Image Credit: Marion County, Oregon. This image has been modified.

Protecting Our Babies From Pollutants

For those of us starting new families, one of the myriad concerns that come up is how we are ever going to get our children to eat their veggies. One answer that I profile in my 3-min. video The Best Baby Formula is to exclusively breast feed as long as possible. Apparently this doubles the likelihood that our children will end up eating twice as many vegetables when they grow older. How could that be?

The researchers suggest that “breastfed babies, whose mothers regularly eat a variety of foods, are exposed to a diversity of flavors that are absent from formula milk and this early exposure augments the acceptance of various flavors.” So when they eventually eat some bitter broccoli, instead of spitting it out, they’re subconsciously like, “Hey, I remember this!” Perhaps this helps explain the evidence suggesting that the longer babies are breast fed, the lower their risk of developing inflammatory diseases such as asthma, cancer, and diabetes.

The new Surgeon General’s report agrees with the official World Health Organization recommendation, which agrees with the best available science that all women in the world should exclusively breastfeed for a full 6 months. Whether your own milk, a wet nurse, or a milk bank, there is simply no good substitute. It’s the only “formula” for optimum health.

Other tips on raising healthy children can be found in videos such as:

Unfortunately parents tend to overestimate the quality of their children’s diets. For advice on how to best raise our children, one can’t beat the advice offered by the most esteemed pediatrician of all time, Dr. Benjamin Spock. Check out Dr. Spock’s advice in Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance.

In my 2-min. video Pollutants in Californian Breast Tissue, I showed the extent to which our bodies may become contaminated with industrial pollutants. Should we be worried that we might be passing toxins onto our children? See my 2-min. video The Wrong Way to Detox for an answer to that question. If that doesn’t motivate expectant mothers to eat healthier, I don’t know what will.

Note, though, that the level of industrial pollutants mothers have in their fat tissue doesn’t necessarily reflect what they’re passing on to their child. Researchers last year decided to measure pesticide levels right out of the umbilical cord blood. At delivery, as soon as the cord was cut, a little blood was squirted into a vial before it was tied off.

As I document in my 2 min. video DDT in Umbilical Cord Blood, even now, decades after DDT was banned, “almost all umbilical cord blood samples, 95%, showed detectable DDT residues.” It’s not exactly the first thing we want to be passing along to our newborns. Pesticide residue levels were most closely associated with the mother’s consumption of three types of foods: fish, other meat, and dairy products.

Dozens of chemicals are found in the bodies of pregnant Americans according to the latest CDC Report on Environmental Chemical Exposure. Even with these data, breast is still always best. If someone was eating the Standard American diet when they were pregnant and ended up passing along a certain amount of toxic waste to their child, is it too late? If after the birth and weaning they decided to start a fresh page in their lives and feed their new child only the best, how long might it take our children to shed the industrial toxins they may have gotten from us in the womb or from the breast?

In my 2-min. video How Fast Can Children Detoxify From PCBs? I profile a recent study that followed a cohort of children exposed at birth to PCBs from their mothers. They were tested at age 8 and then again at age 12 to get a sense of the half-life of these toxins within their bodies. Depending on the chemical pollutant, the estimated half-lives ranged from about 4 years to 9 years. Therefore, if our children eat a healthy diet and don’t play around in any toxic waste dumps, by the time they’re between 20 and 45 years of age they will have eliminated more than 95% of the PCB inheritance we gave them at birth.

A problem they found in doing the study, though, is that they had to throw out a lot of data and exclude children who had obvious PCB reuptakes because their levels were even higher at age 12 than 8, meaning they were getting re-exposed. Where are some of these pollutants found? See my videos Food Sources of Flame Retardant Chemicals and Food Sources of Perfluorochemicals.

Regardless of what kind of start our children get, it’s never too late to improve our families’ diets to prevent additional intake of these pollutants into their bodies.

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

4 responses to “Protecting Our Babies From Pollutants

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  1. Excellent recap Dr. Greger! Lots of valuabe information here. I shall pass along this link to people who are starting or thinking of starting a family.

  2. Question from CG: “Could you look into milk substitutes for babies whose mothers cannot breast feed and for children whose parents want to avoid dairy? What about for soy’s plant estrogens or isoflavons and the concern for their effect on babies who drink a lot of soy formula? How much protein does a baby need? Is there a way to supplement protein, B12, D, phosphorus, potassium and use home made almond milk? I saw the abstract for an article that suggested that almond milk might be a good substitute. It was at The citation at the top of the abstract was Minerva Pediatr, 2005 Aug; 57(4): 173-80 but I was unable to pull the study up. What about the claim that rice milk is contaminated as it takes up arsenic from the soil and water more easily than other grains? I got this and other information about non dairy milks from “Not Milk? What’s Tops in the Non-Dairy Aisle?” by Jayne Hurley & Bonnie Liebman in the Nutrition Action Healthletter, January/February 2015, Vol. 42 issue 1.
    Then I found “Should you join the switch from dairy milk? Weighing the trade-offs between dairy, soy, almond and other choices” in the Tuffs University Health & Nutrition Letter, 31 (7), pg 4 (Sept 2013). So is soy formula safe for infants? Could other milk substitutes work for infants with supplements? How about toddlers and children? What about other milk substitutes for toddlers and children?
    Is there research out there addressing these questions or is it an area that is not researched well? I have a 9 month old grandson whose mother can no longer breast feed as she needs to take medication that will eliminate her breast milk as an option. Plus there is 6 year old grandson who has been drinking almond milk because he cannot tolerate cow’s milk.
    What to do? What to do?


    CG, wow what great questions. Soy formulas are safe option. DO NOT use almond milk or any homemade plant-milks as a formula substitute. See this factsheet on Feeding Infants. I also suggest the Vegetarian Resource Group as they have research on kids and nutrition, soy formula, protein needs, etc. For kid snacks I love this brochure by PCRM. They also provide thousands of recipes, here. Dr. Greger’s Optimal Nutrition Recommendations may also help. Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding is a great resource, as well. Dr. Spock’s book “Baby and Childcare 8th Edition is another excellent resource. I suggest finding a copy of that book as Dr. Spock is considered America’s baby doctor.

    Dr. Greger lists a few resources for feeding infants. These books will have all these answers plus more!

    About rice and arsenic: a guest member supplied us with a link, below, that looked at rice from different countries. I’ll post it here. It is important to note that the levels of arsenic in rice may not be as high when compared with other foods. Dr. Greger has some great resources on food and arsenic. ​He also compared arsenic levels of wild rice to brown rice in this Ask the Doctor Q&A.​

    I suggest looking into a milk bank and asking her pediatrician for advice. These two steps are most important and you can discuss everything I said above with your heath care team.

  3. Hi, I have looked around your site but didn’t see anything. I have a breastfed 6 month old that has struggled with cradle cap since right after birth. I have read both books and haven’t seen anything in there either. Do you have any suggestions on plant foods or anything safe and topical that can be used? I love that you give so many great suggestions on natural options for healing your health. I know there are bunches of web articles but I always like to check with your site because I trust it.

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