Tuesday, April 22, 2008

BPA in baby bottles???What’s all the fuss about?

By Jennifer Taggart, a mom, children’s environmental health advocate, attorney and former environmental engineer.

Yes, it is true. The universal symbol on infancy – the plastic baby bottle – may harm your baby. First, I have to confess that I, a breast feeding mom made famous for producing way too much milk, find it more than ironic that an artificial feeding symbol designates infancy and is used to designate nursery rooms. But even breastfeeding moms use bottles at some point. And you may be wondering about the news stories concerning the hazards associated with bisphenol A (“BPA”).

BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic. It is the basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic. Think of it this way. Polycarbonate plastic is a really long train, and BPA are the individual cars that make up that train. Polycarbonate plastic is widely used for plastic baby bottles.

BPA can leach out of the polycarbonate plastic and into whatever liquid is in the bottle. The conditions that lead to leaching of BPA are not fully understood. Heat increases the amount of leaching, by as much as 55 times for boiling water as compared to room temperature water, but leaching occurs at room temperature too. But what this means is that BPA can leach from a polycarbonate plastic baby bottle into the breast milk or formula contained in the bottle, and when your baby drinks the breast milk or formula, BPA enters her body through her digestive track.

Are babies really exposed to BPA? Yes. Studies have confirmed that babies are exposed to BPA. And even more troubling is that infants are not equipped to process BPA as adults are. Newborns lack or express at low levels the liver enzyme needed to deactivate BPA. The necessary liver enzyme is not expressed until after birth, with the full complement at 3 months, but at about 25% of the adult level.

Why do we care about exposure to BPA? BPA mimics the hormone estrogen and disrupts the body’s endocrine system. Estrogen is an important chemical messenger. Disrupt the messenger, and the systems may be affected. Based upon animal studies, BPA exposure is linked to early onset of puberty, increased diabetes risk, hyperactivity, and certain cancers, including breast cancer. BPA exposure can impair brain function, leading to learning disabilities and age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

That BPA mimics estrogen is not some startling new revelation. BPA, along with diethylstilbestrol (“DES”) and other chemicals, was investigated for use as synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. BPA wasn't used, but DES was. DES was considered safe, but we were wrong about the safety of DES. It was only after DES was given to millions of women that it was found that DES causes reproductive defects and increased the risk for rare cancers in the daughters of the women who had taken DES during their pregnancies.

BPA’s safety is being hotly debated right now. The plastics industry maintains that BPA use in food contact items is safe. A report from the National Toxicology Program is scheduled for this summer and will reconcile the somewhat contradictory conclusions of two scientific panels. Health Canada announced this week that it was designated BPA a dangerous substance. In the interim, many children’s health experts are urging pregnant women and babies reduce or eliminate their exposure to BPA.

So, what can a parent do if the experts can’t decide? I determined that I don’t need certainty to act. And with so many alternatives to the polycarbonate plastic baby bottle now on the market, it seems only smart to choose a baby bottle not made from polycarbonate plastic.

Smart Mama’s Simple Steps to Reduce Exposure

Skip polycarbonate plastic. If you can, skip the polycarbonate plastic baby bottles. A number of baby bottles on the market are BPA-free, and more are becoming available.

  • All Medela products that come into contact with breast milk are BPA free. Medela's bottles are made from polypropylene plastic.
  • BornFree makes glass and polyamide plastic bottles.
  • Think Baby has a 5 oz and 9 oz BPA free baby bottle with a silicone nipple. The company's patented venting system is advertised to reduce gas and spit up.
  • Green to Grow has wide and regular neck baby bottles in 5 and 10 ounce sizes. The bottles are made of polyethersulfone.
  • MAM's Ultivent and the Sassy Baby Food Nurser Kit are BPA free.
  • Adiri's Natural Nurser Ultimate Baby Bottle is BPA free.
  • EvenFlo has a glass baby bottle.
  • Gerber’s Clear View, Fashion Tints and GentleFlow are not made with polycarbonate plastic and are BPA-free.
  • Playtex’s Premium Nurser is made of polycarbonate, but the breast milk or formula only touches the polyethylene liner, not the bottle itself. The Breast Milk Storage Kit contains polypropylene bottles.

Recycle/replace scratched or worn bottles. If you can’t get your baby to switch from his current bottle, make sure you replace any scratched or worn bottles. BPA leaching may be increased with worn or scratched bottles.

Don’t heat. Never add boiling water to polycarbonate baby bottles. Adding boiling water to polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and letting it cool will increase the leaching. As discussed above, adding boiling water increases the rate of BPA leaching by 55 times over room temperature water. Keep in mind, however, that polycarbonate plastic will leach BPA at room temperature.

Jennifer Taggart is an attorney specializing in environmental litigation and compliance. Her practice includes advising clients on complying with consumer product labeling and consumer right-to-know laws. Prior to becoming an attorney, Jennifer was a compliance environmental engineer. She has two small children. Her website is http://www.thesmartmama.com/.