Estimated Exposure to Arsenic in Breastfed and Formula-Fed Infants in a United States Cohort

Carignan CC et al.
Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Feb 23.


Background: Previous studies indicate that breast milk arsenic concentrations are relatively low even in areas with high drinking water arsenic. However, it is uncertain whether breastfeeding leads to reduced infant exposure to arsenic in regions with lower arsenic concentrations.

Objective: We estimated the relative contributions of breast milk and formula to arsenic exposure during early infancy in a U.S. population.

Methods: We measured arsenic in home tap water (n=874), urine from six-week-old infants (n=72), and breast milk from mothers (n=9) enrolled in the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study (NHBCS) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Using data from a three-day food diary, we compared urinary arsenic across infant feeding types and developed predictive exposure models to estimate daily arsenic intake from breast milk and formula.

Results: Urinary arsenic concentrations were generally low (median 0.17 µg/L, maximum 3.0 µg/L) but 7.5 times higher for infants fed exclusively with formula than for infants fed exclusively with breast milk (β = 2.02; 95% CI: 1.21, 2.83; P<0.0001, adjusted for specific gravity). Similarly, the median estimated daily arsenic intake by NHBCS infants was 5.5 times higher for formula-fed infants (0.04 µg/kg/d) compared to breastfed infants (0.22 µg/kg/d). Given median arsenic concentrations measured in NHBCS tap water and previously published for formula powder, formula powder was estimated to account for ~70% of median exposure among formula-fed NHBCS infants.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that breastfed infants have lower arsenic exposure than formula-fed infants, and that both formula powder and drinking water can be sources of exposure for U.S. infants.

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