How Breastfeeding Can Protect Your Baby From Arsenic Exposure

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What is arsenic?

Arsenic is an element naturally found in soil, minerals, and water. It’s a common contaminant of well water and can cause cancer, among other diseases, in humans. Early exposure to arsenic has been linked to fetal death, low birth weight, and impaired cognitive functions.

In the Dartmouth study, researchers analyzed urine samples of 72 six-week-old babies in New Hampshire, including 70 percent who were breastfed, 13 percent who were formula-fed, and 17 percent who received a combination of both. The arsenic concentration found in babies who were only formula-fed was 7.5 times higher than breast-fed babies. The study also found that for the formula-fed babies, formula powder accounted for most of the arsenic exposure.

“The breasts are great filters that prevent infant contact from medications and even environmental contamination the mother may consume, like arsenic,” says Terese Larkin, Lactation Specialist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

What if you can’t breastfeed?

Moms who can breastfeed their children should, but those who can’t don’t need to panic.

The study recommends that moms who formula-feed their children should pay attention to the water they’re using to make formula. ­­If you get your water from a public source, learn about arsenic levels in your area by contacting your water supplier. If your water comes from a private well, have your water tested for arsenic.

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