if I had, I might worry more about what was in it versus the formula I bought at the store. Go figure. We’ve come a long way.
    The paragraph about the factory making two kinds of toys—those that are up to codes for European shipments and all the others, with no codes—which go every place else, including the United States. I had one experience with my pets with their toys similar to this. My vet told me that the dog toys made in China have some chemical on them that can be harmful to your pet. Since he said not to buy anything made in China, I began checking. MOST EVERY toy is made in China. (There are one or two brands made in the US.) You know, I bet this same story can be applied to children’s toys.

    • I am sorry that you and your son had to go through his illness– I hope by now he has outgrown his asthma (as happens with many cases of childhood asthma). Much environmentally caused asthma today is different in that it is adult onset.
      Thanks for the alert on pet toys; the Environmental Working Group (see our links page) has a list of toys that are dangerous to our children. I had not thought of pets, but since the “melamine” in pet food that came out of China, one should obviously be on the alert for this.
      One thing sad here is that there ARE a few small actually organic operations in China whose market is tainted by the overall problems. Another thing I have heard (though don’t know where to verify it) is that wealthy classes in China currently eat organic food. Sounds like Bush nixing monies for alternative energy while his Texas home is totally off the grid.
      We don’t need two lines of manufacture, one for the rich and the other for the poor any more than we need two toy assembly lines.

    • I was completely unaware that toy companies were making two separate toys, one for European countries and one for the US and other countries. It’s really unsettling that we are giving our own children toxic toys. If given a choice in the toy store I would certainly be willing to pay more money for less toxic toy for my child. I am glad my attention has been brought to this issue so I can make healthier choices for my future children.

      • The irony is that I don’t think the manufacturers are really saving much money on the US process– seems to be more a matter of convenience or habit– which makes it all the more tragic.
        It seems to me that purchasing health for your child is certainly worth the price– not to mention, sending a message to toxic toy manufacturers.

    • Go figure, I have always seen the “made in china” for as long as I can remember. I also remember hearing rumors about certain toys being toxic to children/pets but didn’t realize it was specific to China. That just goes to say how dangerous it is to live in capitalism system where there is a free and open market that do not always have the consumers best interest at hand.

      • That does not mean, of course, that ONLY toys made in China– or for that matter, all toys made in China– are toxic. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s data on this.
        And one issue concerning a “free and open” market is whether we really have such a market, since it is predicated on each of us being able to vote with our dollars to drive what is sold and of what quality and for how much– but our votes don’t quite count as readily as those of multi-billion dollar corporations who are often more interested in manipulating the market than responding to the desires of the majority of us.

  176. Shocking that there are so many toxins in breast milk, and that is still the safest alternative to protect infants. I did not know that the majority of women did not breast feed their babies- I just assumed they did – but I guess it should not surprise me given that many women elect to have major surgery when delivering their babies instead of just waiting for labor and giving birth vaginally. In one of my earlier posts I made a point that when environmental impacts become bad enough that they affect both the rich and poor equally, perhaps that would be the incentive for politicians to do something. Boy was I wrong. If the health of your infant, and the possibility that it could be ingesting toxins -does not inspire politicians to take action immeidately, I am at a loss about what would cause meaningful action on their part. The EU continues to lead the way on consumer protection and concern for health and safety of its citizens. You have to wonder if that will continue given the bad economy they are currently experiencing. I suspect that China also maintains two seperate assembly lines for the US and the EU. The US side gets all the toxic additives put in thier pet food, pet toys, childrens toys, candy and dry wall. The EU gets all the safe, uncontaminated goods. I thought that some of the trade treaties between different countries also regulated the control the importing country could have over the goods it imports.

    • Your first statement is a shocking indication of the level of toxins in the breastmilk that is still the best way to nourish a baby!
      As for natural birth, many women are also pressured to deliver surgically for the convenience (or protection) of the doctor.
      Unfortunately, the major trade organization that oversees the signatories of the current WTO (World Trade Organization) have a lowest common denominator in terms of labor justice and environment regulations. They have found against a number of countries in instances in which the latter tried to raise either of these standards with respect to imports. The reason? That raising such standards was unfair to commerce, which is the end all and be all of the current WTO, which is run by a tribunal that decides things behind closest doors.
      it recently forced the EU to take genetically engineered foods–which it refused to do for decades. The WTO’s case? To refuse these products causes money profit loss to the corporations producing them. Unfortunately as well, they have the weight of potential global trade loss with which to pressure countries to comply. The EU is scrambling to label these products for consumer benefit.
      We need a different system: it is absolutely clear why the WTO is met with massive public protest wherever it meets (it has taken to meeting in secret in an attempt to avoid this).

    • And one would indeed think that caring for infants (whether or not we are their parents, but especially if we are) ought to motivate people to mobilize to get the toxins out of our environment, as it did in Sweden. Good point.

  177. Great post. To your last point, how would we, as the general public in the United States ever know if something is regulated or not and if it were, how would we know if it is enforced?

    • Well, we could trust the government- though we have seen where that has gotten us. I am heartened by all those doing the research to give us the plain facts, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Working Group and others.

  178. I thought the us lead the way in every aspect. To find out we are so far behind in something so important is sickening. In the recent years we all have heard how breast milk is better than formula but i don’t think anyone takes it serious. Formula unless you medically cant breast fed is for lazy moms.Every mother should breast fed for at least 3 to six months but with increased pregnancies and WIC handing it out i don’t see a change coming. I like how she pointed out it isn’t more covenant to use formula.

    • This IS indeed something to be “sickening” to be behind in, Francisco. Time to change this! And the only real convenience for formula feeding relates to the profits of those who manufacture it.

  179. Breast feeding is very natural and I think women should do that as long as they can. It seems a bit odd that breast milk from someone other than the mother would be good for a baby but it makes sense. I think babies should be getting get nutrition in their infancy. Have seen young kids fed adult food too soon and drinking fluids other than water in milk. I don’t think it’s right.
    Pollution does travel and it travels well. The problem is getting people to stop polluting on a massive scale. If we get a few people to stop is that really going to make a difference? Especially when a large company is spilling massive amounts of the same pollutant as you stop. Some laws are enacted to help reduce such pollution. The problem is that business relies on pollution and in a bad economy you cannot take away jobs or production. We have come too far to turn back pollution. The time is to figure out how to clean the pollutants before they are released. Laws are also used to help provide them with the correct procedure in releasing pollutants and it is very helpful.

