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Breast milk may not be as pure as we thought

Julie Ryan Evans is an editor and writer who has covered everything from Capitol Hill to the politics of preschool. A mother of two, a runner of races, and a gourmet chef wannabe, she currently lives outside of Orlando, Florida.

Bad news for breast milk is a big wake-up call for moms

Breast will always be best when it's an option for babies, but it might not be quite as good as we thought. A new study has found that a mother's milk may be filled with all sorts of potentially harmful chemicals.

In a study of 81 children born in the Faroe Islands, scientists from Harvard and Danish institutions found concerning levels of perfluorinated alkylate substances in children who were breastfed. PFASs are the chemicals that have received a lot of attention in recent years for the potential health risks they pose. They can be found in everything from seafood to pizza boxes to clothing and cosmetics.

More: Blissful breastfeeding photos show beautiful moments between a mother and child

In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers found the level of PFASs in babies exclusively breastfed rise 20-30 percent each month. Children who were breastfed for extended periods of time had levels higher than those of the moms breastfeeding them in some cases. Children who were only partially breastfed had lower levels of PFASs, and levels decreased when breastfeeding ended.

More: 10 Terrible reasons to breastfeed

So what do elevated levels of PFASs mean? No one really knows, but for one, they might make vaccines less effective. Other reports have shown they might increase the rates of cancer and other diseases. Scary stuff.

Before you race out to buy formula, though, you should know that the same scientists still believe breast milk is best. From bonding with your baby to the fact that breastfed babies have lower risk of ailments such as asthma, childhood leukemia, SIDs, Type 2 diabetes and ear infections, to name a few, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh these risks.

More: Incredible photo project celebrates moms who breastfeed and bottle-feed

Moms should also know PFASs are everywhere, including the water with which people may make formula. So, more than a scary red flag about breastfeeding, this new study should be looked at as more of a big wake-up call for moms and our entire society: We've got to stop polluting our environment. Seeing that something as pure as breast milk is tainted should make everyone want to do better.

In the meantime, to avoid PFASs, pregnant women (and everyone, for that matter) can follow the Environmental Working Group's list of tips for avoiding potentially dangerous chemicals.

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