Breastfeeding protects babies from air pollution: Study

Breastfeeding children in their first four months helps protect them against air pollution from traffic and factories, a new study has found.


The study by the University of the Basque Country examined the effect of pollution particle matter on the development of motor capacity and of nitrogen dioxide on mental development up to 15 months.

It found neither airborne toxin exerted a harmful effect on babies breastfed on mother’s milk for at least four months.

The research examined two airborne toxins; pollution particle matter and nitrogen dioxide, and their effects on development of motor capacity and mental development on babies up to 15 months.

It found neither exerted a harmful effect on babies breastfed for at least four months.

The study monitored 638 women and their newborn babies up until they were 15 months old, followed by a check-up when the children turned eight.

The women and children studied all live in the Goierri-Alto and Medio Urola valleys, in the Basque Country which is home to 11 steel works and a major motorway.

Dr Aitana Lertxundi of the Basque Country University’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health said: ‘In the foetal phase the central nervous system is being formed and lacks sufficient detoxification mechanisms to eliminate the toxins that build up.’

Pollution particle matter particles measure less than 2.5 micra and are four times thinner that a single hair.

Suspended in the air they can easily penetrate the body and as they weigh so little they can spread without any difficulty through the air and can move far away from the initial emission source.

Yet the composition of these neurotoxic particles depends on the emission sources in the area.

The study area has a high presence of neurotoxic particle matter made up of lead, arsenic and manganese from industrial activity and traffic.

In comparison with urban averages where the main source of pollution is traffic, the concentration is lower.

Results published in the journal Environment International found the existence of an inverse relationship between exposure to pollution particle matter and the motor development of babies.

In this respect, she highlighted the fact that ‘these indices display an alteration with respect to the average and, even if they are not worrying, they are significant in that they reveal the relationship existing between air quality and motor development.’

Yet an analysis of the data also shows that neither the pollution particle matter nor the nitrogen dioxide exert a harmful effect on babies breastfed on mother’s milk for at least four months.