Practical advice for new parents

BPA and Plastic Baby Bottles

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In recent times there has been an increasing amount of attention given to a chemical compound called bisphenol-A (or BPA as it's otherwise known) and the possible harmful effects it may have on children. BPA, amongst other things, is used to harden plastics and is found in many brand-name plastic baby bottles and sippy cups (up to 95% of all bottles on the market) as well as some types of children’s toys.

A recent report released by environmental health groups in the U.S. and Canada (download it here) demonstrated that when heated many popular types of baby bottles leached this BPA compound. In fact, tests have shown that the rate of leaching can be as much as 55 times more than normal.

This has lead to concern from many groups about the possible harm that BPA might pose to small children. Laboratory tests on primates (by the Yale School of Medicine) has shown that BPA can affect the development of the brain in such as way as to potentially lead to memory or learning problems or even depression. Claims have also been made that link BPA to cancer, reproductive problems, attention-deficit disorder and diabetes.

The argument from those within the plastics industry is that while this compound (which can be found not only in plastic baby bottles, but also in many other everyday items such as various types of food containers, CD's, eyeglass lenses etc.) can be dangerous, it isn't at the level of exposure that we (or our children) are subjected to through normal daily activity. This is a view that has been backed up by various governmental studies worldwide. A finding from the European Food Safety Authority, for example, concluded that the human body is capable of dealing adequately with the levels of BPA that we are routinely exposed to, and it dismissed many of the studies that linked BPA to many illnesses because of poor data or test controls (read the summary here).

The good news is that the issue is very much on the radar of the manufacturers, scientists, politicians and consumer groups around the world. The bad news is that there seems to be little current consensus about how much BPA is too much, and what effects there might be from over exposure. The fact is that most of us are exposed to BPA daily. It has been claimed that up to 95% of Americans will have traces of BPA in their body at any time due to airborne dust and exposure to contaminated food. The concern with babies and infants however is their overall susceptibility to the effects of BPA, and the concentrated leaching associated with the heating of the plastic bottles.

And therein lies the problem for concerned parents. The fact that there are various conflicting expert opinions, studies, claims and counterclaims does little to diminish fears that we might be inadvertently harming our children through the simple act of heating their food.

So if the scientists and experts cannot agree, then what hope is there for busy and stressed out parents who don't have the time or resources to get to the bottom of the matter? Well irrespective of which side is right, the solution from a parenting point-of-view is simple. For any parent even remotely concerned about the effects of BPA, err on the side of caution and limit your infant's exposure to the compound.

There are numerous BPA-free plastic bottles on the market and indeed, being BPA-free is now an important marketing angle for plastic baby-bottle manufacturers. Indeed, many distributors and stockists of baby products now refuse to carry plastic baby-bottles and products that contain BPA.

So while there may not be much consensus from the experts, it seems the majority of parents need no convincing.

How to limit your baby's exposure to BPA

  • When buying new bottles, check the packaging to see if the product is BPA-free or not.
  • Try to avoid, where possible, buying bottles made of hard polycarbonate plastic (in many cases the bottle will be stamped on the base with the code 'PC' or a recycling number '7'). Opt instead for non-plastic bottles such as glass, or in the case of plastic, for softer, polyethylene or polypropylene bottles instead.
  • Don't heat the plastic bottles in the microwave or boil them in water. Heat breaks down the plastic which makes for increased chemical leakage.
  • Replace bottles that become scratched or scuffed. Again, chemical leakage is greater when the plastic is damaged.
  • If at all possible, breast feed.

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