COLUMBUS , Ohio Nursing mothers worried about passing harmful chemicals to their infants through breast milk should be aware that the air inside their home may pose a greater health risk.
Researchers from Ohio State and Johns Hopkins universities measured the levels of harmful gases called "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs) in human milk and in the air inside the homes of three lactating mothers in inner-city Baltimore.
A nursing infant's exposure to VOCs from indoor air was 25- to 135-fold higher than what that infant ingested through breast milk. In fact, levels found in milk were far below the U.S. EPA's maximum contaminant levels for drinking water.
"I was worried that we were going to see a much larger contribution from milk, so I am tremendously relieved by these findings," said Timothy Buckley, the study's senior author and an associate professor of public health at Ohio State.
Although the study is small and provides just a preliminary assessment of VOC levels in human milk, it is one of the first studies of its kind in the United States in which researchers are able to quantify levels of these compounds in human milk.
"We ought to focus our efforts on reducing indoor air sources of these compounds," said Sungroul Kim, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral fellow with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Both Buckley and Kim stress that despite human milk's vulnerability to chemical contamination, the health benefits of nursing far outweigh the risks, and that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for a growing infant.
The findings currently appear online at the website for the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Buckley and Kim conducted the study with Rolf Halden, an assistant professor of public health at Johns Hopkins.
The researchers analyzed eight milk samples from three lactating mothers living in inner-city Baltimore. From May throu
Contact: Timothy Buckley
Ohio State University