What's all the fuss about baby bottles?

Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the manufacturing of many plastic bottles, including some plastic baby bottles, has been under scrutiny. When heated, BPA has been found to leach from the plastic and possibly get into the contents of the containers. What does this mean for babies and their bottles? Repeated high-temperature dishwashing or boiling of baby bottles containing BPA could possibly expose babies' foods and drinks to the chemical.

In 2007, Environmental Defence, a Toronto environmental group, conducted research on the BPA leaching of three popular baby bottle brands and found detectible amounts of the chemical in all three. This study also noted that wear-and-tear could increase the effects and recommends that parents opt for glass bottles rather than risk BPA exposure from plastic bottles. Some stores have taken polycarbonate plastic bottles off the shelf altogether.

In early 2008, the Government of Canada made the bold move of becoming the first nation to conduct a risk assessment of BPA. While calling for more research into the issue, the government announced that it is taking action to reduce the public's exposure to BPA, especially where newborns and infants are concerned.

Should I be worried? Is my baby in danger?

Research into the effects of BPA on humans remains inconclusive at this point. BPA's impact has predominantly been measured in lab animals and, under those circumstances, was linked to early onset of puberty, fertility problems, and increases in breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. While researchers express some concern for pregnant women, developing fetuses, and young children, the risks have so far been deemed minor. More research needs to be conducted to fully understand any effects BPA may have on human beings.

How can I avoid BPA?

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has acknowledged Health Canada's assessment of BPA's health risks, and the CSS offers tips for reducing your exposure to the chemical.

  • Go with glass: Opt for glass over plastic when it comes to food and drink containers, especially for infants and young children.
  • Cloudy vs. clear: Avoid hard, clear plastic bottles with the recycling code 7 stamped on the bottom. These contain polycarbonate plastic and, thus, BPA. Instead, use the semi-cloudy, translucent plastic options, usually stamped with the recycling code 5.

Don't boil or microwave foods or drinks in polycarbonate plastic containers. If you must use plastic, seek out the safer varieties: those with the recycling numbers 1, 2, or 5.