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Ep. 159- Microplastics in Breastmilk

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  1. Plastic Debris in the Marine Environment: History and Future Challenges – PMC (
  2. Raman Microspectroscopy Detection and Characterisation of Microplastics in Human Breastmilk – PMC (
  3. Microplastics found in human breast milk for the first time | Plastics | The Guardian
  4. Plastic production worldwide 2021 | Statista
  5. Microplastics in infant milk powder – PubMed (

Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Milk Minute. I’m watching The Last of Us. Who isn’t? But I’m a little nervous that you’re about to talk about microplastics today and tell me that I’m about to turn into like a mushroom zombie.

I hope that’s not where this episode ends. We are gonna talk about microplastics. I’m actually not watching the last of us because I prefer to wait until there’s several seasons of a show before I start it, because then I get really invested and I get to the last episode and I’m very sad. So I try and wait till it’s like a binge worthy weekend.

Yeah, I hear that. I, I’m just not in a place where I can binge anymore. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. You know, when we have time we’ll watch one and it, it’s pretty good. It’s a little scary though. Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely, I like the actors in it, so I’m excited to watch it sometime. Yeah. But yeah, I have to con over consume media.

I can’t just consume it as a reasonable piece. I mean, I have been saying for years like the scariest thing to me in healthcare is fungus. Like I’ve just seen so many people get fungus in their lungs and it’s like, well it lives there now. Yeah, you can’t get it out. Sorry. You know, people who like have chronic sinus infections and then they go to have sinus surgery and it’s just, fricking full of fungus and they have to get a shave.

And mushrooms might save all of healthcare too. So fun times. Yes. We have to pick and choose our fungus. Well I’m, I’m hoping we don’t end up with zombie mushroom people at the end of the episode, but. I know there’s a lot of fear around the topic of microplastics in breast milk. Do you remember when all those articles came out?

It was like October-ish last year. Yes. And suddenly it was like the Internet’s biggest click, click mayhem. Yeah. Yes. We got so many messages from clients and, and listeners about it just being like, should I switch to formula? Am I hurting my baby? You know what do I do about this? Is it my fault? So I’m, I’m gonna try, should I be pumping into glass only?

Yeah. I’m gonna try to address. That as much as I can today. Yeah. It’s been on the list since that article came out. Yeah, and every time Maureen would be like, I’m doing it. This is the week I’m doing it. She’s like, I can’t do it. I get it. Well, so for a while I did try to get an expert to come on with us. I was like, I need to find someone who’s an expert in like pfas or PCBs.

You know, there’s just a lot of different kinds of plastic nonsense. And I have a lot of connections to like environmental sciences, you know, in my life. So I was, I was kind of trying to work those and I was like, oh yeah, let me call, you know, this person who I used to work with on the Sludge Safety project and see if they knew anybody or like let me talk to someone at Downstream Strategies and just like trying to figure it out.

And I found a couple people and emailed a couple people and I called somebody and it either wasn’t a good fit. Like they were like, yeah, I am an expert in that, but just like have nothing applicable to say. Or they were like, I don’t have time. I don’t wanna come on the podcast. It’s just like it never happened.

So I kept putting, wait, this is about feeding babies. Click. Yeah. Like it just never happened yet. This is like too niche and scary. Yeah. Yeah. Well I’m excited to learn more, I think. And Before we get into that, let’s thank a patron. Yeah. Who is Anna. So we’d like to thank Anna from Maine for supporting our podcast through Patreon, enjoying all of our behind the scenes content and you know, just in general supporting the show.

Yeah, absolutely. Let’s take a quick break and then when we come back, we’ll answer a question and then dig into the microplastics In breast milk.

Imagine a world where you seek lactation care and it’s easy and someone greets you at the door and they’re nice to you and they give you a hot cup of tea and let you sit on the couch and talk about all the issues, not just the breastfeeding issues. What a cozy fantasy is there anywhere that’s real? Oh, it’s real girl.

