Objectives: Worldwide declines in the duration of lactation are cause for public health concern. Higher levels of dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene (DDE) have been associated with shorter durations of lactation in the United States. This study examined whether this relationship would hold in an agricultural town in northern Mexico.
Methods: Two hundred twenty-nine women were followed every 2 months from childbirth until weaning or until the child reached 18 months of age. DDE was measured in breast milk samples taken at birth, and women were followed to see how long they lactated.
Results: Median duration was 7.5 months in the lowest DDE group and 3 months in the highest. The effect was confined to those who had lactated previously, and it persisted after statistical adjustment for other factors. These results are not due to overtly sick children being weaned earlier. Previous lactation lowers DDE levels, which produces an artifactual association, but simulations using best estimates show that an effect as large as that found here would arise through this mechanism only 6% of the time.
Conclusions: DDE may affect women's ability to lactate. This exposure may be contributing to lactation failure throughout the world.