At my baby shower last week, I was the recipient of several brand-new glass baby bottles. This caused one of those “ah-ha” moments, where suddenly the rash of news stories I’d heard about regarding dangerous plastics (due to a chemical called Bisphenol A) registered with me as something I needed to pay attention to. After all, I am about to bring a new baby into the world, and had not really considered anything about feeding her — other than knowing I will breast feed and assuming that when she gets a bottle, it will be one of the Playtex nursing system bottles that her two brothers used successfully.
But now, I was forced to think.
So, I did what I always do…jump on the internet to research what’s up in the controversy over BPA, plastics, infant formula, baby bottles, and sippy cups. Here’s what I found, in real Mommy-layman’s terms.
First, what is causing all the hype?
The recent controversy is around a chemical called Bishphenol A (BPA), which is found in polycarbonate bottles, food cans, and other containers. In rodent studies (i.e., studies on rats), this chemical was shown to correlate to a wide variety of abnormalities, including cancers, early onset puberty (not sure what this looks like in rats!), Type II diabetes, and reproductive failures.
While many, many products in our daily lives are made of polycarbonate and contain BPA, food containers (like water and baby bottles) have been under much more scrutiny because research has shown that BPA can leach into the contents of those containers, especially at high temperatures and especially over time as the bottle wears down from use and washing.
Are the risks known?
Reports questioning the safety of BPA in food containers were numerous in 2007. Many more studies were commissioned, including one by the National Toxicology Program (of the Department of Health & Human Services) in April 2008 that expressed concern that BPA posed a risk to unborn babies and children.
Later in 2008, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reviewed many studies and released a report stating no concern over the health risks from of BPA in plastics containing food. That should have been the end of it, right? I mean, the government agency that regulates food and food containers should have the last word, shouldn’t it? Well, an external FDA advisory council released a statement reprimanding the agency for “disregarding critical evidence” that pointed to more serious consequences of exposure to BPA at levels lower than the federal agency currently allows.
All the research I did could not find a definitive answer on the safety of BPA, although all agencies and programs agree that more research is necessary. Recommendations vary and include ones like: “don’t worry about it at current normal levels” based on the fact that BPA has been in existence in plastics for a long time, is studied often and heavily, and has not yet been banned by any foreign country. Others call for an immediate ban on the use of BPA in baby bottles, toddler sippy cups, water bottles, and food & beverage containers.
What actions should a Mom take?
While there does not appear to be clear agreement on the risks, many health and environmental agencies offer advice to minimize your risk and the risk to your babies and children.
The Environmental Working Group provides suggestions on making sure you are feeding your baby in the safest possibly way on their “Guide to Baby-Safe Bottles & Formula” (http://www.ewg.org/babysafe). Here’s highlights (details on their website):
- Breast feeding is best. For bottle-feeding:
- Nipples – use a clear silicone nipple
- Bottles – use glass
- Plastic Bottle Liners – don’t use them – and especially don’t heat them! (see below for my comment)
- Water – use filtered tap water (not bottled)
- Formula – use powdered, not liquid
- Heating – heat in a pan of warm water, not in microwave
An article called “Jury Still Out on BPA Plastics” on WebMD, also sourcing the Environmental Working Group (likely from their article called “Tips to Avoid BPA Exposure“), suggests these ways to minimize exposure:
- Consider using powdered formula, rather than canned formula, if your infant tolerates them.
- Avoid number 7 plastics, although not all contain BPA. Choose number 1, number 2, and number 4 plastics. Pliable, milk-colored plastic does not contain BPA.
- Use glass baby bottles, or those made with polypropylene and polyethylene.
- Avoid using plastic containers in the microwave. This includes baby bottles, plates, bowls, etc.
- Avoid using old, scratched plastic bottles.
- Some plastic wraps contain BPA, although Saran and other brands “promise to be BPA free.”
- Avoid using sippy cup products if they are old, scratched, or have a cloudy, cracked appearance.
As for myself, after researching the possible risks and how to minimize exposure, I’ve got lots of behaviors and practices to change.
#1 — First, I was worried I was going to have to find an entirely new nursing system. BUT – more research showed that Playtex has made their dropins system BPA free. So, I may not be able to buy the generic drop ins, but I at least can use my favorite bottle for our third baby.
#2 –Second, I need to diligently go through all the sippy cups in my house (numbering, I’m sure, well into the dozens) and throw out any with sippy valves or cups that look cloudy. (Now replacing them will have to be phased in over a few months given our household budget!)
#3 — Third, I’ve got to stop heating up my children’s food on plastic plates…while serving warm food on plastic plates/bowls appears to be OK, actual heating up food on the plastic in the microwave seems universally frowned upon.
But, I’m thinking I can continue to drink out of my plastic water bottles without worry….at least until the next report comes out!