It’s real, and I’ve been building it for quite a long time. My business is called breastfeeding for busy moms, and me and every member of my team are trained in our three major tenants, which is accessibility, kindness. In personalization. If you wanna book a consult with Heather or anyone else on her team, you should head over to breastfeeding for busy

We do accept some limited insurance and we’d be happy to walk you through it if you wanna give us a call. And that number’s on Google. So go sit on the cozy couch with Heather at breastfeeding for busy moms. Love you guys.

Okay. Today’s question comes from our Facebook group, and it’s from Felicia. And Felicia says, my exclusively breastfed baby, almost four months old, suddenly refuses her pacifier. Any tips or tricks to get her to use it when she’s upset but not hungry? It seems lately, like nothing will calm her down except for the boob.

L o l. Is that like one of those LOLs where you’re like, ha, ha, lol, I’m dying? Yeah. Sounds like a nervous one. I’m nervous. Oh God. I. Have no idea what to say to that. Look inside her mouth. Make sure she doesn’t have any sores sometimes. The hard plastic. Yeah. Speaking of plastics can rub a specific area on the roof of their mouth and cause a little bit of a canker sore.

Mm-hmm. So it could be that. And then also a lot of times we are only giving them the pacifier when they’re upset. Hmm. So try giving it to her after breastfeeding when she’s happy and she’ll be much more likely to want it when she’s upset. So it’s like, You don’t wanna teach your kid, for example, how to deep breathe through things when they’re already crying.

You wanna teach them how to do that when they’re in their happy moments. So it’s available to them to use when they’re upset. So good luck. Don’t know. They also just might end up being a thumb sucker. I’m still working on that with Heidi. Okay. Good luck with that my dear. So today, I am gonna try to demystify this like boogeyman for us.

Hopefully make you feel a little bit better. Hopefully not make you feel too much worse about it. And, and I’ll admit that this is kind of a scary topic for everybody because there’s a lot of unknowns. I am gonna do my best on this topic. I am not an expert in plastics, microplastics any of that.

But we’ll see how far we get this. At least you’re willing to talk about it. Exactly. So to start, it was June of 2022 that a study was first published that detected microplastics in human milk. Is it the first time we looked for it? I have no idea, but definitely the first published study that I found.

Okay. Should we explain what a microplastic is first? Sure. Microplastics is what happens when plastic breaks down into microscopic pieces. Super tiny, tiny enough to be free floating in your bloodstream. Ew. Yay. I will talk about more context about that later. Okay. Now this study. Was very small. It enrolled 34 people.

And frankly, they are not the first breastfeeding parents to ingest microplastics. Right. We are all exposed to them all the time. And they have been a growing problem for at least the last 50 years, and frankly, one that has grown exponentially, like very fast and kind of scary. It was in the 19.

Seventies that we first began to see microplastics in the ocean. You know, now we talk about like trash islands and crazy stuff like that. But this is the kind of thing when you see news articles about like plastics in the stomachs of fish and like limiting seafood because there’s so much microplastics in them.

Like, this is the same problem. This is not an isolated problem. The trash islands the size of Texas are breaking down and then getting into the seafood, and then we eat the seafood and the plastic just passes from one organism to another. Yes. Plastic is really. Frankly, like kind of an evil thing that we created, like I know it has some wonderful uses, but to give you an idea of the scale of this problem, in the early 1970s, global plastic production was about 50 million metric tons per year.

Now in 2021, it was 390.7 million metric tons per year. So that’s only like a 340 million metric ton difference. Yeah, it’s, it’s pretty big. And that’s every, it’s not like overall that’s how much was made. It’s now what’s being made every single year. And it’s growing and growing and growing. Oh my God. And these microplastics in the ocean and in the soil and everything are essentially trickling up the food chain to us.

Mm-hmm. And we, all of us, are exposed to plastics at a nearly constant rate day and night. It’s not your fault, okay. It’s unavoidable at this point. Right now, Heather and I are being exposed to plastics. We’re touching plastic. We’re wearing, she snaps her bra onto the microphone. Yeah. I’m wearing a synthetic bra, right?

It’s plastic. And microplastics have been found in just about every part of the human body. Right. And they’ve even been found in like the most remote water sources at the highest top of Mount Everest. Bottom of the Marianna Trench. Everywhere. It means it’s rain and plastic. We, we’ve fucked up. Okay.

