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Breastfeeding Benefits Far Outweigh Any Risk

THE Ministry of Health worked with Ministry for the Environment (MFE) to finalise the draft report into MFE's assessment of the health effects of dioxins and other organochlorines in New Zealand.

The MFE's report, which is still in draft form, is called Evaluation of the toxicity of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs; A health risk appraisal for the New Zealand Population.

Child and Youth Chief Advisor Dr Pat Tuohy said it was pleasing to see that the draft report confirmed dioxin levels in New Zealanders were falling. Evidence from a 1999 Ministry of Health study of dioxins in breastmilk, referred to in the MFE's draft report, indicates the level of dioxin in breastmilk has fallen about two thirds in the past decade.

Dr Tuohy said he recognised that information about trace levels of dioxins in breastmilk may cause alarm among parents and caregivers but said that at the very low dioxin levels found in New Zealand, there would be no increased health risk from breastfeeding.

"Research shows that New Zealand children who were bottle fed as babies and children who were breastfed as babies both have similar low dioxin levels in their bodies by the time they are in primary school. Breastmilk does not contribute any greater lifetime dioxin exposure," Dr Tuohy said

"The health risk of trace-level dioxins is the cumulative build up in the body over several decades, not short-term exposure such as six to nine months of breast feeding," he said.

"The benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh any risks. Breastfeeding is the best way to provide the nutritional requirements to ensure optimum physical and intellectual development of a baby," Dr Tuohy said

"All key infant and child health groups, both in New Zealand and internationally, are aware of the presence of dioxin in breastmilk and still strongly recommend breastfeeding. The World Health Organization considered the implications of dioxin in breastmilk in May 1998 and came out with a statement in support of continued promotion of breastfeeding.

"Dioxin in breast milk is not a new issue. The Ministry has commissioned research on this in the past and will have further results on breastmilk coming out in April. The levels of dioxins in breastmilk are a reminder that these long lasting compounds continue to contaminate our environment."

"The Ministry of Health urges businesses and local authorities to work with the Ministry for the Environment to reduce the levels of dioxins for the environment, for the benefit of our children and those yet to be born," Dr Tuohy said.


For further information on the health effects of dioxin contact; Angus Barclay, Media Advisor, 04 496-2067 or 025 240-7131 Internet Address;

For further comment on the report findings contact; Karl Ferguson, Ministry for the Environment.

The above statement has the support of the following key child and infant health groups. Contact details have been included should reporters wish to ring group representatives for further comment.

Julie Stufkens NZ Breastfeeding Authority 03 379 9480

Jane Wickham NZ Lactation Consultants Association 07 347 7106 or 025 293 4106

Becky Fox or Angela Baldwin RNZ Plunket Society 04 471 0177

Norma Campbell NZ College of Midwives 03 377 2732

Rirepeti Haretuku Maori Sids Prevention, Auckland School of Medicine 025 886 810

Rosemary Gordon La Leche League New Zealand 04 471 0690

Sineva Cruickshank or Anna Bailey Healthstar Pacific 025 504 855

Sharon Cole Parents' Centres NZ 04 476 6950

Maureen Gillon Royal NZ College of GPs 04 496 5990

Barbara Dennison Keneperu Hospital Dietician 04 385 5999

Background Information

What are dioxins and organochlorines? Dioxins are part of a family of organochlorine compounds which have been present in our environment for decades. They are known to be harmful to health and exposure to high levels has been linked with a greater risk of cancer and damage to the immune and reproductive systems.

What did the report find? The report found that levels in the New Zealand environment are low compared to other industrialised countries. A person's intake on average is well below one picogram per kilogram of body weight per day. (A picogram is one million millionth of a gram). The World Health Organization established a tolerable daily intake range of one to four picograms per kilogram of body weight per day, recommending the intakes should be reduced below the lower end of the range. This intake allows a safety factor of 10 for uncertainties in extrapolating animal research in humans. For further comment on the report, please contact MFE spokesperson Karl Ferguson.

Why did it discuss levels in breastmilk? The report includes findings from a Ministry of Health study, currently in draft form, on levels in breastmilk because it is an effective way of determining the levels in the human body, a reflection of the fact that dioxin exists in the environment. The level of dioxin in breastmilk has fallen two thirds in the past decade. Both dietary and environmental factors affect the level in humans.

The amounts found in breastmilk was so low that they do not represent a risk the health of babies. At the very low levels that are found in the New Zealand environment, the risk to health is from any long-term cumulative buildup in a person's body, rather than short term poisoning. By about age seven, dioxin levels in children that were breastfeed are similar to those that were bottlefed.

Existing research shows that breastfeeding still enhances babies' development

The Ministry of Health research is currently in draft form and is due to be released in April. The Ministry of Health's findings, referred to in the MFE report, indicate that the levels of dioxin in breastmilk have fallen about two-thirds from those found in the Ministry of Health's 1990 study. This 1990 report showed that New Zealand mothers had levels at the lower end of the range internationally.

Breastfeeding benefits both the mother and the child. Benefits include: The nutritional benefits of breastmilk include; it meets the full term baby's complete nutritional needs for the first four to six months of life is readily available with no heating required has low risk of bacterial contamination is low cost has less risk of over or under feeding contains optimal ratios of the fatty acids required for eye and brain development the nutrients in human milk are more bioavailable than in infant formula

Other benefits for the baby include; reducing the risk of infectious disease such as meningitis, gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections because it contains maternal antibodies reduces the risk of food allergy may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome

Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother are that it; speeds up the involution of the uterus after birth provides emotional and physical satisfaction to the mother and may help the mother to return to her pre-pregnancy weight does not require preparation and exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding may help to space pregnancies reduces the risk of premenopausal breast cancer

What help is available to breastfeeding mothers, parents and others wanting more information? If people want further information, they should contact a health professional, such as their GP, Plunket nurse or midwife. The Ministry has distributed information related t this report and what it means for breastfeeding mothers and their babies to key child and infant health groups.

The Ministry of Health has produced publications for parents seeking advice on healthy eating; Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers and Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Breastfeeding Women. The background papers (written for health professionals) for the pamphlets are on, while the pamphlets are available from hospital Public Health Units.

What can people do to reduce dioxins in their environment and decrease their intake? People can reduce dioxin intake by following the Ministry of Health's nutrition guidelines. Eating a healthy diet high in cereals, fruits and vegetables and choosing low fat meats. The main dioxin sources for humans are high fat animal foods and some fish.

People can prevent dioxins getting into the environment by not burning household rubbish, particularly PVC plastic in back yard incinerators, or chemically treated wood in internal housefires. Plastics should be recycled to prevent generation of toxic wastes through burning. People should ensure that items and substances containing PCBs, which are related to dioxins, such as capacitors, light fittings and electric motors are disposed of safely by local authorities who should have safe air policies and plans for the disposal of organochlorine compounds.

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