It’s pretty gross to imagine, but we all ingest microplastics daily. We breathe, eat and swallow them. They are virtually impossible to escape. But what about your new baby? Are they unwittingly being exposed to microplastics? And if they are, what can a new mom do about it? Whether you’re breastfeeding or using formula, you can mitigate your baby’s exposure to microplastics.
Before I share my tips, what are microplastics anyway? According to the National Ocean Service, a microplastic particle is any piece of plastic less than 5 millimeters long, about the size of a sesame seed. Some of the places they're found in are seafood, some toothpastes and beauty products, clothing, water and air. And they don’t break down. Ever. Microfibers are even smaller and are shed by nylon, polyester and other synthetic fabrics.
To date, there isn’t conclusive evidence that ingesting microplastics are harmful but as National Geographic reported, there’s a growing concern that over time, the toxic chemicals necessary in the manufacturing of plastics might damage our immune systems and the plastic we ingest could harbor bacteria or parasites.
What steps can you take to safeguard you, your family and especially your new baby?
1. Use a glass or BPA-free bottle when you drink water. Staying hydrated, as a postpartum mom, is very important for your health and milk supply. This may come as a surprise but if you’re drinking your daily recommended allowance from the tap, you’re getting 4,000 plastic particles annually. BUT, if your primary water source is from a plastic bottle, you’re getting an additional 90,000 particles from this source alone.
2. When using water to prepare your baby’s formula, boil tap water, then let cool until it reaches room temperature. This shouldn’t exceed 30 minutes. Always check the label of your formula container for specific guidance. Boiling has not been proven to remove microplastics, but it does remove bacteria in the water and kills bacteria in the powdered formula, which is not sterile.
3. Reheat leftovers in Pyrex - not plastic storage containers or Tupperware - even if they say “microwaveable safe.” This label means that no harm will come to the container. They make no guarantees for your health. Chemicals from the plastic can leach into the food.
4. Forgo black plastic disposable utensils and containers, often used for takeout foods. These are made from recycled electronics and contain chemicals not made for ingesting. Toss them. Don’t recycle these.
5. Before putting new (or used) clothing on your baby, run it through the wash. This will get rid of any loose microfibers especially found on synthetic clothing. Better yet, stick to 100% cotton when possible (but still pre-wash)!
6. When giving homemade food as a gift to new parents (who are so hungry and thankful!), take care to put it in a Pyrex or a recyclable tin. Don’t pass on to them your disposable plastic storage containers. You can even “gift” them a new Pyrex, along with an easy-to-make recipe for new moms or a promise to return to “refill” the Pyrex.
7. Look for BPA-free (or epoxy free) cans when shopping for canned goods (think canned beans, tomatoes). Certain brands promote this fact on their labels.
8. Consider using bar soap at your kitchen and bathroom sinks, instead of a plastic pump of liquid soap.
- Avoid using polycarbonate plastic baby bottles; use glass bottles instead.
- Do not put boiling or very hot formula or other liquids in plastic bottles, and do not warm plastic baby bottles in a microwave.
- Avoid liquid or powdered formula packaged in metal cans. Try to use powdered formula packaged in cardboard without epoxy liners.
The good news is that if you’re a healthy woman, your daily BPA intake is largely expelled through your urine by the end of the day. Until there is more information about the effects of microplastics in our bodies, we can take steps to reduce our contact with them.
Maintain a healthy diet. Eat a variety of foods, largely plant-based. Reduce your reliance on throw-away and one-use plastics (remember to take those reusable grocery bags with you that you left in the trunk!). Replace plastic storage containers with glass or Pyrex. And take comfort in knowing you’re working on reducing your family's exposure to microplastics. What are your tips?