Two months ago, I volunteered to be part of a study to determine the types of chemicals that leach into breastmilk. Mylai, an environmental scientist, is trying to complete her PhD at the University of the Philippines. For her thesis, she opted to do a composition study of breastmilk. She is a breastfeeding advocate and believe that by doing a study of breastmilk composition (instead of choosing the mainstream thesis topics), she will be helping further research and information concerning breastmilk, particularly in the Philippine setting.

Mylai requested Naima and me to submit urine samples while I also had to donate 100ml. of breast milk. Logistics were a bit difficult since we lived at opposite ends of Metro Manila. Further, Mylai had to get freshly expressed breast milk. It was a good thing that I regularly express milk at the office so Mylai was able to get my “freshest” milk possible For urine samples, since Naima was semi-toilet trained, collecting her urine was not a problem.

Mylai also requested information about cosmetics and deodrants I used, prenatal care, including supplements and general diet. Apparently, my milk had mercury! Mylai noted that the values (chemical content) are more dramatic in milk. Here are the results of our samples:

Li Cu Cd Mn Hg Cr Co Se Pb
BU1 below MDL 2.5 below MDL 0.4 below MDL 3.7 below MDL 8.0 1.7
MU1 1.81 3.8 below MDL 0.2 below MDL 3.5 below MDL 5.7 1.5
M1 below MDL 21.4 below MDL 1.2 5.9 42.2 below MDL 5.9 9.9

BU1 = Naima’s urine; MU1 = my urine and M1 is my milk.

Li = Lithium; Cu = Copper; Cd = Cadmium; Mn = Manganese; Hg = Mercury; Cr = Chromium; Co = Cobalt; Se = Selenium; Pb = Lead

MDL= minimum detection limit

The results certainly made me re-think my diet and exposure to chemicals. However, I still still definitely continue to breastfeed. Mylai also assured me that in all other scientific articles, despite traces of contamination in milk, breast milk is still recommended as it still has lower chemical contamination than cow’s milk. Mylai had also wanted to conduct a study of powdered milk samples but she did not have time to do so.

Interestingly, the Philippines is one of the countries identified here as having conducted breast milk monitoring studies. It is really disturbing to learn how great the effects of exposure to chemicals are. Just recently, it was also reported that chemical concentrations do not decrease during lactation.

Mylai had informed me that some of the metals found in my breast milk may have been from those accumulated as a result of my diet or contaminants I was exposed to even when I was not yet pregnant. Proper diet and controlled environmental exposures are important not only for pregnant or lactating moms but also for women who are in child-bearing age. This is certainly something I will need to think about when planning my next pregnancy.