As discerning parents, we place good faith in the manufacturers of baby bottles. We trust that they adhere to safety guidelines that are enforced by governmental authorities. However, are plastic baby bottles as safe as we think they are?
In 2010, the Australian government initiated a voluntary phase out of BPA. (You may recall seeing the marketing ploy: ‘BPA Free’ plastered over plastic products ever since). In the EU, Canada, China and US, BPA is banned in baby bottles; France has also banned BPA in plastic food containers. This is a great thing, as BPA (or Bisphenol A) is a nasty chemical used to make polycarbonate clear plastic, as well as being an epoxy resin on food and beverage cans (which prevents the food contents from coming into contact with the metal).
Some of the ingredients used to make BPA are actually carcinogenic (Lourie & Smith 2013), with BPA found in many children’s plastic items such as baby bottles, food storage containers, teethers, water bottles, sippy cups, and dummies. The US, in 2013, amended its regulations to no longer allow BPA-based epoxy resins as coatings in packaging for infant formula.
BPA is linked to brain developmental problems and hormonal disruption and reproduction issues, elevated risk of heart disease, increased risk of breast cancer and diabetes-like effects (Lourie & Smith 2013) – not the kind of thing we want in our children’s products, let alone any products. The US state of California has even added it to their Proposition 65 list – “a list of toxic chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects” (Lourie & Smith 2013, p. 6).
BPA and other plasticisers (including phthalates – which I’ll discuss in a future blog post) can leach out of the plastic straight into our children’s mouths as they chew on the plastic. The leaching levels increase if the plastic is heated, such as by microwave, when sterilized with boiling water, or through repeated washing (especially if the plastic is old or has been frequently used), such as by dishwasher. The consensus remains that BPA is harmless in small doses, but is this something you want to risk, and shouldn’t the aforementioned banning and restrictions be a sign that something is amiss? Plus, even the US Food and Drugs Administration admit to developmental neurotoxicity, effects on cardiovascular disease and sperm/testicular/hormone related parameters from BPA (FDA 2014). The other thing to consider is how many small doses may collectively make a big dose – take a mental stock-take of how many plastic products you use, and how many times they are subjected to heat.
What’s more alarming still is the pre-exposure of plasticisers and other chemicals to our children whilst they’re still in utero. A recent US study by the Environmental Working Group found “232 toxic chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies from racial and ethnic minority groups” (Lourie & Smith 2013, p. 3). Furthermore, in 2013, the Environmental Defence in Canada, found 137 different chemicals (including DDT, PCBS and flame retardant) in the umbilical cord of three newborns. As Lourie and Smith put it bluntly, “Canadian born children are born pre-polluted” (2013, p. 3).
Once baby is out of the womb and into the world, even if we exclusively breastfeed, BPA and other chemicals can still infiltrate into your baby’s body. This is because a breastfeeding mother, along with transferring vitamins, antibodies and all of that wonderful nutritious goodness through her breastmilk to her infant – she is also dispensing her own body of toxins through her milk (Lourie & Smith 2013). Yes, that’s right – our breastfeeding bodies remove toxins through our breastmilk, which only emphasises the due caution that all mothers should take, regardless of whether you formula feed or breastfeed.
But it doesn’t end there. Whilst companies have been generally quick to jump on the BPA-free bandwagon, whether out of ethical, or more likely, financial concerns, there are some other nasties that have snuck in to take BPA’s place including Bisphenol F (or BPF) and Bisphenol S (or BPS). Manufacturers favoured replacing BPA with BPS as it was thought to be less susceptible to leaching (Scientific American 2014). However, this may not be the case, as BPS has been found to affect cells in a parallel manner to BPA. So essentially you’re lured into thinking your BPA free product is less harmful, when in reality, one harmful plastic has been swapped for another.
An alarming study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives in 2011 found that almost all 455 commercially available plastics that were tested leached estrogenic chemicals (Scientific American 2014). These tests results proved scandalous in the courts, when a company claiming their product was free of estrogenic leaching proclaimed that the tests were conducted via petrie dishes, and not via live animals. Does that change its impacts? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
For those readers in Australia, I decided to reach out to several baby bottle manufacturers to ask them whether their products contained BPA, BPS or BPF. Here are the results:
- Avent – completely free
- Tommee Tippee (Closer to Nature) BPA & BPF free – they are checking on whether their products contain BPS and will get back to me
- Medela (plastic version, not glass) – completely free
- Bare Bottle – BPA free – has not confirmed whether free from BPS or BPF. I have reiterated my question. They did however mention that they were free from PVC, lead, phthalates (a type of plasticizer) and nitrosamines).
- Minbie – BPA free silicone. Did not confirm whether they were free from BPS or BPF.
- Box Baby Essentials – completely free
- Pigeon – BPA & BPS Free – did not confirm whether free from BPF. Have reiterated my question.
So how much do you really know about what’s in the products you use for your children?
Food and Drug Administration. 2014. Final report for the review of literature and data on BPA. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/UCM424011.pdf
Food and Drug Administration. 2014. Food additive regulations amended to no longer provide for the use of BPA-based materials in baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm064437.htm
Lourie, B., & Smith, R. 2013. Toxin toxout: Getting harmful chemicals out of our bodies and our world. University of Queensland Press, Queensland.
Scientific American. 2014. BPA-Free plastic containers may be just as hazardous: animal studies find that a replacement compound for the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol A may also be harmful to human health. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-free-plastic-containers-may-be-just-as-hazardous/