I’ve read so much about bisphenol A and baby bottles lately. Glass or plastic? Which one is safer for my 2 month old?
To avoid bisphenol A (or BPA, as it’s often called) in baby bottles, use glass (handle with care because they can break and cause cuts) or BPA-free plastics such as polyethylene, as Consumer Reports has advised in the past.
There's been a lot of buzz lately about BPA, which is used to make polycarbonate, a clear and rigid plastic. Health concerns about BPA relate to its ability to mimic the hormone estrogen. During such “endocrine disruption,” chemicals can interfere with or mimic the action of hormones, in ways that can upset normal development. Hundreds of studies published over the past decade suggest a connection between exposure to BPA at levels typical in the U.S. and increased rates of breast and prostate cancer, reproductive abnormalities, and—for infants exposed in the womb—problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, and diabetes.
When we published our tests of baby bottles in 1999, we found that polycarbonate bottles can leach small amounts of BPA into formula. We calculated that a typical baby who drank formula sterilized by heating the bottle would be exposed to a BPA dose of about 4 percent of an amount that has adversely affected test animals in studies by Dr. Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Such exposure may initially sound very low. However, safety limits for infant exposure are set as low as 0.1 percent of the level that has adversely affected animals. Babies who used the bottles we tested could be exposed to a BPA dose 40 times higher than that conservative definition of safety. A recent report sponsored by the Work Group for Safe Markets, a coalition of more than a dozen environmental and public health organizations such as the Center for Health, Environment and Justice based in Falls Church, Virginia, and co-authored by nine researchers including Dr. vom Saal, came to a similar conclusion. The report determined that polycarbonate plastic can degrade over time when it’s heated or washed with hot water, causing significant leaching of BPA. As a result, the Work Group for Safe Markets is calling for a moratorium and immediate phase out of the use of BPA in baby bottles and other food and beverage containers.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stands by its decades-old approval of polycarbonate bottles as safe, which they say is based on two studies, both funded by the plastics industry. As in 1999, we think the FDA needs to re-examine the issue immediately, as well as the growing body of research that links developmental and reproductive problems with exposure to estrogen-like compounds such as BPA. We will continue to investigate. In the meantime, if you are concerned about the presence of BPA, look for unbreakable BPA-free plastic, such as polyethylene, an opaque, less-shiny plastic (sometimes marked with recycling code 1 and/or the abbreviation PET) that does not leach BPA. Other plastics not made with BPA are high density polyethylene (2, HDPE), low density polyethylene (4, LDPE), or polypropylene (5, PP). Avoid those marked with recycling code 7, which includes polycarbonate, or the abbreviation PC. Glass is another option, but use with care to avoid breakage. If you’re making a switch and your baby misses his old polycarbonate bottle—babies are picky about which bottle they’ll take to—experiment with a different brand of bottle or nipple. That might just do the trick.