Breastfeeding still recommended, despite DDT contamination

Despite DDT’s being affiliated with reduced cognitive ability in infants after intrauterine exposure, and despite indications that DDT may retard fetal development, a team of Spanish researchers urges mothers to breastfeed anyway. Their study shows that breastfed kids develop better despite after birth even when exposed to DDT in utero, despite any dangers of exposure to DDT and other chemicals in breast milk.

No, the study does not say DDT is harmless.

From the American Journal of Epidemiology, abstracts of the study have been released in advance of publication in the October 2007 edition.

Beneficial Effects of Breastfeeding on Cognition Regardless of DDT Concentrations at Birth

Núria Ribas-Fitó1, Jordi Júlvez1, Maties Torrent2, Joan O. Grimalt3 and Jordi Sunyer1,4 1 Centre de Recerca en Epidemiologia Ambiental, Institut Municipal Investigació Mèdica, Barcelona, Spain
2 Àrea de Salut de Menorca, Servei de Salut de les Illes Balears, Menorca, Spain
3 Departament de Química Ambiental, Institut d’Investigacions Químiques i Ambientals de Barcelona–Centre Superior d’Investigacions Científiques, Barcelona, Spain
4 Departament de Ciències Experimentals i de la Salut, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain

Correspondence to Dr. Núria Ribas-Fitó, Centre de Recerca en Epidemiologia Ambiental, Institut Municipal Investigació Mèdica, C. Doctor Aiguader 88, 08003 Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain (e-mail:

Received for publication March 19, 2007. Accepted for publication June 13, 2007.

The authors previously reported that intrauterine exposure to background concentrations of p,p’-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) reduces cognitive performance among preschoolers. Breastfeeding has been associated with both increased exposure to certain pollutants during infancy and better performance on cognitive tests. Thus, the authors examined the role of breastfeeding in cognitive function among preschoolers, taking prenatal DDT exposure into account. Two birth cohorts in Spain (Ribera d’Ebre and Menorca) were recruited between 1997 and 1999 (n = 391). Infants were assessed at age 4 years using the McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities. Levels of organochlorine compounds were measured in umbilical cord serum. Information on type and duration of breastfeeding was obtained by questionnaire when the children were 1 year of age. Children who were breastfed for more than 20 weeks had better cognitive performance regardless of their in utero exposure to DDT. A linear dose response between breastfeeding and cognition was observed in all DDT groups (for children highly exposed to DDT, adjusted ß = 0.30 (standard error, 0.12) per week breastfed). Despite the possibility of harm from environmental contaminants in breast milk, breastfeeding for long periods should still be recommended as the best infant feeding method.

breast feeding; child; child development; child, preschool; cognition; DDT; infant; intelligence

Abbreviations: DDE, p,p’-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene; DDT, p,p’-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane; IQ, intelligence quotient

Some of the members of this research team have also tied DDT’s daughter product, DDE, to increased asthma in children, in research published in Environmental Health Perspectives in December 2005.

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