    • I agree with childhood nutrition, it really bothers me when I see 3-4 year olds drinking a can of soda. Breast feeding is a natural way to set the baby up for success. Maybe the danger of child nutrition will be enough to push forward and get rid of harmful chemical production.

  180. Breast feeding is the healthiest way to feed growing babies, and it tends to be contaminated with chemicals! I don’t understand how the U.S. could be behind the European Union in this sort of health issue. I know that I plan on breast feeding whenever I decide to have children, it provides necessary nutrition and its healthier. I honestly had never heard of a breast milk bank, it does make a lot of sense though. Many years ago people used to have wet nurses if they were unable or unwilling to breast feed. It is very alarming that even breast milk is becoming polluted in some women.

    By getting rid of these chemicals we not only help ourselves, we help the environment. The chemicals that harm us also harm fish populations. It is so bad that it is suggested you don’t eat fish from many different waters.

    • Unfortunately the answer to how we can allow such degradation of our environment– including the food we give the most vulnerable among us– as opposed to the actions of the EU can be chalked up to policy priorities. In the EU, the priorities of the precautionary principle put health before profit. In our system as it currently stands, we have the reverse priority with tragic results.
      I take heart that many are working to change that– meanwhile, you will be doing the best for your child–and as you point out, for yourself and the environment by making particular consumer choice and by joining with others to work on things like the Healthy Chemicals Act in Congress (see the “What you do matters” sidebar to follow info on this.

  181. This is the first time I have heard about contaminated breast milk in the US; however I can’t say that I am extremely surprised. With all the environmental pollution, pesticides and chemicals being used all around me I knew that my own body was harboring many of these toxin. I can clearly see the connection between why they would be showing up in my own breast milk.

    It’s frightening to find that there no longer seems be an entirely safe option to feed our new born children. Every option available is in some way potentially problematic to our children. This is why it is so important to take care of ourselves. We need to be aware of and monitoring what we put in and on our bodies. Though we may not be able to completely rid our lives of pollutants, we can certainly cut down on them through our own choices.

    • I agree there are so many chemicals that are all around us and are in our bodies. If we can be careful not to add more to our bodies than we all ready have then we will be healthier. It’s no surprise to me the rate of cancer is going up and the years we are able to live are declining.

    • The companies only care about their benefits using chemical and they do not really care about the negative effects. If milk is contaminated by chemical how many percent of our body is contaminated. I never thought about contaminated breast milk before because I do not have any kids. Maybe we need to be proactive and protect ourselves. I agree with your idea. This is the most important and easiest way to solve this problem.

  182. I always wonder how the toxins of those who are not breast fed tie in to the developmental disabilities that have been said to be rising and can’t help but think there is a relationship between the two. I can’t help but wonder whether the fact that my mom didn’t breastfeed me, while she breast fed my other two sisters had anything to do with my deafness. But then again, what do I know about anything? I only know rumors that have been told from mothers who are deemed insignificant to scientific research. Reading about this issue has only heightened my concerns towards toxins contained in an unnatural method of feeding newborns and have confirmed my desire to breastfeed any child that I may wish to have.

    • These are complex questions, Colette.
      I am sorry that you have had to deal with this issue–it is obvious you have met this challenge with considerable personal strength.
      It seems to me the best we can do–whether or not we have final rather than must suggestive proof concerning the links between these toxins and many disabilities– is to protect future generations by ceasing to use these toxins. There is no excuse to put profit above the health of such a vulnerable portion of our population.
      It is a tragedy that so many have suffered from such choices in the past– but it is not a tragedy we should want to perpetuate.

      • I agree, it will most likely be a constant battle that everyone who have been affected by these toxins will hopefully stand by each other to fight. When the time if right, I will look the idea that toxins in breast milk as well as vaccinations to see if there is any connection. But I guess I have to get a degree first, to afford the kind of research I can’t wait to do.

        • You might join up with the Collaborative on Health and the Environment– you might be able to get emails on current research in your area of interest (see our links page here).

    • Colette, Sorry to hear about your disability, but it must not stop you because you are in this class learning and getting a great education. I was not breastfed either, but I turned out fine. I think a lot of disabilities happen when mothers are pregnant and a good diet is the most important for the babies development. In the past moms were not informed of the importance of what to eat or not to eat and the importance of prenatal vitamins. Not the moms fault, that’s just how it was. Now with research moms seem to be more informed, but it is unfortunate that these healthy foods for the pregnant mom and baby are tainted with toxins. Something needs to change for the next generations to follow.

      • Something indeed does need to be done to protect future generations from such toxins– beginning with the knowledge both you and Colette are putting into practice in your personal choices.

  183. Wow I was very shocked in reading this article that there are toxic chemicals in infant’s formula that is just horrible. Are we trying to kill our children before they can even experience life? I breastfed my little girl because the doctor told me that your own milk is better for your baby than any made up formula. Also the immunities that your baby gets from you cannot be replaced. But I had no idea that there were harmful chemicals in infant formula. I know some women can’t breast feed but I really like the idea of the breast milk bank for mothers who can’t what a great option. I will make sure to pass this information on to everyone I know who is going to have a baby. I don’t understand why the us is making toys for Europe that don’t use harmful chemicals but they are producing toys with harmful chemicals for our own children is this there way of population control?

    • I am glad you had the advice of a wise doctor with respect to breastfeeding, Christi. And your willingness to breastfeed in order to do what is best for your child brings up Mary Barnwell’s point: if we are willing (as many of us are and should be) to do this kind of thing for our children, why not change other environmental choices to secure their future as well? I am thinking especially of the habits that lead to global warming, or using dangerous pesticides.
      Your irony in your sentence points out clearly the results of our choices on our children’s lives.

  184. As I understand, they only care about their benefits of using them compared to the number of deaths it causes. If milk is contaminated by chemical how many percent of our body is contaminated. I never thought about contaminated breast milk before because I do not have any kids. I might think about what is in the products in itself (maybe process, like how it grow.) But I did not really consider about water itself. I feel like we need to protect ourselves. We should have education regarding the food consumption and stop feeding toxic chemicals. In fact, the U.S government allows chemicals to make our food. I wonder how FDA or other agencies treat these problems. Are they really taking care of us? Maybe we need to be proactive and protect ourselves.