Everywhere. And, and they’re in your blood. They’re in your lungs. We found them in placenta in 2020. Yeah. Ooh. Not great. So I, I give you that context, not trying to scare you more, even though that’s all scary stuff, but also to tell you like, this isn’t your fault. It’s not like you were like, oh no, there’s plastic in my milk cuz I eat bread out of a plastic bag.

No, there’s plastic in your breast milk because you are bombarded by it. Yeah. And you have been for your entire life. Even if you grow your own garden, it’s raining plastic onto your garden. Yeah. So this particular very small study measured microplastic presence in milk samples. In 26 out of the 34 participants, so about 76% now.

It doesn’t mean there weren’t any microplastics in the other ones, but they were too small for the filters. You know, they can only filter so small, probably there. I’m sure those other people have had microplastics in their milk at some point, or they have smaller particles, but it’s not as large of a presence.

It wasn’t detectable. The scientists also recorded information about like food consumption to see if things like food packaging or seafood made a significant difference. And they tracked things like plastic containing personal hygiene products like makeup, you know, and clothing. They found absolutely zero correlations between any of that and the plastic presence in milk.

Which means that exposure, it’s not your fault, exposure’s inevitable. Yeah. Now this is a super small study, right? Super small sample size is very small, but it suggests that exposure to microplastics is inevitable. To be clear, this was interesting. I like deep dove and read the holding study, which I don’t always do, but I did this time cuz it’s just one study I had to look at.

They only used hand expression for sample collection. Hmm. Smart. They only used glass storage containers and they eliminated all plastic from the lab. They used cotton clothing, they used nitro gloves. They used any like stirring things or whatever that is usually plastic. They’re placed with glass, like totally plastic-free protocol.

Cause they didn’t wanna contaminate them at all. Mm-hmm. Cool. Really cool. Actually fun to read about, but results showed things like polyethylene, polyvinyl, polyester, all the poly crap that we use every day was in breast milk. Right now it’s hard to know how much to worry about this. On one end, we’re like, oh no.

Plastics have harmful chemicals in them and cause things like cancer, and that’s really scary. On the other end, it’s like the dose makes the toxin right. Is it enough to harm us? So, and what’s the alternative? Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a really hard one to answer. I wish I could sit here and tell you like, yes, worry this amount, or like, don’t worry at all.

I can’t. But I’m gonna give you, I think, relevant information and, and we’ll see where we get at the end. Infants are especially vulnerable to chemical contaminants. Right. And at the end of the study, the scientists who authored it basically said, we really need more research on that. Like we need to know more about how the toxic effects of microplastics in, you know, human cell lines, et cetera, like will impact living humans now.

How, how do they impact us? You know, is it something like the, the phalates are gonna harm babies under three months, but not over three months? Like we, we don’t know. And so that’s the information that we need from future studies on this topic. Well, yeah, I mean that, and it doesn’t sound like a hard one to do.

Like a lot of the studies that we talk about where it’s like, oh, I wish we could do this, but it’d be so hard to eliminate variables. This sounds like pretty straightforward. Yeah. And the hard thing about this though, is it’s like it’s gonna take a lot of time Yeah. To collect this data because it’s like, okay, if like babies in the NICU are exposed to like plastic feeding tubes, like are they gonna get cancer when they’re 60?

We have to wait 60 years to find out. You know, like that sucks. Maybe. It’s really difficult to gather that information, but also we have so many other like carcinogens in our lives that we can’t be like, well, that was the one exposure you ever had. Well, yeah, I guess you’re right. Like so what I’m thinking is the initial, like, does it or doesn’t it exist?

Yeah. Like is the 76% of microplastics in the breast milk with participants? Mm-hmm. Would that. Translate, we repeat that. Can we repeat it? And would it translate to a larger sample size? Yeah. Of like a thousand. That’s, that should be easy enough to replicate that. Yeah, Absolut, absolutely. And so if it’s like actually a surprise, it’s 90%.

