Microplastics found in breast milk of healthy mothers for the first time in new health fear for babies

  • Microplastics have been found in human breast milk for the first time ever 
  • After 34 healthy mothers gave samples, microplastics particles were detected
  • This has raised concerns of potential health effects for babies, say researchers 

Microplastics have been found in human breast milk for the first time – raising the spectre of potential health effects for babies.

After 34 healthy mothers provided milk samples following childbirth, microscopic plastic particles were detected in three-quarters of them.

The world produces 344million tons of plastic every year, and scientists have highlighted the risks created when it breaks down.

It has been found in the air we breathe, our seas and the earth.

But a new field of research has increasingly found plastic – a substance only invented in the 20th century – inside our bodies.

It has been discovered in babies in the womb, in the human brain – and now in breast milk.

Microplastics have been found in human breast milk for the first time – raising the spectre of potential health effects for babies

Despite this, scientists say breast milk is still the best way to feed a baby for most mothers – and using plastic bottles and formula milk may expose babies to even higher levels of plastic.

Health concerns over plastics include the chemicals used to soften them, known as phthalates, which can mimic the effects of sex hormones in humans.

For years, plastic particles were considered to be inert. But research increasingly shows harmful effects on human cells in the laboratory and in animals. In the latest experiment, 1 gram of milk was collected one week after the mothers gave birth.

To prevent contamination, the milk was collected using non-plastic containers, and it was expressed by hand, rather than using a breast pump.

The milk samples containing plastic each had between one and five microparticles. The researchers, writing in the journal Polymers, said their study showed now human exposure to microplastics was ‘inevitable’.

The particles came from PVC, polyethylene and polypropylene, all common plastics in materials ranging from plastic bottles and packaging, synthetic leather, floor tiles and furniture coverings. The discovery was made by an Italian team that identified microplastics in human placentas in 2020.

Dr Valentina Notarstefano, of the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Ancona, said: ‘The proof of microplastics’ presence in breast milk increases our great concern for the extremely vulnerable population of infants.

‘It will be crucial to assess ways to reduce exposure during pregnancy and lactation.

‘Studies like ours must not reduce breastfeeding, but pressure politicians to promote laws that reduce pollution.’

Previous studies have shown that babies fed on infant formula also absorb millions of microplastic particles each day. The researchers say their findings are likely to underestimate the amount of plastic in breast milk as their equipment could not analyse particles smaller than two microns – up to 40 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Professor Notarstefano advised pregnant women: ‘Pay greater attention to avoiding food and drink packaged in plastic, cosmetics and toothpastes containing microplastics, and clothes made of synthetic fabrics.’

Professor Dick Vethaak, of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, who found microplastics in human blood this year, added: ‘We see only the tip of the iceberg with microplastics. Smaller nano-sized plastics are likely more prevalent and toxic.’

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