What's New Nursing mothers shouldn't let fears about environmental toxins in breast milk stop them from breast-feeding, finds a report from a panel of international experts in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. "The benefits of nursing outweigh potential risks," said report author and panel leader Cheston M. Berlin Jr., professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pa. Experts have been raising concerns about the issue since the 1950s, and recent news reports have fed those fears. A July report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that breast milk contains small amounts of such toxins as mercury, thallium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and DDT, a pesticide banned more than 30 years ago. Two years ago, the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based watchdog group, reported that the milk of 20 mothers contained levels of bromine-based fire retardants that were relatively small but still 75 times the average found in Europe.

In Perspective Berlin's panel found "little to no direct evidence of adverse health effects" on breast-fed children in 20 or so studies investigating the matter. Panel members called for additional research into whether chemical levels decline over months of nursing; the extent of chemical exposures; and the presence of chemicals in drinking water used to prepare formula.

Best Choice Washington area experts second the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that women breast-feed infants for at least a year, if possible. "In just about every way that breast-feeding versus formula has been studied, breast milk is best," said Susanne Bathgate, an associate professor of maternal-fetal medicine at George Washington University. Breast milk promotes neurodevelopment and may protect babies from disease and allergies.

-- Rebecca Adams