In what may be a first among mainstream parenting books, an updated version of Baby 411 tells parents to stop using polycarbonate plastic baby bottles that contain the controversial chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA.
Most baby bottles on the market are made from the hard, clear, shatterproof plastic, such as Avent, Dr. Brown's, Evenflo, Gerber and Playtex. But "until we get more answers about their safety, we do not recommend using polycarbonate bottles," wrote co-authors Denise Fields and pediatrician Ari Brown.
The concern is that when bottles are heated or repeatedly washed, BPA can leach out and end up in the breast milk or formula.
In animal studies, the chemical has been shown to mimic the natural female sex hormone estradiol, affecting the reproductive system. Other research linked low doses - not high doses, as incorrectly stated in Baby 411 - to chromosomal abnormalities in mice. BPA may also have a role in cancers, impaired immune function, early puberty, obesity and diabetes.
Whether BPA, also found in epoxy coatings in canned food, can hurt the development of a human fetus or a baby is still unclear. In March, the National Institutes of Health/National Toxicology Program assigned an independent panel to evaluate the dangers the chemical might pose to reproductive health.
But some complained that the draft report was riddled with errors and had an industry bias because it was prepared by Sciences International, a private consulting firm with close ties to the chemical industry, and has been funded by more than 50 industrial companies.
The NIH fired SI, citing potential conflicts of interest, and an in-house staff prepared a second draft for the federal Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.
But the revised draft also has generated heavy criticism by academic scientists, in part because it uses the raw data from SI. It "does nothing to rectify the blatant pro-industry bias," wrote biologist Frederick vom Saal, a BPA researcher from the University of Missouri.
One concern, according to the public comments, is that the federal panel deemed studies funded by industry and conducted by industry scientists to be more "appropriate for consideration" than papers by academic scientists funded by NIH and National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences.
But panel member Earl Gray Jr. defended the integrity of the expert scientists. And although he called some of the criticism "constructive," he denied that the group is biased in either direction.
"Only high-quality studies will be included in the final summary, regardless of where the authors were employed or who funded the study," said Gray, a biologist in the reproductive toxicology division at the Environmental Protection Agency. "We also have not yet considered whether or not the results were positive or negative for health effects."
Another concern is that the federal center's review panels are set up to include experts from other fields. This lack of specialists led to errors, according to many of the comments. But the federal center's panel "does not usually include scientists that have a major stake in a particular chemical or have already decided about the health effects of the chemical," since their objectivity might be compromised, Gray said.
The panel meets again in early August, and the public will have several more opportunities to comment on the draft reports. Meantime, if you want to keep using plastic bottles or "sippy" cups, the new Baby 411 advises limiting the number of times you boil those bottles or put them in a dishwasher, skipping the "heated dry" dishwashing cycle and buying new bottles every time you have a new baby.
Julie Deardorff writes for the Chicago Tribune.
If you want to avoid BPA altogether, Baby 411 (Windsor Peak Press, $12.95) recommends:
Using glass bottles.
Using bottles made of opaque plastic, such as Medela. These bottles (made of polyethylene or polypropylene) do not contain BPA. (Note that polycarbonate-containing bottles have a No. 7 on their recycling label.)
Considering a BPA-free plastic bottle such as Born Free, though they cost more.
Using a drop-in system; the bottle liners do not contain BPA.
Avoiding store-bought baby food in metal or plastic containers.