If you formula feed, don't panic about arsenic exposure just yet

Feb 23, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Image: Dima Sobko/iStock/Getty Images Plus

A new study linking arsenic exposure to formula feeding has the potential to send moms into a panic. Unfortunately it also has the potential to send breastfeeding moms into a spiral of smugness. Before you freak out, read a little more closely.

It's widely accepted that breast is best for baby. It's also an undisputed fact that breastfeeding isn't best for every mom. While it seems like the controversy could end right there — with the understanding that not all moms can breastfeed or choose to breastfeed — feeding babies remains one of the most hotly contested parenting choices.

As a mom who exclusively breastfed, I can tell you it wasn't a magical bullet. The kid I breastfed the longest has all kinds of medical issues. Looking back, I wish I'd reached for the formula to supplement instead of making myself crazy pumping at work. But that's just me. Every mom has her own reasons for feeding her baby the way she chooses to.

Medical studies regarding the benefits of breastfeeding can be salt in the wounds of moms who just want to feed their babies in peace. It's even worse when studies directly link formula feeding with something negative, like a recent study that showed that exclusively formula-fed babies had over 7 times more arsenic in their systems than breastfed babies did. The study concluded that tap water and formula powder could both be sources of arsenic exposure and that breastfeeding appeared to be a way to safeguard babies from exposure.

Don't freak out.

If you breastfeed, you're already breastfeeding, and this study doesn't apply to you. End of story. Don't tell your formula-feeding friends they're probably poisoning their kids. You do you.

If you formula feed, it's not like you're going to attempt to re-lactate and suddenly start nursing your baby out of fear of one study of babies in New Hampshire. So what's next? Keep in mind that researchers fully admitted they're not sure what to do with this information. They don't know if these trace levels of arsenic will cause any negative health problems. The study also involved only a handful of exclusively formula-fed infants. Because arsenic occurs naturally in rock and soil, it's a fairly common contaminant in drinking water — especially in well water.

Still looking for some peace of mind? Have your private water supply tested by a water-testing lab. If you're on public water, know that as of 2006, the United States Environmental Protection Agency began requiring much lower levels of arsenic in water than ever before.

This is all a fancy way of saying that formula feeding isn't hurting your baby. Whether kids are breastfed or not, they're still going to graduate to regular foods and beverages — many of which still contain — you guessed it — arsenic. By toddlerhood, every parent is in the same boat. It's getting harder and harder to find affordable foods that aren't laced with all kinds of undesirable additives. And that? Is a lot scarier to consider than a handful of formula-fed babies in New Hampshire.

More on feeding your baby

It's not selfish to not breastfeed
12 Women scandalously breastfeeding without a cover
10 Terrible reasons to breastfeed

Comments