Plastic feeding bottles release at least 4 million microplastic particles per liter into your baby formula during preparation. This means your bottle-fed baby is swallowing millions of microplastics daily. While research isn’t yet clear on the impact of ingesting microplastic on infants, exposure is far higher than previously thought and affects plastic food containers.
According to groundbreaking research published in Nature Food, there is evidence that humans are drinking, eating, and inhaling tens of thousands of microplastics each year. The study found that babies may be ingesting up to 16 million microplastic particles per liter of baby formula prepared using a polypropylene bottle.
Infant Formula Preparation
The team comprising John Boland of Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and his colleagues measured microplastics released during baby formula preparation in feeding bottles made of polypropylene plastic. They estimate to account for almost 69 percent of such bottles available on the market. The researchers cleaned and sterilized brand-new polypropylene feeding bottles and left them to dry before pouring in purified water, which had been heated to 70°C, the World Health Organization-recommended temperature for infant formula preparation.
Polypropylene has been the go-to material for manufacturing plastics, and preliminary tests by the scientists found kettles and food containers also produced millions of microplastics per liter of liquid. It is an open secret that microplastics in the environment contaminate human food and drink. Still, the study shows that food preparation in plastic containers leads to exposure thousands of times higher. While the health impacts are still unknown, the researchers believe an urgent need to conduct further studies, particularly regarding infants. Prof. Boland said during the press release:
“We were absolutely gob smacked […] a study last year by the World Health Organization estimated adults would consume between 300 and 600 microplastics a day – our average values were on the order of a million or millions. We have to start doing the health studies to understand the implications. We’re already working with colleagues to look at what buttons in the immune system these particles begin to press.”
Absorbed Into the Bloodstream
Boland noted that his team was surprised to know that the shedding of microplastics by the bottles was temperature-dependent. When the researchers repeated their experiments using water at a range of temperatures, they found that particle shedding accelerated as the temperature rose. Shaking the bottles also increased microplastic release. These findings are in line with previous research, including a study revealing that plastic tea bags shed billions of microplastic particles into each cup.
Scientists recommend that you sterilize feeding bottles and baby formula is heated to destroy any potentially harmful bacteria. Ingeborg Kooter at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) now believes that any potential risks posed to infants by microplastics should be weighed against the risks of exposure to harmful bacteria. Boland says that many of the particles would be excreted, but further investigation was needed into how many could be absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body.
Reduce Your Exposure to Microplastics
While it’s not yet fully understood the risks to human health through exposure to these tiny plastic particles, this is an area of research that scientists are actively pursuing. Nonetheless, there are ways to reduce a child’s exposure to microplastics during formula feeding. A good place to begin would be to look at coatings that can prevent microplastics from being release during use and filters that could prevent microplastics from entering our water supplies. If you want to reduce your exposure to microplastics from polypropylene bottles, the four quickest and easiest steps are:
- Rinse sterilized feeding bottles with cool, sterile water
- Always prepare formula in a non-plastic container.
- After the formula has cooled to room temperature, transfer it into the cooled, sterilized feeding bottle.
- Avoid rewarming prepared formula in plastic containers, especially with a microwave oven.
Reassess the Current Guidelines
Dr. Boland’s team suggests an additional washing step can cut the microplastics produced during usual formula preparation. Water boiled in a non-plastic container and then cooled is used to rinse the bottle three times after sterilization. The formula is also made in a non-plastic container, then cooled and poured into the clean bottle. He concludes”
“That will dramatically reduce the number of microplastics […] the last thing we want is to unduly alarm parents, particularly when we don’t have sufficient information on the potential [health] consequences. However, we are calling on policymakers to reassess the current guidelines for formula preparation when using plastic infant feeding bottles.”