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Women's exposure to harmful chemicals may impact how long they breastfeed

Experts warn about the risks associated with exposure to PFAS

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Photo (c) Kiefer Pix - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the Endocrine Society explored how exposure to certain chemicals may impact how long women are able to breastfeed

According to their findings, exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may shorten the window for how long women can breastfeed. PFAS are used to make products that are water- or oil-resistant, and when women are around them often during pregnancy, it can impact their ability to breastfeed

“Our findings are important because almost every human on the planet is exposed to PFAS,” said researcher Clara Amalie Gade Timmermann, Ph.D. “These human-made chemicals accumulate in our bodies and have detrimental effects on our reproductive health. Early unwanted weaning has been traditionally attributed to psychological factors, which are without a doubt important, but hopefully our research will help shift the focus and highlight that not all mothers can breastfeed despite good intentions and support from family and health care professionals.” 

The risks of PFAS exposure

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,300 pregnant women enrolled in the Odense Child Cohort. During pregnancy, the women provided blood samples to assess levels of PFAS and prolactin. After giving birth, they provided weekly updates about their breastfeeding status. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that the women with the greatest exposure to PFAS were more likely to stop breastfeeding early. Women were 20% more likely to stop breastfeeding at any point when their PFAS levels were high. 

PFAS exposure is dangerous because the chemicals never fully disintegrate. They have a direct impact on the body’s endocrine system and have been found to significantly impact reproductive health. 

Moving forward, the researchers worry about how these findings will impact both women’s and infants’ long-term health. 

“Because breastfeeding is crucial to promote both child and maternal health, adverse PFAS effects on the ability to breastfeed may have long-term health consequences,” said Timmermann. 

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