  185. I am a proud mom that had the opportunity and privilege to breastfeed all three of my kids. I felt it was my duty to start my kids out right being healthy and besides it was free. My mom never breastfed me or my brother. She told me in the 70’s moms were looked down on and it was something they discouraged in the hospital. I turned out fine, but I wanted more for my kids and in fact after I had my first child my mom told me if she knew how important breast milk was, she would of done it. Mothers were not taught how important breast milk was to babies, but these were the times when moms went into the operating room to have kids and the dads could not come in. Times have changed for the good with breast feeding education and I am grateful for that.
    I have never heard of using breast milk for chemical testing, but it makes sense. Not sure why America has not cracked down on the amount of toxins being allowed in products. The REACH programs is one the US needs to implement now. Why haven’t the US? Looks like the EU is very serious about this program.

    • I like your phrasing the “opportunity and privilege” of breastfeeding. And the REACH program in the EU would be an important model to implement here. Check out the “your choices matter” sidebar page here– Lisa Jackson (EPA director) and some US senators have been trying to get comparable laws passed in the US for the past few years– named some variation of the “Safe Chemicals Act”. About time we did an end run around all the corporate lobbyists working against this and finally passed it!

    • Debbie,
      It’s so shocking that breast feeding was looked down upon in the 70s. Something that is so natural got turned into something that was discouraged. I wonder if it also had something to do with breast feeding in public. I have a good friend that gave birth to her first child ~2 years ago. She was telling me about a story about how she was breast feeding at a basketball game and she got rude comments from these two spectators sitting near here. On the opposite extreme another one of my friends who recently had a baby was sitting in a hotel lobby breast feeding. She noticed these two men kind of staring at her, and asked if she was making them uncomfortable. They said no but just thought how strange it was that she was using a blanket to cover up, they were from Europe somewhere and mentioned how women never cover up when breast feeding. The difference in cultural reactions was just amazing to me.

      • Given that we have sexualized women’s breasts, makes it a bit more problematic to accept this kind of intimacy between mother and child– thanks for sharing this comparison. As noted in this essay, if we had different cultural standards in terms of feeding babies breastmilk, we would be more likely to clean up our breastmilk supply (that, of course, means cleaning up our environment.)
        And I do know that beginning in the 1950s, there was a push on the part of formula manufacturers to sell formula on the basis of the fact that it was so much better for the child–and this would keep the mother’s figure in tact as well.

        • Aw, it makes more sense that the formula manufacturers were behind the push away from breast milk and towards formula. I don’t know from personal experience but I’ve had friends say that breast feeding helped them to lose a lot of the weight they had put on during pregnancy. So it seems like it would be more beneficial for mothers to breast feed for their own sake too.

        • Seems like–breastfeeding does indeed help bring the body to pre-pregnancy shapes. But there were intimations about sagging breasts.

  186. This is a very interesting essay Dr. Holden on breast feeding and I feel mothers need to understand more about how important it is to breastfeed children. I did not know of milk banks.
    I have always wondered when it comes to pesticides and fertilizers if they are a link to hypoxia in our Oceans. On the map it seems as it could be agricultural water run-off.

  187. This essay reminds me of another debate regarding toxins found in the majority of our country’s water supplies: fluoride. This is a contentious topic with both sides having extreme views. Proponents say it’s safe and necessary for a lower incidence of dental caries. Opponents say it is the only (toxic) prescription drug that is given to the public without informed consent by every member, and it’s treating people rather than making water safer. I have investigated this information and am definitely swayed by the opponents, but if I weren’t, this would be the perfect situation in which to apply the Precautionary Principle. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates the risks far outweigh the benefits. And, as a mother, I would rather err on the side of caution. Scientists say there is no bodily requirement for fluoride and that, for babies, too much fluoride is damaging to their little bodies. They might also say that, since it is more toxic than lead and almost as toxic as arsenic, it’s probably not so great for our adult bodies either. Opponents to water fluoridation say that the stuff we find in our water isn’t the naturally occurring compound found in nature but rather the toxic waste (called silicofluorides) from the phosphate fertilizer industry. Of course, as I expected, there is a political side to this story. Is it possible there is no underlying political motive here? Sure (but not likely). Is it possible scientists know more now than they did back in the 1940’s when this all started? Absolutely. So what do we do about it? I say we think about fore-caring for ourselves and the environment. I would rather choose eating healthier food and brushing my teeth more often (with non-fluoride toothpaste, of course) than using something that “might” be dangerous and finding out, in fact, that it is dangerous, but much too late.

    • My concern about fluorides is with highly toxic industrial wastes– fluoride compounds that come out of the smokestacks of certain industries If we use fluoridated toothpaste, it seems easier to convince communities that their related toxic cousins can’t be all that bad.
      But perhaps we need the reverse argument, if their toxic cousins are so dangerous, do we want to intentionally ingest their building blocks? It was only a few decades back that the industry that produced leaded gasoline products tried to convince us that lead was a naturally occurring bone mineral– until we found out it was absent from the bones of people of Nepal. I would just as soon keep foreign chemicals out of our children’s bones and teeth–and our own.

  188. Several months ago I heard this story on NPR about women sharing breast milk that I thought was interesting: I had never heard before about women sharing breast milk and they talked about the dangers of not knowing if some of the women sharing milk had any diseases. But really what’s scariest is that they all contain chemicals that could be or are dangerous to babies. It makes no sense to me why we would make toys with higher standards to be shipped to other countries and have lower standards for our own products. It really comes down to money and the owners of these companies are not as concerned about the long term effects that their chemicals may have. They’re not going to pay for them. I think we need to have higher standards and regulations in our country to stop things like this. In one of our readings last week it mentioned that a chemical was innocent of causing harm until proven otherwise. This is a backwards way of thinking. We should have to prove something is safe before we can start putting it into things such as children’s toys.

    • Indeed: we need to have the forwards point of view that a chemical is potentially guilty of harm until proven otherwise. That is the premise of the precautionary principle, which is the EU standard where they have, incidentally, cleaned up their breast milk supply.
      Interesting link– thanks for sharing it.

  189. What confuses me the most is why one of the richest countries in the world, with the most amount of skills, science and “progress” allows for such contamination to occur on a reoccuring basis.

    I am a mother of three. A breastfed all of my babies, and I am a major advocate for this, but now I am worried. What have I done to my children. Did the very reason I breast fed them end up hurting them? My youngest is battling an illness right now, they say it’s something chldren her age shouldn’t have. Did my choice to help her be healthy actually make her ill? I have a thyroid issue, however I wasn’t a breast fed baby. Do the medications I take daily affect my daughters illness?
    These questions are highly disturbing to me.

    What the heck is America here for, if not to protect us?

