Infant Dietary Exposures to Environmental Chemicals and Infant/Child Health: A Critical Assessment of the Literature

Environ Health Perspect. 2018 Sep;126(9):96002. doi: 10.1289/EHP1954.


Background: The benefits of breastfeeding to the infant and mother have been well documented. It is also well known that breast milk contains environmental chemicals, and numerous epidemiological studies have explored relationships between background levels of chemicals in breast milk and health outcomes in infants and children.

Objectives: In this paper, we examine epidemiological literature to address the following question: Are infant exposures to background levels of environmental chemicals in breast milk and formula associated with adverse health effects? We critically review this literature a) to explore whether exposure-outcome associations are observed across studies, and b) to assess the literature quality.

Methods: We reviewed literature identified from electronic literature searches. We explored whether exposure-outcome associations are observed across studies by assessing the quality (using a modified version of a previously published quality assessment tool), consistency, and strengths and weaknesses in the literature. The epidemiological literature included cohorts from several countries and examined infants/children either once or multiple times over weeks to years. Health outcomes included four broad categories: growth and maturation, morbidity, biomarkers, and neurodevelopment.

Results: The available literature does not provide conclusive evidence of consistent or clinically relevant health consequences to infants exposed to environmental chemicals in breast milk at background levels.

Conclusions: It is clear that more research would better inform our understanding of the potential for health impacts from infant dietary exposures to environmental chemicals. A critical data gap is a lack of research on environmental chemicals in formula and infant/child health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Health*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dietary Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Health*
  • Infant, Newborn


  • Environmental Pollutants