Mm-hmm. Then it’s like, okay, well now we have a really good leg to stand on for pushing this forward. So now let’s just focus on a specific group of babies and you know, we could go so many places with this. Yeah. And frankly, I would venture to guess that it is a hundred percent that. Every single human has microplastics in their body, and it’s just like, whether or not it was in your bloodstream to pass into your milk at the time of collection varies.

Mm-hmm. You know, because the amount that’s gonna be in your body at any given time might vary. That’d be good to know. Yeah. I think it would be. I think you wanna know, think. Yeah. I, I do. I think more knowledge is better. I think at this point if your like more knowledge is not better and screw you guys for this episode, you don’t have to listen to the rest.

Yeah. Full permission. But I think the rest is gonna be more reassuring than what we’ve talked about so far. And also it really is okay to pick and choose what stuff you’re gonna be exposed to. Yeah. And, and what stuff you’re gonna worry about. Like, I’m still gonna go out in the rain, you know? But I’m probably gonna skip the microwave popcorn bags.

Yeah. Because I don’t like the plastic on the inside of that heating up with butter, liquefying. It just like that. To me, in my brain, that’s my limit. I don’t want to eat grandma’s cookies that came out of the Tupperware from 1970 because you know, that has like all the BPA and all the stuff in it, you know?

And I understand that if the BPA is gone, they replace it with other maybe possibly worse things. Yeah. But that’s my thing, you know, that’s what makes me feel good about it. I don’t do that. Well, you know, I wanna talk more about that, but I wanna take a quick little break and then come right back to it.

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Hello. Welcome back, everybody. Let’s jump right back in. I, I wanna start this next segment of the episode by saying, don’t jump to changing the things you feed your infant because of this. She means formula. Yes. Don’t just say, oh my God, breast milk’s toxic. Now I need to use formula. Guess what’s in formula?

So plastic, the scientist that authored this study, stressed that breastfeeding remained by far the best way to feed your baby. Because as it turns out, infant formula has also recently been found to contain microplastics. Amounts vary due to the packaging. Of course, some of it’s literally sold in plastic, so it’s gonna have more plastics versus like the tins that are like foil lined, right?

Another study found microplastics in cow’s milk. Guess what? We used to make formulas? Cow, cow’s milk, cow’s milk. However, The studies where scientists were looking at how much microplastics were in infant formula. At least in one of those, the scientists claim that exposure from plastic feeding bottles is seven times higher than what infants ingest from the formula alone.

Wait, say that again. Okay. In one of the bigger studies about microplastics in formula, the scientists say, That exposure that comes directly from the bottles that we’re using to feed our babies is seven times higher amount of microplastics than what’s in the formula alone. So the ready to feed bottles.

Would give you a higher or, or just like your bottles you’re using at home that you’re putting milk into. Oh yeah, yeah. And in fact, there’s been a growing concern over the past couple years of exposure of microplastics to infants from plastic feeding supplies like bottles, breast pump parts, little plastic spoons and bowls for your six month old and all of that, especially parts that are frequently washed and sterilized.

Cause every time you do that, they shed more microplastics. I did kinda always wonder, why can’t we make flanges that are glass? I have, well probably cuz they’d break. Can you imagine it breaking if you’re using it? Terrifying. But yes. I’ve actually wondered this. Why couldn’t we have stainless steel ones?

Yeah. That we can sterilize and pass along. Yeah. And recycle. Yeah. So my takeaway from all of this is that humans suck and we made some really big mistakes as a species, and now us and our children and our grandchildren are going to be stuck living with the consequences. And at this point, exposure to microplastics is inevitable and it’s not going to get better anytime soon.

I don’t see a bill on the horizon reducing plastic manufacturing and improving recycling and all of that. It’s just not happening fast enough. However, we can remember that the benefits of breastfeeding are going to be much greater than the disadvantages caused by microplastics. That’s what scientists say now.

At this point, microplastics in our bodies, while we can detect them, they’re still really small. Yeah. And you know, whether you formula feed or breastfeed, it’s not really making that much of a difference. But we can take the information we have to help us reduce exposure for ourselves and our babies.

