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Research links breastmilk with PFAS exposure in infants

Recent research suggests that nursing mothers may be inadvertently exposing their children to perfluoroalkyls (PFAS), a potentially dangerous series of chemicals, via their breastmilk.1

In fact, per experts, this may be evidence that “…PFAS contamination of breast milk is likely universal in the U.S…”, perhaps even globally, and that the problem is only worsening as some chemicals phased out decades ago are still being found in breastmilk.2

Recent research suggests that nursing mothers may be inadvertently exposing their children to perfluoroalkyls (PFAS), a potentially dangerous series of chemicals, via their breastmilk.

Research involving older children has linked PFAS exposure with hormonal disturbances and complications with their immune system.

These findings may also be a serious impetus for alarm as PFAS exposure has been linked with an abundance of medical issues, including cancer, birth defects, infertility, and more. Of note, PFAS were found in breastmilk regardless of a mother’s demographics, implying that this issue may be extremely far-reaching.3

Other research involving older children has linked PFAS exposure with hormonal disturbances and complications with their immune system. Given that breastmilk is an important mechanism involved in the development of an infant’s immune system, this may signal even greater concern.4

Implications and reactions

This is not entirely new information, per se, as researchers from Harvard University found that breastmilk was a potential “exposure pathway” for PFAS back in 2015.5 Yet scientists and medical professionals still do not entirely understand how PFAS impact human health, nor do they know exactly what to do about it. Nonetheless, environmental groups dedicated to combating PFAS exposure are beginning to push for change, but damages may have already been done.

In an interview, one mother who had her breastmilk test positive for PFAS describes her reaction to the news as such:6

“The fear, the shock – I try not to carry the guilt, because I didn’t know,” said Jacobs, whose son is now three. “I can’t stop wondering: is this why his teeth are decaying? All his teeth are cracked, and no doctors seem to be able to explain why that is,” she said. “I am afraid it’s because he drank my milk.”

However, despite the risk of PFAS exposure, nursing mothers should still continue to breastfeed.7 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that while PFAS exposure via breastmilk is a concern, the benefits of breastfeeding likely outweigh the potential costs, but that mothers should consult with their personal physicians for more information.8

To learn more about PFAS and its potential impact on property/casualty insurance, please visit our PFAS resource page


Travis Decaminada

Travis Decaminada is senior analyst, Emerging Issues, Underwriting Solutions at Verisk.


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  1. The Guardian – “Study finds alarming levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in US mothers’ breast milk”. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/13/pfas-forever-chemicals-breast-milk-us-study
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Harvard – “BEPPA”. https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/37221737/Mogensen_et_al_Environ_Sci_Technol_2015.pdf?sequence=4
  6. The Guardian – “Am I going to regret it?': forever chemicals dilemma for breastfeeding mothers”. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/15/forever-chemicals-breastfeeding-contamination-pfas
  7. CDC – “Mothers and Breastfeeding”. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/exposure.html
  8. Ibid.

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