Articles on developmental and health effects of breastfeeding
The comments section is a good introduction to this website, since it includes comments quoted from doctors' blogs that provide good summaries of some of our publications. (at www.pollutionaction.org/comments.htm.) Those comments are especially helpful in putting into everyday language and briefer, personal terms some important points about topics that are dealt with in much more detail in Pollution Action articles. Reading at least the first two doctors' (somewhat detailed) comments at the above link would provide an excellent introduction to the topics discussed here.
A fairly complete statement of our research findings, mainly concerning neurological effects of breastfeeding, "Some Effects of Environmental Pollution on Development of Infants," posted Sept. 15, 2019, can be found at www.pollution-effects.info. The full article is rather long, but there is a good summary at the beginning, including illustrations and charts, with links to the detailed sections.
For an explanation of different types and quality levels of medical evidence that are at the basis of good-quality statements about breastfeeding, go to Long-term effects of exposures to developmental toxins during infancy at http://www.pollutionaction.org/breastfed.htm. This will help explain why conclusions about breastfeeding can differ so greatly.
Much of the most recent research on origins of autism has been pointing specifically to traffic-related pollution as a strongly implicated source of toxic exposures that seem to be linked to autism. For a summary of most of that recent research, with our comments, see.www.traffic-pollution-autism.info.
Other recent research has found that there are major geographic differences in autism diagnoses: twice as high as average in two areas of the U.S. (New England and Indiana) and half as high as average in the Southeast. These geographic differences correlate closely with differences in proximities to waste incineration and also to differences in breastfeeding rates. See www.pollution-and-autism.info.
Autism, ADHD and other neurological impairments that have apparently increased in recent decades, as well as general poor performance in school and life, have affected males specifically. For information that deals with probable causes of these male-specific problems, based on information from highly-authoritative sources, see www.male-development.info.
When considering the increasing disorders, we need to look at the roles of two other well-known environmental toxins:
Lead -- see www.breastfeeding-and-lead.info;
Pesticides -- see www.pesticides-and-breastfeeding.info
Suicides and suicide attempts, especially among young people, have greatly increased in recent years. There has been remarkable similarity between the countries in which suicides have been highest and lowest and countries in which breastfeeding rates have been highest and lowest. Chemicals known to be present in human milk have been found to adversely affect development of a part of the brain in which pleasurable feelings are centered. For more information, see.www.pollutionaction.org/suicide-increase.htm ..
Research by Anne Case and Angus Deaton has found substantial health declines and increases in mortality among midlife U.S. non-Hispanic whites in recent decades, as compared with data for many other countries as well as with data for U.S. blacks and Hispanics. Case and Deaton have had difficulty finding good explanations for these developments. We offer explanations that tie in with our observations of effects of dioxins and PCBs on developing children, exposures to which would have greatly increased beginning in the late 1940's especially among U.S. whites, very possibly resulting in recent midlife health problems. See www.pollutionaction.org/case-deaton-comment.htm.
For an article somewhat related to the above but also addressing factors underlying the recent declining health of younger Americans as well as the generally-declining lifespans in the U.S., see our publication at http://www.pollutionaction.org/shorter-lives.htm.
Our research paper, "Pros and Cons of Breastfeeding in Developed Countries," examining one-by-one the benefits said by former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to result from breastfeeding, can be reached by going to http://www.breastfeedingprosandcons.info
A discussion of considerations relevant to a decision on breastfeeding versus formula feeding, specifically related to toxins that are present in both types of infant feeding, can be found at www.pollutionaction.org/breastfeeding-vs-formula.htm.
For information about the major increases in child disabilities since the 1970's, and increases in environmental exposures that may underlie those increases, go to www.child-development.info. To read more detail about the probable postnatal time of the origins of those increasing disabilities, see www.disability-origins.info.
Physicians’ legal duty to inform parents about negative as well as positive sides of an infant feeding recommendation, with malpractice implications: It appears that, when doctors recommend a specific type of infant feeding, they have a legal obligation also to tell the parents about developmental toxins that are recognized to be contained in that food, even if a one-sided recommendation is normal among physicians. See www.medical-liability.us.