Mm-hmm. We can be mindful of plastic feeding containers. Bottles, utensils. We can be mindful of putting babies down on like a synthetic carpet where they’re inhaling, you know, plastic particles or lots of plastic toys or cosmetics for us, or clothing, you know, and, and it, the thing is, it’s everything, right?

Yeah. So there’s no way you’re gonna avoid exposure whole scale. If this is something that concerns you though, you can look and say, Hey. You know what, maybe this is a thing that we can do this one thing. Like I chose glass bottles, right? Yeah. I’m gonna do that too, because Yeah. First of all, they can go in the dishwasher.

It’s so nice. Which is so much easier. Yeah. And, and I really liked them. I felt like they stood up much better to washing and sterilizing and all of that than plastic ones ever had. But what about silicone? You know, it doesn’t have microplastics, but I, I’m gonna say I bet in a couple years we’re gonna learn some fun things about that too.

Yeah. But probably there’s silicone and formula also. Yeah, exactly. I, I think I. If we’re looking at a scale of like, you know, good and better, I don’t know it, you’re not gonna get microplastics from it. So at least there’s that. Theoretically it’s gonna be a more sustainable, healthier thing. I don’t know if we have like the long term enough information about that for infants to really know.

I felt okay with like my silicone hawk and, you know, and I use plastic breast pump parts. Mm-hmm. Right. My thing was like, Hey, I’m gonna reduce exposure as much as I can. Yeah, so I’m gonna use metal or glass bottles whenever I can. I often pumped into metal bottles. And this is also why I love the series Chiller.

Yeah. For milk storage. The Walmart brand Parents’ Choice sells stainless steel and glass bottles. Nice. Yeah, I didn’t know that. And they’re the narrow neck, so they fit into most. Narrow neck pumps, right? Mm-hmm. So that’s what I used and that in my mind I was like, Hey, you know what? We have plastic toys and we, the kids have a lot of synthetic clothing and there’s no, I can’t replace every single one of those things, but that’s like one thing that I know my baby is ingesting food from that I can change.

Hmm. You know, and I try not to keep our food in plastic containers when I can avoid it. I have a lot of like glass Pyrex stuff, you know, whatever. I try to use foil like, You know, I, I look at my life and I’m like, what’s doable? Yeah. Because we know reducing exposure to that is gonna be good for us, but we don’t have hard numbers on how much.

So I think that you can let go of any like really high expectations there. You can be like, I’m gonna do my best to make things better, but like there’s no best, we don’t have that goal. Yeah. Unless you wanna move off this planet. Right. In which case you’re gonna be exposed to some other random shit. Yeah.

That’s on that planet. Exactly. I mean, and this isn’t just to like hate on Americans either. This is the whole world. This is not an American problem. This is a world Yeah. Problem. And I’m with Maureen on this one, like, and I’m mostly gonna make changes that affect my time directly. So like mm-hmm. I don’t wear that much makeup anymore.

Right. Number one, it saves me time. Number two, I don’t have to worry about what’s on my face. Yeah. And I, doesn’t mean I never wear it, but on my day-to-day routine, I’m like, You know what? This is my face. Yeah, absolutely. And it’s like, it’s, it’s small things. Like I’m not using synthetic pads and tampons anymore.

I’m not putting plastic up in my body. Mm-hmm. Right. I’m gonna use silicone and hope that’s better. Yeah. You know, I’m gonna free bleed onto some straw, but, you know, and like I you know, when possible I use wooing cotton for the kids, but also if my mother-in-law buys us a bunch of clothes, I’m not gonna be like, no, we can’t wear any of this.

Exactly. I’m like, cool. Thanks. We’ll keep most of it. Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. I think just doing your best as far as like cooking food prep. Yeah. And milk storage and bottles and, I mean, this is the one time I’m kind of thankful Heidi sucks her thumb instead of a plastic binky. Yeah, for sure. You know, I’m like, all right, well your teeth are all jacked up, but it, you know, we’ve reduced your microplastics, so there you go.

