19 December, 2023

From the first moments of conception through to puberty, your child’s growth is non-stop. Children develop from a tiny bundle of joy to fully formed adults in around two decades. This change is controlled by hormones. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (or EDCs) are harmful chemicals present in many consumer products that can interfere with our hormones. 

Your newborn baby 

During your newborn’s first few months of life, it’s a delicate period for both of you. The baby is rapidly growing, and you are learning how to best take care of them. There are different ways to feed your baby, at Breast Cancer UK, we support breastfeeding as this has many benefits for you and your baby, including reducing your risk of breast cancer. While supporting breastfeeding, we recognise and appreciate that not everyone can breastfeed.

If you are breastfeeding, it is important for you to know that your exposure to some harmful chemicals may potentially affect your baby in the long term. This is because chemicals that you are in contact with may enter your breast milk. Scientists are trying to understand how EDCs may affect children’s development, given that hormones are very important for their growth. There are many products that contain EDCs, these include cosmetics and baby care products, but also food, water and the environment.

This might sound worrying to you, but you have some control in reducing your exposure to them through what you eat, use and are around. You can reduce exposure to EDCs and protect yourself and your baby by taking simple steps. Avoiding processed and pre-packaged food is a great way to start. Use glass containers when reheating food, as plastic containers especially when heated can potentially leak chemicals into your food. If you can, eat organic foods. Check if your cosmetics and baby care products contain known EDCs using the Yuka app. You can also download our guide for more tips on reducing exposure to harmful chemicals in your home.

Products for bottle-feeding babies are strictly regulated to limit as much as possible the presence of toxic chemicals. For example, Bisphenol A (BPA), an EDC often used in plastic, has been banned from baby bottles since 2011 and the composition of formula milk must meet strict nutritional and safety criteria.

Your baby and toddler  

When your baby is about six months old, they will likely start exploring the world around them. Moving their heads, making sounds, laughing and playing with toys are all milestones of your baby’s development. Young babies tend to play and explore by putting toys in their mouths. Plastic toys may contain harmful chemicals, such as phthalates. Phthalates are EDCs used to make plastic flexible and last longer, but they can leak out from the plastic and may be ingested by your baby. For this reason, some of the most toxic phthalates have been banned from toys, but others are still in use.  

To protect your baby, you can swap plastic toys with wooden toys, in particular with unpainted or unvarnished ones. You can let your friends and family know about this too, so they understand what to look out for if they buy gifts for your little one.  

Many babies will start crawling and walking around as part of their mission to explore the world.  Studies have shown that harmful chemicals can accumulate in dust. Regular vacuuming and dusting actively reduce the chemicals your child may encounter while on the floor.

We all know that children can be messy, especially when it comes to weaning. Cleaning spaghetti off the wall can be a full-time job. Make sure you use eco-friendly or natural cleaning products, as these are less likely to contain harmful chemicals; try to check ingredient lists wherever possible using our A-Z chemical list 

Your (pre)teenager

Puberty is a time of big changes for your child, too. In females, puberty usually starts between 8 and 13 years old, with the breasts beginning to grow. For males, it starts between 9 and 14 years old, with testicles increasing in size. The main hormones that control puberty are: oestrogen in females and testosterone in males. 

Females who start puberty early may face an increased risk of breast cancer since this prolonged exposure to oestrogen could occur. It is important to remember that some EDCs may act like oestrogen in our bodies. 

Taking your child on a shopping trip can be a fun day out for the family. When shopping, look out for clothes made of natural materials. For their first make-up set, choose natural and EDC-free cosmetics. You can check products with the Yuka app. Avoid pads and tampons containing plastic; choose period products made with organic cotton where possible. 

Read our key facts sheets to learn more about newborn, childhood and puberty life stages. Dive deeper into this topic and read our science review

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