For a relatively brief presentation dealing with a wide range of matters related to effects of breastfeeding, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, and SIDS, see www.breastfeeding-effects.info.
Specific disorders and how they relate to breastfeeding:
ADHD and serious emotional and behavioral problems as related to breastfeeding: www.breastfeeding-and-adhd.info
Asthma and allergies: www.breastfeeding-and-asthma.info .
Autism: We offer many articles on that topic, listed just a little farther down under the heading, “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
Childhood diabetes, with special reference to its causes in relation to breastfeeding, is discussed at www.breastfeeding-and-diabetes.info
Childhood obesity, with special reference to its origins in breastfeeding, is discussed at www.pollutionaction.org/breastfeeding-and-obesity.htm .
SIDS and its relationship to breastfeeding is discussed at www.breastfeeding-and-sids.info .
Autism Spectrum Disorder:
For a general introduction, go to www.breastfeeding-and-autism.net
For much greater detail, but with a good introductory summary with links to detailed information, and relating its origins to origins of childhood cancer (which in some important respects are similar), go to www.pollutionaction.org/breastfeeding-and-autism-and-cancer.htm
To read about findings of a recently-published major scientific study dealing with maternal mercury exposure and how that affects likelihood of autism in the child, comparing those findings with contrasting well-established knowledge about effects of mercury on developing brains, go to www.breastfeeding-mercury.info.
To read about a study of all 50 U.S. states and 51 U.S. counties that found rates and durations of breastfeeding to be directly correlated with autism prevalence, plus three other studies leading to the same conclusion, see http://www.pollutionaction.org/appendix2.htm.
To read about many correlations between higher and lower prevalence of autism and higher and lower breastfeeding rates, see www.autism-correlations.info.
For an extended discussion of many scientific studies that have dealt with associations between environmental exposures and autism and related neurological disorders, see www.autism-studies.info.
To read about major findings in 2013 related to prevalence and origins of autism, with our proposed explanations for those and other findings, go to www.autism-research.net. For a similar article but with working links to almost all source documents, and with (at the end) critiquing offered by the Autism Speaks senior director for environmental and clinical science, and our responses to her comments, see www.autism-origins.info.
For an explanation of one probable reason why risk of autism in children increases greatly with older maternal age, based on considerable scientific evidence, go to www.autism-research.net/older-mother-autism-risk.htm.
A major online chat group made up of parents of children with autism had an extended chat related to breastfeeding and autism, in which mothers were asked how long they breastfed their children who later turned out to have autism. It drew numerous responses and comments and can be read at www.breastfeeding-autism-poll.info.
Increases in child disorders in general:
Not only autism but many other disorders have been increasing greatly among U.S. children in recent decades, and there seems to be very little but speculation offered to explain what may have been the cause or causes. To read a well-reasoned commentary on this subject, drawing on considerable historical public health evidence and scientific studies, go to www.breastfeeding-health-effects.info.
Air pollution, especially traffic-related emissions, and neurodevelopmental harm, including autism:
A subject that has received much attention in recent years has been the correlations found in many studies between neurological impairment and exposures at time of birth and (especially) after birth to atmospheric pollution, particularly traffic-related pollution. To read about the more general subject, go to www.air-pollution-autism.info. To read about recent studies that have implicated traffic-related pollution especially strongly, see www.traffic-pollution-autism.info.
Toxins in breast milk and formula:
For some points that an expecting or new mother should consider on how to minimize exposure of her (future?) baby to major autism-related pollutants, go to www.autismspeaksblog.info.
For evidence about four different neurodevelopmental toxins that have all been authoritatively found to be present in breast milk in concentrations far exceeding officially-established safe levels, go to www.autism-origins.info.
For a detailed discussion of the large number of different toxins that have been found in human milk, their sources in our environment (before entering the mother's body), their specific biological effects (often as found in tests with animals but also as found in studies of humans), and comparison of their concentrations in breast milk vs. in formula, go to www.breastfeeding-toxins.info. That website deals with dioxins, PCBs, mercury, PBDEs, lead, phthalates, perchlorate, PFOA, PFOS, cadmium, arsenic, and aluminum, and describes apparent effects of lactational exposure to those toxins as compared with prenatal exposure.