Yeah. Anyway, more research to be done. Again, call out to any PhDs out there or PhD students that would like to do a project. Please pick this. Yeah, I would especially like to see how this affects premature babies. Oh yeah. Because NICU infants are exposed to a lot of plastic. So much plastic. And I would really.

Like to see that research because it’s also such a controlled environment that we could implement changes. Mm-hmm. Fairly easily. Mm-hmm. You know, if they’re like, actually here’s all new feeding tubes. Great. You have to replace those anyway. Like actually here’s all new, you know, we’re updating our incubators, we’re updating, you know, that stuff gets updated all the time anyway.

So I would love to see if changes need to be made in reducing microplastic exposure for preemies. Like I bet we could do that. You know, I bet we could too. And you know, milk banks might need that information. Mm-hmm. For how we store milk and how we process milk, right? Mm-hmm. So I think there’s a lot of really applicable ways to use research like that.

Yeah. And, and to make it better because glass used to have lead in it. Yeah. And now it doesn’t. Thank God it doesn’t, you know, so like, maybe there is a way down the road that we could figure out how to make plastic without ruining the environment and polluting the inside of our bodies. Yes. And we have growing research on ways that we can actually break plastic down.

Like there are mushrooms Oh. That are like breaking plastic down now. I mean, we have, which brings us full circle to the last of us. We’re all going, gonna bring it in. We’re going down. That’s it. Going down, down. God, I can’t get that mushroom head person out of my head. I guess we’ll find out. We’re skipping a break today.

We’re not thanking anyone but ourselves. And we are gonna read an email from a listener. Absolutely. Do you wanna read this one, Heather? I do. Okay. So this email. Is from Anna B and Anna says, hi, Maureen and Heather just wanted to drop a quick note to thank you for everything you do. You’re welcome. A friend’s flight got delayed 12 hours coming home from vacation a week ago, which triggered a full nursing strike in her 10 month old.

I sent her for the episode on nursing strikes and baby was back on the breasts the next morning. Thanks for creating such an amazing resource. Yay. Yay. Hey, you’re welcome. And I’m so glad that you popped that up in your brain and you knew that because we have so many episodes at this point that please share these with your friends, folks.

Yeah, we love that. Even if they don’t, like, they’re not gonna be habitual listeners if there’s one that can help them. We want to. And also the best way to find those is to just Google Milk Minute Podcast plus sign, right. And then fill in the blank with any topic you can think of and something should come up at the point it usually pops right up.

Yeah. Well, I’m gonna read a new review from Apple Podcast. We love them, we read them all. Please leave them, and don’t forget to join our Patreon and subscribe to our new podcast Beyond the Boob, where Maureen teaches me all about my prenatal time, week by week. Okay. This review is from Jolene. It is titled Love This Podcast.

Oh my gosh. The best breastfeeding podcast. They’re funny, very intelligent and informative. I’m a total nerd and love how they go into the science e part of things, how and why things work a certain way. Love, love, love this podcast. As a breastfeeding mama and lactation professional, I. Yay. Hey, thank you.

That is so very sweet of you. I hope you liked this one. Me too. Alright, everyone go cry in a corner. No, I’m kidding. Don’t do that. And you know, I think hope and fear can live simultaneously in our minds. So I’m gonna, I’m gonna like really see that for everybody out there too. And also say what you will about Gen Z.

I really love them and they have been raised. By, you know, sometimes millennials to really be more conscious about making decisions with the future in mind, whereas the boomer generation did not as much. And not saying that there are no boom boomers out there that are environmentalists, cuz there absolutely are.

But in general, overall gen Z knows they’re screwed from the beginning with the environment. And so they’re coming in hot and someday they’re gonna all be in charge of these policies. And I’m very curious to see what they do, how they fix this. Vic, can you fix this guys? Please, please help us. Well, thank you so much for listening to another episode of The Milk Minute Podcast.

The way we change this big plasticky world is by educating ourselves, our friends, and our families. Please join our Patreon or recommend this podcast to a friend, or, you know, just like leave us a good review. We love all those things and they’re all super helpful for us. Yes, we love it and we love you, and I hope you have a great day.

Bye bye.


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