BPA--The problem with plastic
If you have a baby, whether you breast feed or use infant formula, you will probably use a baby bottle at some point. And probably quite a few baby bottles. If you have a toddler, "sippy cups"--those no-spill cups with lids and a spout--are de rigueur to avoid disasters. But some scientists suspect that the material commonly used for baby bottles and some sippy cups, polycarbonate plastic, could be harmful to your baby's health.
Here's what we know: Up until 2007, about 90% of the baby bottles sold in the United States were made of polycarbonate plastic. Unfortunately, one of the components of this type of plastic is bisphenol-a, or BPA, a chemical that can leach into whatever liquid is in the bottle or cup. Water at room temperature leaches a little BPA--boiling water, 55 times as much. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, and animal studies have linked low levels of it to hyperactivity, learning disabilities, early onset of puberty, increased diabetes risk, age-related neurodegenerative diseases, and certain cancers, including breast cancer. Studies have also confirmed that babies have low levels of BPA in their systems.
What we don't know is whether that BPA poses a significant health risk to those babies. While scientists study the matter, you may want to choose among the safer options below.
- Replace scratched or worn bottles. At the very least, replace scratched or worn bottles, which appear to leach more BPA than new polycarbonate bottles.
- Don't heat. Never add boiling water to polycarbonate baby bottles or sippy cups because it will increase the amount of leaching.
When shopping, look for
- Safer materials. If you can get your baby to accept a new kind a bottle, get rid of all your polycarbonate bottles. A number of baby bottles and sippy cups on the market are BPA-free, and more are becoming available.
- Safer plastic. Try these plastics, which you may be able to identify by a number stamped in the recycling symbol on the plastic: low-density polyethylene (LDPE, #4), polypropylene (PP, #5), polyamide (PA, #7), or polyethersulfone (PES, #7).
- Plastic bottles with drop-in liners. In these baby bottle systems, a disposable drop-in liner made of safer plastic touches the formula or breast milk, and the hard outer part is polycarbonate plastic. Typically, the liner is polyethylene plastic. This isn't a perfect green solution, however, because the liners are single use.
- Glass. This option also has its pros and cons. Most parents who use glass baby bottles have reported little to no breakage, but a risk exists. Also, glass bottles are heavier than plastic.
- Stainless steel. Food-grade stainless steel has not been shown to leach into stored foods, so it's a great option for sippy cups.
- Nipples made from silicone. Silicone nipples are durable and don't leak chemicals into the air or your baby's mouth. They are also free of BPA and phthalates, easy to clean, and can be thrown into a dishwasher. If your baby doesn't like the firmness of silicone, latex rubber nipples are a possible second choice. But latex has some downsides: it tends to break down faster than silicone, with cracks and fissures in which bacteria can grow; some infants have an allergic reaction to it; and it contains N-nitrosamines, which can cause cancer. The Food and Drug Administration established standards to protect infants from this chemical in 1985, but low levels still remain in latex nipples.
- Check all parts. Make sure all the components are BPA-free, not just the main part of the bottle or cup.
- Polycarbonate plastics, which are among the #7 plastics, and can leach BPA.
- Aluminum. Aluminum sippy cups, particularly the lower end knock offs, may be lined with a resin that contains BPA.
- The fact that BPA mimics estrogen is not some startling revelation. Along with diethylstilbestrol (DES), it was investigated for use as synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. The stronger chemical, DES, was chosen--first as way to prevent miscarriages and later as a contraceptive. After millions of women had taken it, DES was found to cause reproductive defects and increase the risk for rare cancers in their daughters.
- It's important to keep in mind that BPA's adverse effects at low levels of exposure have only been shown in laboratory animals. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared that current levels of exposure to BPA were safe. But some scientists and health advocates disagree. Due to growing public concern, a number of retailers have pulled polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and similar items from retail shelves.
...to your health
If you choose one of the safer options for your child's bottles and cups, you won't have to worry about who is right and who is wrong in the debate over the health effects of BPA.
...to the Earth
All of the plastic options on the market are made from petroleum. Using glass or stainless steel cups and bottles will shrink your personal oil consumption a bit. You'll also produce less waste, since glass and steel products are reusable and recyclable.
Avoiding all #7 plastics. While #1 through #6 all identify single types of plastic resins, #7 just means "other plastic." So, just because a product is labeled with #7 doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad. For instance, some of the new corn-based plastics, which are considered safe for food contact, are also #7.
Many large retailers offer a selection of BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups. Whole Foods has eliminated polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. Other large retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R Us, and CVS have announced plans to eliminate BPA baby bottles and sippy cups from their store shelves over the next couple of years.