To read about some of the latest research on developmental harm caused by pollution (Harvard study published June, 2013) and how it is related to breastfeeding, specifically including diesel emissions, go to www.pollution-autism.info.
To read about neurodevelopmental effects of mercury, specifically (which is especially closely related to risk of autism), go to www.mercury-effects.info.
For a toxin-by-toxin, study-by-study comparison of the principal toxins in breast milk vs. those in formula, see www.breastmilk-vs-formula-toxins.info.
Scientific studies that found breastfeeding to be adversely related to a range of childhood diseases:
Three studies on the subject of breastfeeding and attention deficits and hyperactivity, three on the subject of breastfeeding and autism, six related to breastfeeding and obesity, 6 on breastfeeding and diabetes, 22 on breastfeeding and asthma or allergies, one relating breastfeeding to ear infections, and 11 studies that relate breastfeeding to developmental problems; not counted in the 50+ total are six studies (which include a clear majority of the high-quality studies related to SIDS) that found no beneficial effect of breastfeeding on SIDS incidence; see www.breastfeeding-studies.info.
Immune cells in breast milk: It is often said that these help ward off infections in the breastfed child, and this is not disputed. But there is an extremely serious question as to whether that short-term benefit stunts the development of the child’s own immune system, resulting in long-term harm. To read about the “hygiene hypothesis” in this regard, go to www.breastfeeding-research.info/hygiene-hypothesis.htm.
The purely favorable side of the breastfeeding debate is regularly stated in one-sided presentations, so it is reasonable in response to make a general presentation of just the negative side of the breastfeeding question, which can be seen at www.breastfeedingnegatives.info.
Difficulties with breastfeeding? Some important considerations will be found at www.breastfeedingdifficulties.info .
Questions that should be asked of anybody who is telling mothers that they ought to breastfeed, but which none of breastfeeding’s promoters seem to be able to answer, at www.breastfeeding-questions.info . If people can’t answer the questions, which draw on facts based on impeccable authority (indicated in footnotes), they have no basis for promoting breastfeeding. But nobody seems to be able to answer the questions; the doctors’ associations that promote breastfeeding have never responded to any of three or more letters to each of them from this organization, asking such questions. (The questions are each over 20 words long, so it helps to be able to print them out for handing to those who are telling people to breastfeed, therefore the questions are in one-page printable form at www.breastfeeding-effects.info/Q.)
To read the record of a lively discussion among mothers about the general topic discussed here, in an online mothers' forum, go to http://www.pollutionaction.org/MotherForumOnBreastmilkToxins.htm.
From the inception of these publications in early 2012 until the present, the invitation has been extended to all readers to submit criticisms, asking them to point out how anything written here is not well supported by authoritative sources (as cited) or is not logically based on the evidence presented. As of many years later, hardly any specific criticisms of contents of our articles have been received in response to that invitation. (That is significant, considering the tens of thousands of visits our online publications receive from readers every month.) Our publications have been improved as a result of those three criticisms, and we look forward to receiving more. All comments are welcome. To see comments that we have received (including from a number of doctors), together with our responses, and to see our address for sending any comments of your own, go to www.pollutionaction.org/comments.htm . Quite clearly, many people don't like our conclusions; they just can't find anything wrong with the evidence or reasoning that leads to the conclusions. Those who can't provide any criticisms of any of our content also include officials of government agencies that promote breastfeeding, to whom we have written repeatedly.
About Pollution Action
This organization consists to a great extent of one person, me (Don Meulenberg), but I receive considerable data-gathering and analysis assistance from several associates, as mentioned below. My role has not been original research, but instead it has been to read through very large amounts of scientific research that has already been completed on the subjects of environmental toxins and infant development, and then to summarize the relevant findings into a form that enables readers to make better-informed decisions about these matters. The original research articles and government reports on this subject are extremely numerous, typically very lengthy, and are usually written in a form such that the general public is unable to learn from them. Scientists know how to write for other scientists, and they go into great detail in topics related to their specialties, but they provide little in a form that is directly useful to parents who are trying to decide about infant feeding. Doctors have little time to carefully read the large numbers of research reports and to find out what has been learned in recent years that may contradict the conventional wisdom that has been passed down from earlier decades.