    • Danielle, I am sorry that you even have to ask these questions, but all evidence is that breastfeeding is absolutely the healthiest thing you can do for your babies. Of that you can be certain.
      I don’t know about medications, but I do know I wish you did not, as I said, have to pose such a question.
      How one of the richest countries in the world can have such a scandalous lack of protection for breastfed babies is a serious consideration and something to change, yes?

  190. This is all new to me, as I am not a mother and don’t have brothers or sisters that are a lot younger than I am. That, however, does not mean this does not apply to me. My mom swears by breastfeeding. She did it for me, she did it for my brother and if she had another child she would do it again. It came as no surprise that breastfeeding is the healthiest and safest way to nourish a baby, and when i have my own, I plan on doing just that if possible. It was really interesting reading about how the Eu has addressed the issue, though. I am appalled as well that there not only is there lack of protection from harmful chemicals, but also lack of information. I think that one of the main problems, most definitely, is that not many mothers know. What mothers don’t know CAN hurt them and their children.

    • What all of us do not know can hurt us and our children. Thanks for reminding us of this, Joce.
      It is important to spread the information here in every way that we can. Congratulations to your mother for making good choices for your health. We might hope that this choice becomes the norm in US society so that there is the pressure for healthy breastmilk felt by the EU nations.

  191. I loved the time I spent breastfeeding my daughter. It was such a special time for she and I to connect and a special bond that only we shared. I will always cherish those memories and keep them with me forever. I never thought twice about not breastfeeding and using formula or some other manufactured product, never crossed my mind. It was so natural and convenient to breastfeed and seemed the obvious choice to me at the time. I can appreciate though the level of concern about chemicals in both breast milk and infant formulas. It is distressing to think that more is not being done to protect those most vulnerable in our society from these harmful chemicals. We need to demand more protection for our children by working with local politicians and law makers to ensure more safeguards are in place to protect these innocent children.

    • It is great that you and your daughter shared this vital natural link. We do indeed need to support this opportunity for all women and certainly, toxin-free food for our infants, no matter how they are fed.

    • It’s nice to hear from a mother how natural of a choice it was to breastfeed your daughter. That’s encouraging to me, because I think that a lot of young women who aren’t moms and maybe weren’t breastfed as children think it might be a hard decision to make. When you think about it, though, why wouldn’t it be the easier, more natural choice? And furthermore, why wouldn’t it be the healthier, less risky choice? Thanks for sharing on your special personal experience.

      • Good points, Joce. I can’t imagine how much more work getting up in the middle of the night to fix formula might be than simply breastfeeding your child! Unless there is a physical problem that creates an inability for a mother to nurse (and these do exist– it is important to realize that not all mothers can make this choice)– another issue you indicate is women’s insecurity with their own bodies– exaggerated by the formula ads that insinuate their bodies might not do as good a job of nourishing their babies as the “scientifically” put together “modern” formula. There is also the fact that many hospitals send mothers home with a free formula sample complete with a flyer about how good this is for their baby (at least they did in the days I had my daughter).
        This is more insidious than a bit of advertising, since feeding that formula rather than breastfeeding one’s baby at first is liable to interfere with one’s breastmilk coming in.

  192. It is a shame that in America breast-feeding is not the norm. I would think that mother’s would want that connection with their child like every other species on the planet. I guess we just aren’t into free, healthy, sustainable and nurturing anymore. Then again, marketing for decades has made breast-feeding look like a poor, hippie choice and formula as a smart, wealthier choice. I find it sad that a mother’s instinct does not come in to the equation.
    I had visited some other websites and found that many species will adopt and feed the abandoned babies of another species and thought doesn’t this go against the belief of ‘survival of the fittest?’ Also, when reading these other websites and then reading about how indigenous mothers would trade-off and feed another mothers child, in a way it paralleled. That is, they are all surrogate mothers. It would be interesting to know if a human baby was ever abandoned in the wild and taken care of by another species. I would suspect that it has happened and vice verse.

    • There are actually many instance of human children raised in the wild– some “wild children” have never learned to speak or been socialized as human if they are found after a certain age.
      And there is always that myth about the founding of Rome (its founders were nursed by a wolf).
      Best wishes to your friend for your friends’ and her twins’ health during her pregnancy and delivery.

  193. Reading this is such great timing. I have a friend who is pregnant with twins right now, and sometimes mentions using formula! I forwarded the link to her, so she can see some good reasons for staying away from formula. Of course there are so many more good reasons, but these will be good for her to see today. It’s interesting that people couldn’t imagine other species not nursing their offspring, but it’s perfectly normal that humans should feed formula or cow’s milk.
    If only the United States would adopt something similar to the REACH program that Europe has. In so many ways that program offers protection to Europeans. There are many chemical products being produced here that are not allowed to be produced there, and they do not see an increase in problems those chemicals are suppsed to reduce.

    • Thanks for passing this on, Kendra. Of course, it is ultimately up to your friend what she chooses to do– it is great that you are supporting both her health and that of her children.
      And yes, it would be great if we had something comparable to the REACH program: the Safe Chemicals Act is something a few congressmen have tried to pass more than once. Check it out on the “your choices matter” page here (see right sidebar).

  194. Debora,
    I agree completely, our society has brainwashed women to think that formula feeding is just as good as breastfeeding, even better if the formula is enriched! So many families are under such financial pressure for the woman to get right back to work that they feel a need to resort to formula. Or, the pumping is just too inconvenient. It is so sad that our society has made it so difficult for women to be the mothers nature intended. And, now with the endocrine disruptors flooding our systems, even the natural form of nurturing babies could harm them. I hope that advertising will not somehow twist that into another reason to choose formula.

    • Unfortunately, it seems to be the ads that have caused the focus on formula– and its manufacturers will likely seize on any promotion idea they can find.

  195. There are so many wonderful benefits to breastfeeding for both the child and the mother that it is somewhat shocking that formula was ever invented. I remember my mother telling me stories of how formula was tainted with bacterias back in the 80s. The fact that there are still medical problems associated with it makes me wonder why the product is still being created and consumed.
    I never realized breast milk could also be tainted, and it is sickening. A breastfeeding mother is gazing down at her suckling infant not realizing she is seeping endocrine disruptors into her baby’s blood. I certainly didn’t know that I was doing that to my child. And, though I see that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your child, it could be better.
    Now, not only are we giving our babies potentially fatal toxins through our breast milk, but we are continuing the tradition as they age by introducing “healthy” foods that are tainted with neurotoxins.
    We should be advocating for the health of all our foods and especially for the “cleaning up” of our breast milk. With all issues, it seems that a little education would go a long way in encouraging change. When I was pregnant, my midwife told me about all of the great reasons that I should breastfeed. She had a class of about 15 women and if she would have told us about the environmental issues that effect breast milk, she could have increased our awareness. It would be great if this sort of education were introduced into the birthing classes!

