Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Human Breast Milk and Xenoestrogen Exposure: A Possible Impact on Human Health


Human milk is the best natural and optimal food for neonates with several immunologic, developmental and practical advantages throughout childhood. Although the World Health Organization strongly supports breastfeeding, it recognizes the potential health risks posed by the presence of environmental toxicants in breast milk. Contamination of human milk is widespread and due to decades of inadequately controlled pollution by toxicants, persistent pesticides or chemical solvents. These chemicals tend to degrade slowly in the environment, to bioaccumulate in the food chain and to have long half-lives in humans. Many of these environmental pollutants have estrogen-like activities and, thus they are called environmental estrogen disruptors or xenoestrogens. Certain adverse health and reproductive outcomes are attributed to these chemicals in laboratory animals and in wildlife as well as in humans. Here, we review available data from breast milk monitoring studies suggesting the environmental chemicals that may affect child health through breastfeeding.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement. Breastfeeding and the use of the human milk. Pediatrics 1997;100:1035–1039.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastfeeding: maternal and infant aspects. ACOG Education Bulletin No 258. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2000.

  3. World Health Assembly. Infant and young child nutrition. Resolution WHA54.2. Available: 2002.

  4. Solomon GM, Weiss PM . Chemical contaminants in breast milk: time trends and regional variability. Environ Health Perspect 2002;110:A339–A347.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Dewailly E, Ayotte P, Bruneau S, Laliberte C, Muir DC, Norstrom RJ . Inuit exposure to organochlorines through the aquatic food chain in arctic Quebec. Environ Health Perspect 1993;101:618–620.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Pronczuk J, Akre J, Moy G, Vallenas C . Global perspectives in breast milk contamination: infectious and toxic hazards. Environ Health Perspect 2002;110:A349–A351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Safe S . Endocrine disruptor and human health: is there a problem? An update. Environ Health Perspect 1995;108:487–493.

    Google Scholar 

  8. American Academy Of Pediatrics. Committee on drugs: the transfer of drugs and other chemicals into human milk. Pediatrics 2001;108:776–789.

  9. Nagel SC, vom Saal FS, Welshons WV . Developmental effects of estrogenic chemicals are predicted by an in vitro assay incorporating modification of cell uptake by serum. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 1999;69:343–357.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Hong H, Tong W, Fang H, et al. Prediction of estrogen receptor binding for 58,000 chemicals using an integrated system of a tree-based model with structural alerts. Environ Health Perspect 2002;110:29–36.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Steinmetz R, Young PC, Caperell-Grant A, et al. Novel estrogenic action of the pesticide residue beta-hexachlorocyclohexane in human breast cancer cells. Cancer Res 1996;56:5403–5409.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. vom Saal FS, Timms BG, Montano MM, et al. Prostate enlargement in mice due to fetal exposure to low doses of estradiol or diethylstilbestrol and opposite effects at high doses. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1997;94:2056–2061.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Payne J, Rajapakse N, Wilkins M, Kortenkamp A . Prediction and assessment of the effects of mixtures of four xenoestrogens. Environ Health Perspect 2000;108:983–987.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Harris CA, Woolridge MW, Hay AW . Factors affecting the transfer of organochlorine pesticide residues to breastmilk. Chemosphere 2001;43:243–256.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Needham LL, Wang RY . Analytic considerations for measuring environmental chemicals in breast milk. Environ Health Perspect 2002;110:A317–A324.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. LaKind JS, Berlin CM, Park CN, Naiman DQ, Gudka NJ . Methodology for characterizing distributions of incremental body burdens of 2,3,7,8-TCDD and DDE from breast milk in North American nursing infants. J Toxicol Environ Health A 2000;59:605–639.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Lorber M, Phillips L . Infant exposure to dioxin-like compounds in breast milk. Environ Health Perspect 2002;110:A325–A332.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Skalsky HL, Guthrie FE . Binding of insecticides to human serum proteins. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 1978;43:229–235.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Patterson Jr DG, Needham LL, Pirkle JL, et al. Correlation between serum and adipose tissue levels of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin in 50 persons from Missouri. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 1988;17:139–143.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Laden F, Neas LM, Spiegelman D, et al. Predictors of plasma concentrations of DDE and PCBs in a group of U.S. women. Environ Health Perspect 1999;107:75–81.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Skaare JU, Tuveng JM, Sande HA . Organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls in maternal adipose tissue, blood, milk, and cord blood from mothers and their infants living in Norway. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 1988;17:55–63.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Atkinson HC, Begg EJ . The binding of drugs to major human milk whey proteins. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1988;26:107–109.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Abraham K, Papke O, Gross A, et al. Time course of PCDD/PCDF/PCB concentrations in breast-feeding mothers and their infants. Chemosphere 1998;37:1731–1741.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. US Environmental Protection Agency. Draft Exposure and Human Health Reassessment of 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-Dioxin (TCDD) and Related Compounds. Available: 2002.

  25. Patandin S, Dagnelie PC, Mulder PG, et al. Dietary exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins from infancy until adulthood: a comparison between breast-feeding, toddler, and long-term exposure. Environ Health Perspect 1999;107:45–51.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Laug EP, Kunze FM, Prickett CS . Occurrence of DDT in human fat and milk. Arch Ind Hyg 1951;3:245–246.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Kreuzer PE, Csanady GA, Baur C, et al. 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and congeners in infants. A toxicokinetic model of human lifetime body burden by TCDD with special emphasis on its uptake by nutrition. Arch Toxicol 1997;71:383–400.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Ayotte P, Carrier G, Dewailly E . Health risk assessment for newborns exposed to organochlorine compounds through breastfeeding. Chemosphere 1996;32:531–542.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Savage EP, Keefe TJ, Tessari JD, et al. National study of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticide residues in human milk, USA. I. Geographic distribution of dieldrin, heptachlor, heptachlor epoxide, chlordane, oxychlordane, and mirex. Am J Epidemiol 1981;113:413–422.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. US Environmental Protection Agency. Acquisition and Chemical Analysis of Mother's Milk for Selected Toxic Substances. EPA 560/13-80-029. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency; 1980.

  31. Noren K, Meironyte D . Certain organochlorine and organobromine contaminants in Swedish human milk in perspective of past 20–30 years. Chemosphere 2000;40:1111–1123.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Furst P, Furst C, Wilmers K . Human milk as a bioindicator for body burden of PCDDs, PCDFs, organochlorine pesticides, and PCBs. Environ Health Perspect 1994;102:187–193.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. WHO. Levels of PCBs, PCDDs and PCDFs in Human Milk. Protocol for Third Round of Exposure Studies. Copenhagen: World Health Organization European Centre of Environment and Health; 2000.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Massart, F., Harrell, J., Federico, G. et al. Human Breast Milk and Xenoestrogen Exposure: A Possible Impact on Human Health. J Perinatol 25, 282–288 (2005).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links