Breastfeeding and lead exposure: what you need to know

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FLINT (WJRT) - (01/31/16) - Breastfeeding is almost always the best option for both mothers and babies – despite lead exposure.

"During environment disasters, such as this, nature has provided its own filter. And in fact the mother's body actually protects the baby from exposure to the environmental contaminant - in this case lead,” said Dr. Paula Schrek with the Michigan Breastfeeding Network.

Dr. Schrek is trying to spread the word to pregnant women, and mothers of newborns in Flint. Her big message about breastfeeding?

"In the vast majority of cases yes, it is safe to continue breastfeeding, and actually recommended,” she said.

Dr. Schrek says only if the mother's lead levels are extremely high should they stop breastfeeding. In that case they should also talk to their doctor.

"If a mother finds that her blood lead level is greater than 40 she should temporarily stop giving the baby her breast milk until her lead level can be diminished to less than 40 by environmental controls,” said Dr. Schrek.

Dr. Schrek says breastfeeding is healthy for moms; it helps prevent breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and cardiovascular disease. It's even more beneficial for babies.

"Babies who are breastfed have a decreased incidence of SIDS, pneumonia, gastro-intestinal diseases, and ear infections” said Dr. Schrek.

She says those benefits follow the baby into childhood - kids have a decreased risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and asthma.

One of the most studied benefits of breastfeeding is especially relevant to what's happening in Flint.

"Children who are breast-fed have increased IQ. Therefore breastfeeding in infancy can mitigate, or decrease any effect of lead exposure,” said Dr. Schrek.

If you have any questions about breastfeeding and lead exposure, Dr. Schrek says you can contact your local health department or the Michigan Breastfeeding Network.

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