Science and Tech


Breast milk contains chemicals from flame retardants, study says

In the U.S., health officials recommend that women breastfeed their newborn exclusively for the first six months.
A mother breastfeeding a child
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 25, 2023

A new study may raise concerns about breastfeeding for some parents.

In the U.S., health officials recommend that women breastfeed their newborn exclusively for the first six months. However, a study published in the academic journal Environmental Pollution says numerous types of toxic flame retardant chemicals were detected in breast milk samples from the 50 women who participated in the study. 

The chemicals, common in household items like appliances, televisions and insulation, have been linked to cancer, developmental issues and hormone disruption.  

Toxic-Free Future, a nonprofit organization that commissioned the study, has advocated for companies to stop using the harmful chemicals. It notes that some states, including Washington and New York, have taken action to ban some flame retardants. 

The federal governmenthas also worked to limit certain flame retardants. 

A mother holds her baby

How long a child is breastfed could affect their test scores later on

The longer a child is breastfed, the better their odds at performing well academically, according to new research.


Those actions appear to be working. Researchers say while the chemicals were present in the breast milk, they were at lower levels than in previous years when breast milk was tested. 

What should women do with this new information? A co-author of the study says breastfeeding is still the gold standard for most infants. 

"While we know that flame retardant chemicals may be harmful, it is important to remember that breast milk provides significant benefits to newborn and child health. Breast milk is still best for newborns," explained Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana.

Toxic-Free Future said people can limit their exposure to the chemicals by making sure their furniture or electronics are free of flame retardants. They can also look for a label that says "contains no added flame retardants."

A woman looks at her one-month-old baby

Breastfeeding mothers now have more protections at work

The PUMP Act, which was signed into law in December, gives breastfeeding mothers protections while pumping at work.