    • Since the mother’s consumption of organic foods certainly decreases the toxins in her breastmilk, this would be very good information to pass on indeed, Rebecca.
      Such a touching image of gazing down at your baby during breastfeeding and the sadness involved in passing on even the smallest amount of toxins in this way.
      I absolutely agree with you about cleaning these toxins out of our environment.

    • Hi Rebecca,
      I completely agree about education having the potential to impact a lot of change. Just like with most things, I think that some people just lack the confidence to do something foreign, rather than lacking the ability to do it.
      It’s crazy that breastfeeding isn’t the norm in the US. I’d be interested in looking into the country-wide statistics of breastfeeding. It seems that when I was pregnant nursing was pushed so much that I actually felt sympathy for the mothers who couldn’t make that choice.

      • I always love to hear about the positive potentials in education, Latifa– and I think we all have the capacity to be teachers by modeling our lives to others.
        It is important to be compassionate for all the choices women make for the sake of the health of their children.

  196. While I am not yet a mother, I have long heard the benefits of breastfeeding over bottlefeeding (if possible). It is so unfortunate that a substance so life-living is contaminated with toxic chemicals due to our environment. Even if the mother were to eat an incredibly clean, organic diet and drank only purified water, the toxins in the air around us would still be present in the milk. This reminds me of a story of how, in my hometown, the municipality was spraying at night for mosquitos. No one seemed to know about this. i can only imagine how many nights my family had our windows wide open with all the pesticides flooding in, without our knowing. All the time we are subjected to toxic substances, most of which we have no control over. Sitting in my office at work, there is always something going on in the hallway: waxing the floors, painting the walls, and so on… surrounding everyone in toxic fumes. Since it happens every day it’s impossible for me to always get up and say “excuse me, I can’t sit here because of the smell.” I would never get work done! And some of my work I can’t take somewhere else with me. These are just signs of bigger problems within our society and tells me that it would be prudent of us to start following the precautionary principle a little bit more than what we do now. Passing on toxic chemicals to our children through breast milk because of toxic environments is NOT okay and should be a prominent reason in why cleaning up our act is so important.

    • You remind us of an important point, Jillian– that the toxins in our environment flow from a social context from which we cannot hide in order to become “pure”– as you point out, this is an “prominent reason” indeed why we need to clean up our act for the sake of ourselves, our children and other natural lives.

  197. That is fabulous that there are milk banks available for the mothers who could not breastfeed. I wish I would have known about that when my children were infants. Unfortunately I was unable to breastfeed after 2 weeks due to severe engorgement and mastitis, with both of my kids. It was a horrible, painful experience, and it should have been the opposite. Of course I blindly thought the formula was safe, but after reading this information I am wondering “oh my gosh, what have I fed my children?”
    Chemical industry and manufacturing have really gotten out of hand. I think it should be strictly regulated and the ingredients of formula should be stated clearly with descriptions of chemical compounds and side effects. But of course they will need a very large label to fit all that information on the can, at least the market for chemical laden formula will dwindle due to knowledge of the consumers. That was my biggest problem, not knowing. If I did, I definitely would not have fed that to my babies.

    • I had no idea about breast milk banks either until well after I was done breastfeeding, Melissa. I’m sorry that your plan to breastfeed did not work out. I can sympathize. I remember feeling so let down when my daughter was deemed a “lazy nurser” and I had to stop breastfeeding earlier than I wanted because she wasn’t gaining enough weight. Years later, and she’s still “lazy”, but healthy.
      It’s really too bad that we can’t “blindly” accept anything anymore given that it’s truly for the common good that we only manufacture/grow what we would feel good about ingesting in some form.

    • It is indeed great to have and support milk banks– unfortunately, the US refuses to support the WHO code in this respect, and is still one of the only developed nations to allow distribution of formulas in hospitals.
      we should urge any MD we come in contact with to be proactive in helping to create milk banks in their communities.
      Not incidentally, according to the WHO’s first stats on premature births, the US also fared badly with respect to other developed nations:
      Thanks for sharing your personal story: we need to support all mothers in their feeding healthy food to their babies.
      Don’t blame yourself. You can take heart with respect to a recent study in Washington State that indicates children fed an organic diet lose large amounts of the toxics in their bodies in a couple of months.

  198. I had no idea that breastfeeding wasn’t the norm in the US. I’ve lived in Oregon since having my child and every mother I know breastfed (one couldn’t because of health issues), so that is a little shocking. I don’t understand why a person would choose to formula-feed given all that we know about the benefits of breast milk- it being the natural, convenient choice for thousands of years. I do understand that the pressures of work and society do play into it, but there are so few things that we have such direct control over that it seems unwise to not take advantage of it. It reminds me of all the mothers who schedule c-sections out of convenience, and so that they do not have to endure what most of them consider an “archaic” vaginal birth.
    It is unfortunate that new contaminants are being discovered, but it’s no wonder given what we are ingesting and what we are putting into our environment. I am constantly baffled by how much more aware European worldviews are when compared to our governments.

    • You and your friends exhibit a positive trend toward breastfeeding, Latifa. I think perhaps it is our sense of the “pioneer” spirit that tells us that we lead the world in technological advancement– we think of ourselves as so modern that the formula manufacturers were able to convince many women that the “modern” woman should leave breastfeeding in the dust for more “advanced” options.
      But just as we have refused to sign onto the WHO code on breastfeeding, we lag behind most other developed countrie3s in terms of premature births (though we are good at keeping babies alive once they have arrived by artificial means) — something is seriously wrong with this kind of “advancement”.

    • I almost feel as if motherhood is translating into what society thinks motherhood should be. Like you said, the medical industry makes the birthing process more conveinet as if there is a medical need to have a c-section than to let the mother and baby go through their process. But, I also think that people don’t breastfeed because the conveince of formula out weigh what we have to do as mothers to process our milk and keep it drinkable. Having to pump several times a day, I think people find annoying. But, in my opinion, my baby’s health is the most important. However, I feel like the European world is far ahead of American because of their willingness to accept midwifery into their lives. Since the medical industry is so prominant here, the basic process of birth with a midwife is often considered non-conveient, sad to say! I am actually doing a research paper on Midwifery in the U.S right now becuase I want to know more about how from a feminist perspective, midwifery is more benefitical to a mother’s body and also more empowering to her.

