Press Release June 9, 2004 

Breastfeeding is safe for normal growth and development; not breastfeeding because of environmental pollutants will cause needless harm to infants



Health Canada’s recent report of flame-retardants appearing in human milk and that Canadian women have one of the highest reported levels globally is of serious concern. Such a report may lead breastfeeding women to doubt the value of their breastmilk and to think that they are causing harm to their infants. Breastfeeding women should feel assured that they are providing safe, effective nutrition and immunology for their infants. Sensational messages about contaminants in breastmilk undermine the value of breastfeeding and unjustifiably put the burden of exposure on the backs of Canada’s breastfeeding women.


Breastfeeding women are doing the best for their infants in the face of a contaminated environment. In fact the highly protective immunological constituents of breastmilk are known to mitigate the effects of the contaminants that a mother and her infant are exposed to. Breastmilk’s protective elements are not present in substitutes such as infant formulas. Hence a mother’s continuation of breastfeeding is critical to offset the potential hazardous effects of pollutants.


In addition, it should be noted that the greater impact of contaminants is made prenatally. It is during the vital stages of fetal development that these chemicals are the most damaging. At birth, breastfeeding is the best protection an infant has for normal growth and development. The use of infant formulas has been associated with a host of injurious health effects, ranging from higher rates of diabetes and cardiac disease risks, lower IQs and more obesity in later years to increased death during the first year of life. Breastfeeding is the normal way to safeguard infant health and needless to say is non-polluting. 


The report also raises the important question of why Canada has not acted to remove and reduce these toxins in the environments of our families. Despite the numerous, documented adverse health effects of neurological and thyroid damage, these contaminants continue to be used in consumer and household products.  Clearly, both regulators and manufacturers need to be held accountable. Action is needed and is needed urgently. It is crucial for everyone’s health that chemical residues be reduced.


For more information:                                                   

Elisabeth Sterken, MSc, Dt                                                                      

National Director                                                                         

Tel: 416 595-9819                                                                                                                   


Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

Breastfeeding Clinics Toronto

Tel: 416 813 5757


Background Document:

Towards Healthy Environments for Children: Frequently asked questions about breastfeeding in a contaminated environment


Written by Penny van Esterik (York University, Toronto)


Joint Statement of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), La Leche League International (LLLI), National Network on Environments and Women's Health Canada, Chemical Reaction Belgium, and Initiativ Liewensutank Luxembourg.