Public Health Evaluation of PFAS Exposures and Breastfeeding: A Systematic Literature Review
By Lydia Hoadley, Michelle Watters, Rachel Rogers, Lora Siegmann Werner, Karl V Markiewicz, Tina Forrester, and Eva D McLanahan
May 25, 2023
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals that are persistent in the environment. They can be transferred across the placenta to fetuses and through human milk to infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that the benefits of breastfeeding infants outweigh the potential risks of harm from environmental chemicals in "nearly every circumstance." However, there are few chemical-specific summaries of the potential harms of exposure to PFAS during the neonatal period through breastfeeding. This systematic review explores whether exposure to PFAS through breastfeeding is associated with adverse health outcomes among infants and children using evidence from human and animal studies. Systematic searches identified 4,297 unique records from 7 databases. The review included 37 total articles, including 9 animal studies and 1 human study measuring the direct contribution of exposure of the infant or pup through milk for any health outcome. Animal studies provided evidence of associations between exposure to PFOA through breastfeeding and reduced early life body weight gain, mammary gland development and thyroid hormone levels. They also provided limited evidence of associations between PFOS exposure through breastfeeding with reduced early life body weight gain and cellular changes in the hippocampus. The direct relevance of any of these outcomes to human health is uncertain, and it is possible that many adverse health effects of exposure through breastfeeding have not yet been studied. This review documents the current state of science and highlights the need for future research to guide clinicians making recommendations on infant feeding.