The Bottom Line On BPA

I don’t know if you’ve been confused by all the conflicting information out there about the health risks of BPA (bisphenol-A), but we sure have. When we’re confused, we tend to push the offending item out of our way. If we can’t fix it, we don’t want to have to trip over it.

But the questions keep coming up. Are baby bottles safe? Do they still contain BPA? What about infant formula? What are the alternatives? What are the real health risks? What about past BPA exposure? What do we really know about this substance? Is the FDA telling us everything, or is this another case of ignoring the warning signs and hiding the facts?

So though there’s not enough definitive information to know all the answers, we jumped into the fray, did some research, and came up with the common-sense bottom line.

Bisphenol-A is a substance that’s added to plastic compounds to make them hard and clear. It’s also used in the plastic liners of canned foods, like infant formula. For some time, the researchers whose job it is to worry about these things have been concerned because the chemical structure of BPA mimics that of human hormones, most notably estradiol, the female sex hormone.

The risk is that the body may mistake it for the natural hormone and incorporate it into our cells and bodily functions. Research done on animals (no human research has been done, since you can’t exactly feed people BPA and see what happens) has shown an association with low levels of BPA exposure and early puberty, breast cancer, and delayed development, among other things.

In 2007 the National Institutes of Health released a report confirming “concern” over BPA exposure in infants and children. As a result, major retail chains like Babies R Us stopped selling bottles containing BPA, and BPA-free baby products became more available. But the substance is still used in some food packaging and other products, and in spite of the 2007 report the FDA declined to regulate its use.

Until last week, when the FDA announce that, yes by golly, it does have some concerns about the effects of BPA on developing bodies and is working hard to come up with new guidelines.

From the FDA website:

Recent studies have reported subtle effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals. While BPA is not proven to harm children or adults, these newer studies have led federal health officials to express some concern about the safety of BPA… It is clear that the government and scientists and doctors need more research to better understand the potential human health effects of exposure to BPA, especially when it comes to the impact of BPA exposure on young children.

So what does this mean to you? How can you reduce your family’s exposure to BPA until our government steps up and bans its use in food packaging entirely? First, the obvious.

Make sure that all the baby bottles and other infant supplies you buy that are going into your kiddo’s mouth are BPA free. Look for it on the label. This includes your babe’s toys and playthings, too. Anything a baby or toddler can pick up will end up as a chew toy.

Throw away old bottles and hand-me-downs manufactured pre-2008 (before the NIH report).

Liquid infant formula comes in cans that contain a plastic lining with BPA, so in spite of the convenience factor, skip it and go for the powdered form instead. There’s no BPA there. Continue breastfeeding for the first year, and you can avoid the formula problem altogether (though we can’t promise that breastmilk has zero traces of BPA. More research is needed).

The concern over potential harm from BPA is greatest for infants and young children because their bodies are growing so fast, and their immature livers and kidneys aren’t able to detoxify chemicals as efficiently as those of adults. The government is funding more studies, but until we know more it pays to be cautious.

Use common sense in food preparation for kids and adults. Whenever possible, avoid foods packaged in plastic containing BPA. Temperature matters, and BPA is more likely to end up in food that is heated in the plastic packaging or in a plastic container made with BPA. To be safe, heat food in glass or metal unless you know the plastic is BPA-free.

For more information and science specifics, go to the US Department of Health and Human Services page on BPA Information for Parents.

As we always say, knowledge is power.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “The Bottom Line On BPA”

  1. MAMAS ALERT: BPA Present in Most Canned Food

    […] Mamas info on BPA, take a look at one of our previous posts,                        The Bottom Line on BPA.  Email This […]

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