My main qualification for writing these publications is ability to pull together large amounts of scientific evidence from diverse, authoritative sources and to summarize it into a form that is reasonably understandable to the general public, while maintaining excellent accuracy in presentation of the evidence. My educational background included challenging courses in biology and chemistry in which I did very well, but at least as important is an ability to correctly summarize in plain English large amounts of written scientific material. I scored in the top one percent in standardized tests in high school, graduated cum laude from Oberlin College, and stood in the top third of my class at Harvard Business School.
Habit of examining alternative positions thoroughly and critically, especially when the consequences of misdirection are substantial:
There were important aspects of the business school case-study method that have been helpful in making my work more useful (I believe) than much or most of what has been written on these topics, as follows: After carefully studying large amounts of printed matter on a subject and doing whatever numerical calculations are relevant, one is expected to come up with well-considered recommendations that can be defended against sharp criticisms. The expected criticisms, coming from all directions, ingrain the habits of (a) maintaining accuracy in what one says, and (b) not making recommendations unless you can support them with good evidence and logical reasoning. Established policies receive little respect if they can’t be well supported as part of a free give-and-take of conflicting evidence. That approach is especially relevant to the position statements on breastfeeding of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, which statements cite only evidence that has been
(a) selected, while providing no acknowledgement of the conflicting evidence (including over 60 published studies that have found adverse effects of breastfeeding(1)) and
(b) of a kind that has been authoritatively determined to be of low quality; former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin acknowledged that essentially all of the research supporting benefits of breastfeeding consists merely of observational studies.(1a) One assessment of evidence from observational studies as being of low quality is by Dr. Gordon Guyatt and 14 of his associates;(2) Dr. Guyatt is chief editor of the American Medical Association’s Manual for Evidence-based Clinical Practice, in which 26 pages are devoted to examples of studies (most of which were observational) that were later refuted by high-quality studies.(2a) An essentially identical assessment of the low quality of evidence from observational studies has been provided by the other chief authority on medical evidence (Dr. David Sackett),(2c) writing about “the disastrous inadequacy of lesser evidence,” in reference to findings from observational studies.(2b)
When a brief summary of material that conflicts with their breastfeeding positions is repeatedly presented to the physicians’ associations, along with a question or two about the basis for their breastfeeding recommendations, those associations never respond. That has also been the case when I included offers of several thousand dollars to compensate for the time that might be required to write a response. That says a lot about how well their positions on breastfeeding can stand up to scrutiny.
The credibility of the contents of Pollution Action’s publications is based on the authoritative sources that are referred to in the numerous footnotes: The sources are mainly the EPA, the NIH, the CDC, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, various commissions of the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Services, and many reputable academic researchers (typically highly-published authors) writing in peer-reviewed scientific journals; those sources are essentially always referred to in footnotes that follow anything that is said in the text that is not common knowledge. In many cases, the sources are quoted directly, in their own exact words; in most of the other cases, the original wording is modified only enough to make the content readily meaningful to the general reader, while keeping it true to the substance of the original authors’ text. In most cases a link is provided that allows easy referral to the original source(s) of the information. If there is not a working link, you can normally use your cursor to select a non-working link or the title of the document, then copy it (control - c usually does that), then “paste” it (control - v) into an open slot at the top of your browser, for taking you to the website where the original, authoritative source of the information can be found.
The reader is strongly encouraged to check the source(s) regarding anything he or she reads here that seems to be questionable, and to notify me of anything said in the text that does not seem to accurately represent what was said by the original source. I will quickly correct anything found to be inaccurate. After nine years of requesting such feedback from these websites’ hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world, the specific criticisms received have been extremely few and minor (see www.pollutionaction.org/comments.htm), despite the fact that many people clearly dislike the general thrust of the content.