      • And we can also ask, c-sections are convenient for whom? Surgery is not exactly a better alternative to natural childbirth for a mother except in medically necessary cases– and the escalating rate of c-sections in the US (as opposed to other developed nations) says something about the choices here.
        When your breasts are full of milk, pumping is not such a problem. All best wishes for you and your future child. It is great that you are thinking about keeping yourself and your future child healthy now.

        • C-sections seem to be more convenient for the doctors and their pocket books. A woman’s body is designed to go through child birth, and it should be honored to do so if there are no complications and what not.

        • I would concur with you on that one, Kayla.

  199. In reading this essay I was reminded of the essay about the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) attitude. As was stated in the essay, one of the reasons that we haven’t made a big effort to make sure that breast milk is free of harmful contaminants is because we think contamination is limited to certain spots where toxins are more prevalent. But if we had an attitude of being more unified with each other and the natural world, that wouldn’t matter: if it’s happening to somebody, it’s happening to us.
    I also think that a big part of the solution is understanding the importance of family and of the specific roles each member of the family plays. I thought the advertising of formula milk as more convenient was interesting, not only because, as pointed out in the essay, it’s really not more convenient at all, but because such advertising seems to suggest that the task of caring for a child is something of a nuisance and that a mother has more important things to do. Such thinking is detrimental to the mother, the child, and society at large. Family is the basis of society, and I don’t think there’s any greater work than that of parents raising their children.
    I feel like a lot of problems can be alleviated when authority and teaching are centered in the family. People then have a sense of belonging, a strong set of values, and an attitude of responsibility towards others, which leads not only to better, stronger individuals, but to a better, stronger world.

    • Good connection between the NIMBY attitude and breastmilk toxins, Samantha. but as more and more data comes out it is getting harder to hide from the realities of the damage to health done by toxins to our children– as in this overview of pesticides and childhood diseases: The American Academy of Pediatric Society just came out with a recommendation that all children be fed organic foods because of these dangers:
      It would be great if all families gave children a sense of belonging and responsibility– and if this were extended to the sense of the living world as our kin. In the case of environmental toxins, whole communities need to work to do something about this (families joining together?)

    • I agree Samantha, I think that the NIMBY type of attitude is certianly prevelant here. The abilit to bring the awareness of these toxins to the table as well as campaignning about this issue would be a great start to change. I really liked that you said, “But if we had an attitude of being more unified with each other and the natural world, that wouldn’t matter: if it’s happening to somebody, it’s happening to us.” It we all had and applied an ecofeminist view to how we live in this world, we would be far better off than we are now because we would be open-minded, care for our natural resources, believe that we are all interconnected through biodiversity, and that we must have the same mission to help one another and our land then we would live a healthier lifestyle as well free from most toxins.

      • Knowledge in clear public view is an antidote to the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude.
        Great point about our all being connected through biodiversity– which also says something about how honoring the diversity of natural life is essential to our own survival.

  200. As an extremely inquisitive person, I went to the link about perchlorate in tap water. According to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document, up to 16.6 million Americans are exposed to perchlorate at a level many scientists consider unsafe. Independent researchers, using state and federal data, put the number at 20 million to 40 million. The perchlorate induced thyroid damage in babies can result in irreversible losses such as a loss of IQ and an increase in behavioral and perception problems. The EPA has found that perchlorate has polluted the soil, groundwater and drinking water in 35 states and has contaminated 153 public water systems in 26 states.

    I also went to the link about the BCM7 found in cow’s milk. The theory is that the BCM7 found in some cow’s milk is detrimental to babies. The Russians found that 30% of the babies who drank formula had developmental delay, whereas only 3% of breast fed babies had developmental delays. I found it healing that breast milk enhanced psychomotor development, especially for children who don’t quickly break down the harmful BCM7 found in cow’s milk.

    I found the fact that mercury from coal burning in China can be found on the United States Pacific Coast hurtful. It was also hurtful that the air from the White Mountain area of New Hampshire contains chemicals that were produced decades ago in the U. S. and were used in Mexico. I remember when President Reagan played the trick on the American people by sending banned toxic products to other countries. It was so ironic that those banned toxic chemicals were used on products that were exported to the United States.

    I found it healing that the end of the essay provided ways to work to prevent future damage.

    • A good thing to be “an inquisitive person”– more of us should be following up and tracing out the paths and dangers of some of these chemicals– would make public opinion such that it would be unthinkable that the Toxics Chemicals Reform Act does not pass Congress by an overwhelming majority.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • That’s great that you’re curious enough to check these things out and learn more about them.
      I think all of the points you make come back to our need to realize that what we do has an effect on others, and ultimately has an effect on ourselves as well. Whether it’s the water that we drink, the food we feed our children, or the production we support in other countries, it has an effect on everyone.
      And like you, I thought it was great that the end of the essay had ideas on things people can do and options they can explore. Sometimes I think people might want to do something, but they’re not sure where to begin or they don’t think they can make any difference, so I appreciated that this essay gave some suggestions for those who are interested.

      • It is great to check these things out– not only out of personal curiosity, but out of a critical assessment of what you find on the internet in general. I would not expect you to take what I or anyone else says for granted just because it is online. This is good practice for developing a critical view of other online material.
        As to our actions having an effect on others- it seems to me that understanding that honors a larger sense of ourselves than that which hides from the consequences of our actions as if they don’t mean anything. In this sense, ethics and this larger sense of self are intertwined.
        Thanks for your response here.

    • Thanks for all the additional research. Did you notice if the EPA listed states included Oregon? I am new to the state and am just curious. I also like your word choice of “healing” there is so much healing to be done to reverse these terrible realities.

      • Indeed, healing depicts the essence of what we have to do to make a healthier and more caring society.
        I am sorry that I cannot answer your question. We will have to wait for Lenore to let us know what she discovered in regard to Oregon.

    • If you think about it, humans are the only animal that consume milk after we are an infant. We are also the only animal that consume the milk from other animals. I feel that some of these health hazards are because our consumption of milk is just plain unnatural.

      • I am not sure I agree with you the issue of milk– though there are many human populations that are lactose intolerant, there are many who have had milk herds of many kinds of animals for generations. And you might be interested to know that birds learned how to open milk bottle tops to get at and consume milk during World War II in Britain.
        Many other species are actually opportunistic milk drinkers–like my cat!

