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Is Breast Milk Really Pure?

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3 min read


Despite the possibility of harm from contamination, breastfeeding is still recommended best for infants. This article is detailed on contaminants in breast milk.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sonal Prasad

Published At June 20, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 25, 2022


Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for newborns and infants. Almost all public health organizations recommend breastfeeding for infants for the first six months and continuing breastfeeding until the mother and baby desire to achieve optimal growth and development. Even in the case of premature birth, consumption of human breast milk is known to reduce the chances of infectious complications. Many studies suggest that breast milk was associated with better cognitive development and a lower rate of hospital administration.

There are numerous health benefits associated with breastfeeding. It decreases the risks of infection, allergy, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even various forms of cancers in childhood and adulthood.

Nevertheless, there is a tendency for persistent organic pollutants (POPs), pesticides, and heavy metals to accumulate in human milk. Researchers and parents wonder whether it can reduce or override the health benefits.

What Are Environmental Contaminants in Breast Milk?

A baby devoid of breastfeeding suffers from a loss of immunologic protection from mothers' milk “colostrum,” which is secreted during the initial days of breastfeeding. Breast milk also contains various bioactive factors that help build the immune response in children. Although the health benefits of breast milk are tremendous, some contaminants can pollute breast milk, which might affect the infant's health.

Some toxic components from the environment can be a source of contaminants that can be transferred from mother to infant while breastfeeding. Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and other potentially toxic metals dispersed throughout the environment thus are of concern to nursing newborns.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are lipophilic stable chemicals that can accumulate in the adipose tissue and lead to lasting toxic body effects. Breastfeeding provides a significant source of exposure to POPs that might ill affect newborns and infants.

What Are Chemical Contaminants in Breast Milk?

The various studies limit the focus on a small panel of persistent organic pollutants. However, there is a possibility that a wide range of additional chemical contaminants may also enter breast milk. Despite these limitations, it is possible to draw some conclusions. Some studies show available data on levels of organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), metals, and solvents in breast milk. Some reports suggest that organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, and dioxins have declined in breast milk in many countries where these chemicals have been banned or otherwise regulated. In contrast, the levels of PBDEs are noticed rising.

Diet is a significant factor that possesses an influence on breast milk. The levels of persistent organic pollutants and fish consumption play an important role.

Some improved global breast milk monitoring programs need to be conducted in various countries to get more consistent data on trends over time and the detection of new xenobiotics in breast milk.

How Could Breast Milk Contamination Occur in the Neonatal Care Unit?

When newborns are admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), lactating mothers cannot directly feed their babies with breast milk, and she needs to express the milk out of their breast to feed their babies. Breast milk is not always sterile, and hence microorganisms can invade and multiply in the milk if the handling of milk is not done correctly. It can even lead to severe complications in those vulnerable newborns.

Some commonly known bacteria in expressed breast milk (EBM) areStaphylococcus aureus, including MRSA, β-hemolytic Streptococci, Pseudomonas species, Klebsiella species, Proteus species, and Enterobacteria. These bacteria can lead to infection in the infant at risk. Some reports suggest an association between breast milk Enterobacter and neonatal sepsis. The possible causes of expressed breast milk contamination are improper hand washing, lack of appropriate breast hygiene, storage, and transportation.

What Is the Associated Risk With Medications in Breast Milk?

Initially, the risks associated with drugs with breastfeeding were not a pronounced clinical concern. This is because low usage of medications in postpartum women stimulated little interest in studying medication use in the breastfeeding mother. However, the enclosure of many new pharmacologic agents, concerns over environmental contaminants, and a significant increase in breastfeeding altered the interest in this clinical issue. Providers of health care to women and children often are asked to advise breastfeeding women on the choice and risks of a particular medication. Healthcare professionals discourage using medications while breastfeeding when this situation arises. However, under unavoidable circumstances, a drug that does not reach breast milk is recommended to the mothers.

Feeding infants with breast milk to achieve the optimum growth requirements is essential for all mothers. The presence of contaminants can affect the newborn's health and development. To inhibit the negative impacts of contamination, we may follow these ways to prevent breast milk contamination.

  • Avoid exposure to chemical and environmental agents during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  • Appropriate breast hygiene.

  • Hand sanitization.

  • Avoiding medication.

  • Taking only prescribed medications.


