Microplastics have been detected in human breast milk for the first time, with researchers greatly concerned over the potential health impacts on babies.
Infants are especially vulnerable to chemical contaminants and the scientists said further research was urgently needed. But they stressed that breastfeeding remained by far the best way to feed a baby.
The breast milk samples were taken from 34 healthy mothers, a week after giving birth in Rome, Italy. Microplastics were detected in 75% of them. Previous research has shown toxic effects of microplastics in human cell lines, lab animals and marine wildlife but the impact on living humans remains unknown. Plastics often contain harmful chemicals, such as phthalates, which have been found in breast milk before.
The scientists recorded the mothers’ consumption of food and drink in plastic packaging and of seafood, as well as the use of plastic-containing personal hygiene products. But they found no correlation with the presence of microplastics. This suggests the ubiquitous presence of microplastics in the environment “makes human exposure inevitable”, the researchers said, although larger studies in future may identify particular risk factors.
The Italian team identified microplastics in human placentas in 2020. “So the proof of microplastics’ presence in breast milk increases our great concern for the extremely vulnerable population of infants,” said Dr Valentina Notarstefano, at the Università Politecnica delle Marche, in Ancona, Italy.