  201. This paticular essay is very eye-opening because I hope to a mother in four years. The amount of toxins found in baby formula is just surprising. I do not understand how companies can put such chemicals in a baby’s food! How obsered. I do not think people in this type of industries that try to max their profit margins really care about the future generations of our country. If they did, why would they put a chemical in baby formula that could potentally cause a disease or cancer? I think it is time that we make it a requirement to ban these type of actions and procedures. We should follow the Reach Program and how the E.U is implementing rules to oulaw harmful toxins in babys’ formula. The opportunity for the U.S to ban these types of products will have a positive affect on the American people, simple as that. Also, this would provide an opportunity for enviromental justice. Some women that cannot breastfeed, but cannot afford the expensive organic brands of formula will be severly affect by the capitalist ideal that profits are more important than the well-being of their consumers.

    • It is mind-boggling (and heart boggling?) that these companies obviously care so little about our future generations. I don’t know of a better instance in which to fight for environmental justice. I think you will like this story about breastfeeding mothers who ejected Nestle from maternity wards:

    • I agree completely with you, they as a political system appear not to care at all. Also, to keep in mind when you are pregnant and on your way to the hospital. My child was born at a lower birth weight, I had planned on breast feeding exclusively. When she was born the nurses took her away immediately and began feeding her formula. This was devastating to me, although my milk had not come in yet, I wish I had known that this was something that could happen. I could have at least brought organic formula, the do not provide any organic options at the hospital. I tell this story to any women who say that children are in their future, please ask questions and try to cover all bases. Formula can be a scary thing.

      • Thanks for sharing this important information with us. I am sorry that you were not even consulted about this essential choice regarding your new baby. The ways in which choices of hospital patients in general are disempowered is especially egregious given their vulnerability. One does not always know in advance when one will wind up in the hospital, but it is always good to have a plan for your choices and advocates ready to support you just in case.
        Your comment reminds us all of the importance of this.

  202. This was definitely one of the most informative essays that I have read in this class thus far, and I really enjoyed reading this as it brought up several interesting facts. It is absolutely amazing how much contamination goes on around the world, and how quickly the impact of the contamination can spread to several different regions. This goes back to the core principal of ecofeminism. It is absolutely essential for us to realize that these various bodies of water and natural habitats that we are contaminating are an integral part of our daily lives. For us to truly realize the impact of the damage we are having on nature, it is essential for us to realize the importance of it.

    • Understanding the interdependence of all natural systems is the first step in assessing the consequences of our actions– and being responsible for them. As you observe, we cannot contaminate any body of water without that reaching our daily lives as well. It is sad when this goes to embryos of unborn children who have no choice in–and no defense against– such contamination.

  203. This article is upsetting in so many ways. Being a new mother there are so many uncertainties, the one thing I knew for sure was that breastfeeding was the right option. I knew that tap water and other things I put in my body could effect my child. I specifically drank only filtered and purified water to avoid exposure as much as I could.

    How can our government not protect its people from such contamination? How has the US been so narrow minded and selfish to think that our waste can be placed on others and not come back to haunt us in other ways?

    Thank you for posting ways to get involved and help stop this horrible cycle of ignoring or pushing our problems onto someone else.

  204. This article really saddened me. I love America and when I see the European Union caring about their community and quickly reacting to new information on breast milk contamination while the US has 3rd world standards on chemicals brought into the country is embarrassing. The list of things we can do at the end of this article is fantastic, I will make a sincere effort to follow these guidelines and also inform my friends and family about these issues. If our citizens are armed with information, i am sure we can eventually beat out corporate pressure to not change our chemical and product laws. I am assuming that all of us want clean, safe, environmentally friendly products and companies. We need to pressure our government to work for us and make policies that reflect these values!

    • It is shameful that the US– as a country and community that is the home we love– shows such little leadership in protecting its populace as opposed to profiting corporate profits.
      I find your enthusiasm and willing to lend a hand in this issue heartening! We do indeed need to pressure our government to work for all the people (that after all, is the basis of democracy)– and as you rightly point out, spreading information is an essential first step in this.

  205. I cannot believe some of the US toy makers have two assembly lines one for the European market and the other assembly line for the US market. The EU takes much better care of their citizen’s then the US. While US companies outsource their pollution to China, today it’s making the full circle of death. I can’t believe the outcome of this planet it makes me sad. The earth can’t filter all these chemicals in the land, sea and air. Companies need to be responsible their actions though out the world, as they say it’s a global market.

  206. We, as a society, always try to find easier and “better” ways of doing things by scientifically engineering new products, in this case, milk for newborns and babies. I think it is an awful product to use if only for convenience only. Understandably, sometimes the mother is away and another source is needed or in other circumstances as well. I think it is saddening that we would not disclose and critically research GMO’s especially when they are being added into a child’s formula let alone our own food. An adult human has more functions of the body that can process chemicals and toxins than a child and the fact that questionably things have been added to formula is outrageous. Yet another thing I have store in my knowledge vault for when I have children, organic formula if any at all.

  207. I am not a mother, and honestly at this stage in my life I have no desire to have children. Ironically people I work with think I’m strange for not wanting children. I bet they would feel a little bit differently if they were to read this essay. It is unbelievably sad that our government is more concerned with profits, and the economy, than they are about the safety of the citizens of this country. The thing that I think many people need to remember is that these infants, that are essentially being poisoned to a degree, are the next generation of consumer. How is the economy going to be when there is no ‘next generation’? If we don’t start protecting the world for future generations, there will be nothing left to give them.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal stance and perspective here, Aryn. Becoming a parent is more than a biological choice (or accident) as it is too often treated. There is the responsibility you indicate in choosing to care for the next generation in providing them with the environment in which to thrive– whether or not we are an actual biological parent.

  208. I an glad that the european union took charge and eliminated the production of some of the chemicals that were contaminating breast milk. It is sad to think that the United States instead of outlawing these chemicals, overly promoted the used of formula and stigmatises women that breast feed. We try and find a simple solution but with the chemicals used to produce the formula we are causing more harm, with developmental delays. We really need to get our stuff together and thing about our future generations. What will happen to these children when breast milk itself becomes a hazardous and detrimental substance to them?
    The comment that really surprised me was, “some US toy makers currently have two assembly lines. In one they make goods for the European market using EU standards. In the other, anything goes-and they sell toys made that way within the U.S.” I cannot believe this, we are so blinded to the truth that we do not regulated our childrens toys as strict as other countries do! How is this possible?
    We do not care about our childrens health or future.

    • It would be great if we could assume global leadership in protecting our children’s health– but at the very least, we ought to be able to follow the example of those nations who have managed to clean up their breast milk supply.
      I take heart that there are those who care about our children’s future– if we help to spread the word about issues like this, that number ought to grow and grow!

