(BOULDER, CO) The authors of BABY BARGAINS, the country’s best-selling guide to baby products (700,000 copies in print), today called for parents to stop using baby bottles and sippy cups made of polycarbonate plastic.
Polycarbonate bottles are made from a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA). In an article in a peer-reviewed medical journal last week, a group of 38 scientists said BPA caused a significant health risk.
Also last week, a federal panel convened by the National Institutes of Health said there is “some concern” the chemical could cause behavioral and neurological problems in young children.
Specifically, parents should stop using Avent’s Natural Feeding Bottle and Dr. Brown’s Natural Flow (or any bottle made of polycarbonate plastic)---these products were previously recommended by BABY BARGAINS.
“All baby bottles and sippy cups made of polycarbonate plastic should be avoided,” said author and consumer advocate Denise Fields. “If you are shopping for bottles, chose an alternative made from BPA-free plastic or glass. If you have polycarbonate bottles, throw them out.”
So, what is BPA? How is it harmful? See the FAQ below for answers.
Q. What the heck is BPA? Why is it dangerous?
Clear plastic baby bottles (as well as some food containers and water bottles) are made of polycarbonate, which contains a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA). It is the BPA that makes the hard, clear plastic bottles . . . well, hard and clear.
Here’s the rub: BPA’s chemical bond with polycarbonate breaks down over time—especially with repeated washings or heating of the bottle. As a result, BPA leaches out of the plastic bottle or sippy cup . . . and into the liquid (that is, breast milk or formula).
While most data on BPA comes from animal research, studies show even low-levels of BPA MAY be linked to everything from early puberty to breast cancer, to attention and developmental problems.
We wrote a detailed article on BPA and plastic baby bottles in our Baby 411 book. Click here to read it online on our web site.
Q. Do we really know that these bottles are dangerous to humans?
No, we don’t. There have been no human studies on BPA—so far, researchers have only found problems in animal research.
There is a split opinion here among scientists. The same federal panel that said it had “some concern” about behavioral and developmental problems in babies also stated that links to other ailments like birth defects and adult ailments were “negligible.” Of course, the plastics industry says BPA is completely safe.
That contrasts to the group of 38 scientists who last week called the health threat from BPA as “significant.”
But the fact the federal panel said there were “some concerns” for the health of babies tipped the balance for us.
As parents, we realize it can be hard to decide what to do when the debate is so heated. As always, our mantra is “show us the science.” We believe enough science is now in to recommend a change in course.
Q. Isn’t it a bit alarmist to say stop using these bottles? When will we know for certain BPA is harmful to humans?
The truth is we won’t know for YEARS if there is a human health problem from BPA. And it could be YEARS more before the government decides to take some regulatory action.
We have consulted with pediatricians and other experts before making this decision. The consensus of these experts is: if concerns exist today (and that is backed up by reputable scientific research), then why not limit your baby’s exposure to this chemical?
Babies are especially at risk when it comes to exposure to harmful chemicals—that’s one thing we all can agree on.
The bottom line: we suggest stop using polycarbonate baby bottles and sippy cups NOW. Since there are quite a few BPA-free bottles on the market (see below), we believe this is an easy call for parents.
Q. The Juvenile Products Manufacturer’s Association said plastic baby bottles are safe.
In a recent statement, the JPMA said the federal panel’s report on BPA “reaffirms the safety of plastic baby bottles.”
With all due respect to the fine folks at the JPMA, we’re not sure they were reading the same report we did. If they did, they would note this sentence: “The Expert Panel expressed SOME CONCERN that exposure to BPA causes neural and behavioral effects (emphasis added).” Read it here.
What part of “some concern” did the JPMA miss?
We realize you can argue that the panel didn’t call for the ban of products with BPA. But, that’s NOT what the panel was asked to do. It will now take years of debate among scientists, researchers and politicians as to the best course to take with BPA.
The JPMA does a good job at representing the manufacturers of baby products and lobbying the government on their behalf. But we would hardly call them unbiased experts on this subject. In fact, Avent (the U.S. largest seller of polycarbonate baby bottles) sits on the JPMA’s board of directors.
For the record, Avent told us they believe their bottles are safe and pose no heath threat to babies.
Q. Which bottles should we NOT use? Which ones are BPA-free?
Polycarbonate baby bottles make up about 90% of the bottle market. The most common polycarbonate bottle are Avent’s Natural Feeding Bottle and Dr. Brown’s Natural Flow. But other major baby product companies like Playtex and Gerber also make polycarbonate bottles.
Here are the alternatives that are BPA-free:
• Use glass bottles. Obviously, there is a risk of injury to baby or mom if the bottle is dropped, so glass isn’t a perfect alternative.
• Use bottles made of opaque plastic. These bottles (made of polyethylene or polypropylene) do not contain BPA.
• Consider a BPA-free plastic bottle. Born Free makes a BPA-free clear plastic bottle (Newbornfree.com) sold at Whole Foods. But these cost about $10 each, twice the price of Avent bottles.
• Use a drop-in system. For example the Playtex Drop-in System is BPA free (that is, the bottle liners do not contain BPA). Avent’s Tempo liners are another example.
Again, we have pictures of these on our web page here.
Q. Is there a way to tell if a bottle has BPA?
A. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy. Here’s a general guide:
• Bottles that have a #7 on their recycling label most likely are made of polycarbonate (and contain BPA).
• Bottles that have a #2, #4 , #5 are made of polyethylene or polypropylene—these do NOT have BPA.
We call on the government to require disclosure of which bottles have BPA, so consumers can make an informed choice.
Q. What about sippy cups?
A. Basically, the same advice applies: avoid those made of polycarbonate plastic. Sippy cups made of opaque plastic are fine. Again, check the bottom of the cup for its recycling number (#7 should be avoided).
Q. I just bought $50 worth of Avent bottles. Are you saying I should throw them out?
A. Yes. We know this in an inconvenience—but if you think about it, buying replacement bottles would run only $50 to $100. When it comes to safety, we think this is a worthwhile investment.
In the last printing of Baby Bargains, we realize that we recommended Avent and Dr. Brown’s polycarbonate bottles and said that polycarbonate bottles were safe. This was written before the release of the latest BPA study and federal panel report last week.
We have changed our recommendation on this subject based on new scientific evidence and the results of the federal panel discussed earlier. We will be revising our book in a new printing later this year to reflect this advice. We realize this is of little comfort to a reader who just bought $50 worth of Avent bottles and can’t return them—but we owe it to all readers to get the best and accurate advice out there as soon as it is available.
(Note: the advice in this update differs slightly from what we previous wrote in Baby 411 3rd edition. In that book, we said parents could still use polycarbonate bottles if they limited washings/heated drying, etc. Given the latest scientific evidence, we will revise that book to reflect the above advice to STOP using these bottles altogether.)
We will continue to blog about this subject, both here and on our Baby 411 blog. Stay tuned!