Should You Toss Your Baby Bottles?
Recent News Reports About the Dangers of BPA and Phthalates Have Parents Wondering

By Deirdre Wilson

Baby bottles have always been considered essential parenting gear - not cause for alarm. But so much has been written about the safety of baby bottles over the last six months, it's no wonder new and expectant parents are anxious and confused.

Here's a look at the ongoing controversy and what you can do to ease your concerns.

Warnings and a Lab Report

Last fall, consumer and environmental groups began issuing public warnings about Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, chemicals used to make baby bottles and other plastic containers. The chemicals, the groups said, could be leeching into beverages in the bottles and harming young children.

In April, the federally run National Toxicology Program issued a draft report on the source of the groups' concern. The report stated that animal studies involving rats fed or injected with low doses of BPA found precancerous tumors, urinary tract problems and early onset of puberty in females. While the program's scientists, who hail from the national Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the Institutes of Health, stressed that the possibility of BPA's harmful effects on humans can't be dismissed, they said the findings offer only a "limited amount of evidence" and should not be cause for alarm.

Responding to rising concern, however, Canada considered banning BPA in baby bottles. Some retailers, including Wal-Mart, announced that they would withdraw baby products made with BPA. And bottle manufacturers Nalgene, which makes sports bottles, and Playtex both announced that they'll discontinue using BPA in their products.

Michael Shannon, M.D., head of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston, says different types of baby bottles can contain either BPA or phthalates. Clear, hard plastic bottles tend to contain some BPA, he says, while plastic bottles or plastic liners may have phthalates.

Both BPA and phthalates belong to a group of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which "seem to be able to mimic the effect of our bodies' own hormones," Shannon says on the hospital's Web site. "There is a potential for taking in a substance, taking in a chemical that starts to change how your body is functioning." But Shannon stresses that there is still no evidence that BPA or phthalates have caused problems in humans. Studies are ongoing.

What to Do While the Jury is Out

Because the research involving rats and BPA has raised questions about the potential for harm to human beings, parents may want to take steps to reduce their children's exposure to BPA and phthalates, Shannon says. Among the things you can do:

  • Switch to glass baby bottles. Glass doesn't contain these chemicals, though it is heavier, harder to handle and can shatter.
  • Store mixed formula or breast milk in a glass bottle instead of a polycarbonate or plastic bottle.
  • When buying new bottles, look for those labeled as "phthalate-free." Several are on the market. While BPA-free bottles are not yet available, Shannon expects that they soon will be.
"The main message to parents is that you should not go home and throw away every bottle that you currently own," Shannon says. "There just isn't enough evidence at this point that these chemicals are harmful. However, as the opportunity arises to reduce exposure by buying that next set of bottles or by making decisions on how you will store these chemicals, a parent might switch to what are better alternatives... such as glass."

Deirdre Wilson is national senior editor for Dominion Parenting Media.