    • The point about the two assembly lines really stuck with me also. It seems almost counter intuitive to have two assembly lines. Are they really saving enough money to make that a worth while practice? Obviously the answer is yes or they wouldn’t be doing it. However, in the long run it really is costing more. It is taking its toll on the health of the public. As sad as it is, these practices will either change or cease to be. The US can only go on allowing these chemicals into our homes, as long as there are homes to allow them into. It would be a wonderful thing to have a society that cherished nature as much as it cherished itself, but in the long run we will destroy ourselves in our quest to dominate everything. It is just a matter of time.

  209. I am mom who struggled while nursing my son. Born prematurely and coming home at 4 pounds 11 ounces, he did not have the coordination to nurse. He wasn’t gaining weight and eventually he went on formula. This was so hard for me. There was a certain stigma associated with formula. I was made to feel like I was less of mom because I was not giving him what was best. As a new parent I didn’t realize the amount of resources I could of looked into.

    • I feel the reason that you did not know all the resources available to you, is because there is a stigma associated with breast milk. I feel that our society sees breast milk as primitive and a step backwards. I also had no clue about these resources.

    • Thanks for sharing this– no mother should have to deal with this on top of nurturing a premature baby. We should be supporting all mothers in nurturing their children.
      I can only hope that more mothers do indeed have access to supporting resources.

  210. I am glad that measures are finally being taken to get rid of these chemicals. It is so sad to me that a child could have issues later in life dur to the choices parents make when their baby is young. I can only hope that when I am a mother one day I will be able to breast feed and if not, then have resources available to me that would not harm my child.
    I liked how this ended saying that we all breathe the same air and swim in the same water. Because what happens to one species will ultimately affect us and I just wish more people could see this. People on our planet are very ignorant and concerned with their own well beings. However, they do not realize that they are actually hurting their chance of a better more sustainable future.

    • Perhaps many people but not all are so deluded, Sara? There are those working for education and compassion for future generations–and those who have values like those you express here. You can help spread the word.

  211. I remember the anguish I felt when Nestle was promoting their formula over breast milk leading women in areas of the world to lose their milk and become dependent on food they could not afford for their babies.

    The topic of contaminated breast milk leaves me with the same feeling of anguish, more so because it is more insidious and not as easily changed as by a boycott. The irony of all the hard work of selection and evolution stymied by the unpredictable development where one of the mammals would start to create contaminants of a global scale that impacts the selected ability to gather and concentrate chemicals in a food source for the most vulnerable.

    It is good to remember that all mammals suffer from this–not just humans. I have often wondered about the orcas and all the toxins being washed into the slow-to-flush Puget Sound.

    • It was not only about formula poor women could not afford, but about mixing formula with contaminated water, thus dramatically escalating death from infant diarrhea. Certainly an example of how the profit-first motive sets up moral blinders.
      One lesson of contaminated breast milk is one that we obviously need to learn: what happens to the land happens to us. Thoughtful point about reversing evolution’s choices here– and reminder that all natural lives are in this together.

  212. I breastfed my daughter exclusively for the first 7 months of her life before introducing anything, even cereal, into her diet. The idea of contaminated breast milk is highly disturbing to me, especially since so many babies utilize it as their only source of nutrition for an extended period of time. The benefits of breastfeeding are huge from passing on natural immunities to forming bonds between women and children and everything in between. Women provide life to their children through their breast milk–to have this pure form of life contaminated by chemicals is enough reason to raise the flags of protest all over Washington.

    The far reaches of colonialism and patriarchy have influenced the ways that we are able to nourish our children. Our choices have encouraged this contamination. It makes me question what other species’ are contaminated through the same ways? Surely we are not the only ones that have incorporated chemicals and pollutants into our bodies, passing them from one generation to the next. We can see studies of how toxins are effecting our own children but what about those of other animals or even plants?

    This also makes me wonder, in the patriarchal society we live today, if it were the men who were responsible for breastfeeding, would they have created policies already to stop the pollution/contamination? Why does it seem like when it is a Women’s Issue, it goes ignored in public policy. But when its a mans issues (gun rights) everyone has a loud voice on the issue.

  213. The topic of breastfeeding vs formula brings more debate and emotion than I ever knew before becoming a mother. The push to breastfeed in the US now leaves one feeling terribly guilty if you are unable to be successful. And, yet, women from other cultures turn immediately to formula because they feel guilty in those first few days when the milk has not yet come in and the baby cries (or at least that is what a nurse in the birth center where I delivered explained to me). I had premature twins and pumped and pumped and pumped to supply them with enough milk while they were in the NICU. Eventually, I was able to breastfeed my daughter, but my son never caught on. As a result of all of the pumping and their small appetites, I had a surplus of milk in the deep freezer. Fortunately, I found a milk bank that collected it and sent it to African orphanages. I felt blessed to have been able to have made a difference for children I will never meet. When my singleton was born, I again produced more milk than he could ever consume, so I found another milk bank that provided milk to Haitian children after the devastation there left many orphaned and homeless. I know my milk and blood were screened before sending it off. Now, though, I am curious if any of the toxic chemicals as you mention above would have been screened for in those tests.
    I am also reminded of your information about the Guatemala breastfeeding campaign that was so successful until pressure from a large company (am I allowed to say Gerber?) encouraged the government to end the program. At some point, humanity needs to stop letting the dollar dictate our policies and actions. It seems the same with the arguments above, it is the money to be made that keeps those toxins in our stores, and on our lawns, and in our water, and now in our breastmilk. Do you see an immediate solution? Or, is this a little at a time problem-solving that we need to brace ourselves for?

    • Actually, it was Nestle that undertook a worldwide campaign to replace breastfeeding with formula.
      Sweden enacted a quick solution–but it took resolve on the part of government and citizens, so I think my response to your query is two fold. We need to do things in our own arenas to support the larger change (creating the resolve needed to change this as a society).
      In the years that I have been teaching, I have seen more and more activism on the part of community groups working to take toxins out of our environment. And if the government doesn’t respond, they are offering information that supports both personal health and our environment (and puts economic pressure on those manufacturing toxics). Once again, see our links page for just a few of the opportunities to be involved.
      And thanks for sharing the story of your generosity with your milk. What an important act your sharing was! As for passing on toxins, they are sadly everywhere in our world today– part of the reason that the World Health Organization is currently predicting a “tidal wave” of new cancer. Even so, breastmilk is still best for babies. What a great gift your milk was to the Haitian community that suffered so much!

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