The benefits of human milk for human infants are commendable. But the concern that creates havoc is the exposure of infants to contaminants in human milk. The number and the sources of such pollutants are unknown, but their extent is rapidly growing. Maintaining proper hygiene can prevent the milk from being contaminated. Research is being conducted to evaluate whether the bioactive components of human milk may somehow compensate for these milk-borne pollutants, and there are undergoing studies to detect the types of toxicants.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is the Purity of Breast Milk 100 % Pure

Breast milk is the best milk for a newborn. The composition of breast milk is:
- Milk-87 %
- Water-1 %
- Protein-4 %
- Lipids-7 %
- Carbohydrates-1 % to 2 %
It also contains many minerals such as calcium, vitamins, etc.


Is the Quality of Breast Milk Good?

Breast milk is the best in nutrition, vitamins, minerals, proteins, etc. But it can be of low quality for some people who do not take a proper diet. The quality of breast milk can be improved by taking fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, Iron, etc.


What Is the Milk-Holding Capacity of a Breast?

The milk-carrying capacity in different mothers can vary greatly. As per a study conducted each breast can produce around 2.6 ounces to 20 ounces of milk (74 grams to 606 grams).


How Much Milk Do Breasts Have?

The more the baby has milk, the more milk is produced. In other words, it can be said that the breasts are never empty truly in most cases. The milk is produced continuously before, during, and after feeding. So there is no need to wait for the milk to refill between feeding.


Is Breast Milk Vegan or Nonveg?

Breast milk is vegan and the best food available to nourish the child with all the necessary proteins, and vitamins required.  It contains 87% milk, 1% water, 4%protein, 7% lipids, and 1 to 2% carbohydrates.


For How Long Does a Woman Produces Milk?

There is no definitive age at which women can produce milk. Usually, the process of milk production starts during the pregnancy of lactogens. Usually, after the age of 40, there are certain hormonal changes that hinder the production of milk.


Is Breast Milk Recommended by Doctors?

Breast milk is the best substance available for the smooth, healthy, and nutrition-rich growth of the child. As per the American Academy of Pediatrics and WHO breast milk is exclusively recommended for babies up to 6 months. After which along with breastfeeding other supplements can also be included till 2 years of age.


What Is the “Rule of 7” in Terms of Breast Milk?

The rule of 7 for breast milk is for its storing the breast milk after expression. It should be made sure that it is stored in a container made up of glass or plastic with a tight-fitting lid. Bottles with recycling symbol number 7 should be strictly avoided. This indicates that plastic is made up of BPA- containing plastic.


During Which Time of Day Is Breast Milk Production Highest?

The prolactin (a hormone that supports milk production ) levels are highest during the early morning hours between 2 to 5 a.m. When the baby feeds at night the message to the body to boost milk production is high.


Can Breasts Produce Milk if Not Pregnant?

The breast can make milk if the woman is not pregnant under rare circumstances. This condition is known as galactorrhea. This happens when there are some conditions present such as:
- Intake of medication such as antipsychotics, antidepressants.
- Excessive stimulation of nipples.
- Chronic kidney disease.
- Some kind of hormonal birth control.


What Should Be Avoided While Breastfeeding?

While breastfeeding, it is recommended to avoid fish containing mercury. Alcohol      consumption should be avoided. Some vegetables such as beans, broccoli, and  cauliflower can cause gassiness or fussiness in the baby.


Is Breast Milk Made From Blood?

Breast milk contains milk, water, proteins, carbohydrates, and amino acids. It is extremely nutritious for the baby. It also contains white blood cells that boost the baby’s immune system.


Is Breast Milk Beneficial for Adults?

Breast milk is an extremely beneficial substance. It is rich in proteins and minerals and healthy antibodies that support well-being. Researchers believe that these components are beneficial in certain diseases such as Crohn’s disease, arthritis even autism.


Is Breastfeeding Painful?

It is normal to feel some pain soreness or sensitivity in nipples during and after breastfeeding in the initial weeks of breastfeeding. It may be due to improper latching of the child. Afterward, the mother gets used to it.


How Much Milk Can a Baby Get From the Breast?

 A single breastfeeding session can express around 54 to 234 ml of milk. Usually, boys consume around 831 mL daily, while girls consume about 755 mL daily.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Sonal Prasad
Dr. Sonal Prasad

Obstetrics and Gynecology


breast milk
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