I acknowledge that, like the associations of pediatricians, family physicians, and obstetricians/gynecologists, I present essentially only one side of the breastfeeding debate. However, there is little danger that the people who should be making informed decisions in this matter (parents of infants) will be unaware of what can be said on the favorable side of the breastfeeding question, given the widespread, active promotion of breastfeeding. On the other hand, when people recommend breastfeeding, it is entirely probable that the parents will be completely unaware of the negative side of that question, including presence in human milk of toxins in concentrations that far exceed officially-established safe levels. In a published survey, 381 mothers were asked how they would respond if they were told that their milk contained “low” or “high” levels of phthalates; of breastfeeding women, 78% of mothers reported that they would either discontinue breastfeeding sooner than intended or pump and discard their milk if they were told they had even “low” levels of phthalates in their milk.(3) (Note that phthalates are not even among the top four most serious toxins in breast milk.) Dioxins, mercury, PBDEs and PCBs, all of which are known or strongly suspected to be developmental toxins, are not merely present in most human milk; they are normally present in concentrations that have been authoritatively determined to greatly exceed (up to hundreds of times) the governmentally-established safe levels for those toxins. (see www.breastfeeding-toxins.info.) Given the results of the above survey, the fact that most mothers these days do breastfeed indicates lack of awareness of information that most parents would want to know about.
More important reasons for publicizing this information can be found in the considerable evidence linking toxins in breast milk with the disorders that have been rapidly increasing among children following the major increases in breastfeeding that began in the early 1970’s. Those include autism (see www.autism-correlations.info), learning disabilities (see www.www.child-disability-research.info), diabetes (see www.breastfeeding-and-diabetes.info), ADHD and psychological disorders (see www.breastfeeding-and-adhd.info), obesity (see www.breastfeeding-and-obesity.info), and asthma and allergies (see www.breastfeeding-and-asthma.info).
Indispensable help in the efforts of Pollution Action has included the excellent computer expertise, data analysis and real-world knowledge of Matt Hulbert; proof-reading, general assistance and sensible advice of Greta Hammen; considerable and invaluable assistance from reference librarians at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (especially Lee Criscuolo, Holly Schemmer and Courtney McAllister) in locating difficult-to-access scientific articles and providing additional helpful information sources that I hadn’t even requested; and very helpful thoughts and guidance to information sources from Professor James Corbett of the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.
I own a very small manufacturing company (in Shenandoah, VA) and operate it when I'm not working on this research. Since my company's products compete significantly with imports from Asia, my attention was originally drawn to the subject of environmental toxins when I studied effects of the increasing pollution that is emitted by ships bringing imports to U.S. shores. I was also inspired to look into the subject of sources of mental impairment by seeing an increase in sales of my company’s damage-resistant products for use in residences for mentally-handicapped young people.
Full disclosure: The name of my small manufacturing company is not mentioned here because doing so might cause some people to think that my writing and publicizing of non-mainstream information is intended to generate publicity for my company. Anyone who is curious could find out the nature of my business with little difficulty. I have no financial or other interest in infant formula or in anything that could benefit from my research.
1a) The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding 2011, p. 33, at www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf
2) Figure 2 in Guyatt et al., GRADE guidelines: 1. Introduction -- GRADE evidence profiles and summary of findings tables, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, at http://www.jclinepi.com/article/S0895-4356(10)00330-6/pdf
2a) Dr. Gordon Guyatt is chief editor of User’s Guides to the Medical Literature: A Manual for Evidence-based Clinical Practice, 2nd Edition (3rd is upcoming), copyright American Medical Association, published by McGraw Hill.
2b) Writing in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, as quoted in “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?” New York Times, at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/magazine/16epidemiology-t.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0
2c) In a review in the Journal of the Medical Library Association, only two guides are recommended for use by physicians in evaluating evidence in medical literature, one of which is the one edited by Guyatt et al., already referred to, and the other of which is by Dr. Sackett. (Journal of the Medical Library Association, Oct. 2002, User’s Guide to the Medical Literature: A Manual for Evidence-Based Clinical Practice, Review by Rebecca Graves, at httpi://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC128970)
3) Geraghty et al., Reporting Individual Test Results of Environmental Chemicals in Breastmilk: Potential for Premature Weaning, Breastfeeding Medicine. December 2008, 3(4): 207-213. doi:10.1089/bfm.2008.0120. at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/bfm.2008.0120
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