BPA and baby bottle safety: What every parent needs to know

MccarthyClaire111408Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical used in the plastic liners of cans to prevent spoilage of canned foods, and in a variety of other plastic products to make them clear and shatterproof—which makes it particularly attractive for making baby bottles. Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children ages 2 and younger, limit their exposure to BPA. What does this mean for you?

For years, scientists have been concerned about possible health effects of BPA. Studies have shown a possible effect on the brain (one study showed behavioral changes), prostate and thyroid gland. Most of these studies have been done on rodents, so it’s hard to know how dangerous BPA is for humans.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that most of us have traces of Bisphenol-A in our bodies, mostly from food and beverage containers. Levels are particularly high in infants, and this worries doctors for two reasons. First of all, because they are still developing, anything that interferes with development is particularly risky for them. Second, because they are so young, any dangerous chemical has years and years to cause trouble.

Some countries, such as Canada and the European Union, have banned its use in baby bottles or other products used by infants and small children. The United States has taken a more cautious approach, but many states are issuing warnings.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself and your baby:

  • Avoid products, especially baby bottles, that have the recycling number 7 (usually inside a triangle) on them. While you’re at it, watch out for 3 and 6, which contain phthalates, another possible toxin. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are better.
  • If you have products with a 3, 6 or 7, do not pour hot liquids in them, and wash them by hand with soap and water rather than putting them in the dishwasher (the heat releases more chemicals)
  • Consider using glass baby bottles (with caution, obviously).
  • If you are using infant formula, buy the powdered kind rather than the canned liquid, as there is less chance of BPA exposure. However, if your baby is on a special formula, do not make a change without talking to your doctor!
  • Limit your intake of canned foods (not all are contaminated with BPA, but it’s not easy to know which are). Eat fresh or frozen foods instead.
  • Try to limit your use of plastics in general, especially when heating up foods. Use more stainless steel, glass and ceramic and try covering food with waxed paper.

If you’ve already used bottles or other things made with BPA, don’t panic! We don’t know for sure what the risks are. For more information on how to keep you and your family safe from environmental toxins, visit the the CDC’s Web site and read the Environmental Protection Agency’s information on children’s health.

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care physician and the medical director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Martha Eliot Health Center.

For more information on bottle chemicals and safety, read this article by McCarthy from Harvard Health Publications.