Microplastics

Why you don’t need to panic about the new baby bottle lawsuits

As if feeding little ones weren’t already stressful enough, a pair of new lawsuits has many parents worried that they shouldn’t use plastic bottles now, either. Here’s what you should know — and why you don’t need to panic every time you pull out a bottle to feed your baby (promise! ).

What you need to know about the lawsuits

Clarkson Law Firm recently filed class action lawsuits against Philips Avent and Handi-Craft, the parent company of Dr. Brown’s. The suits allege that many of the bottles, cups and sippy cups sold by Philips and Dr. Brown’s failed to disclose the presence of polypropylene on their packaging.[1][2]

Why is that a problem? Studies cited in the suit indicate that polypropylene, when heated, leaches microplastics.

In case you’re not familiar with them, microplastics are small particles that can result from the degradation of plastics. They’re found almost everywhere, from drinking water to the air, and have the potential to disrupt natural processes in the body, leading to health issues.[3]

Other studies cited in the lawsuits suggest that there is no safe amount of microplastics for babies to consume, and that the impact of microplastics on infants may be greater than it is for adults.[4][5]

The suits also highlight how both companies advertise their bottles and cups as being “BPA-free.” While the products are, in fact, BPA-free, the litigants say that this creates the expectation that these baby products don’t contain any harmful plastics at all.

The upshot, Clarkson Law Firm alleges, is that baby bottles are often heated as part of their typical use — and that the companies didn’t properly warn customers on the packaging about the risk that this could lead to babies ingesting microplastics.[6][7]

A representative for Philips told What to Expect in a statement that the company “disagrees with the allegations and will vigorously defend itself.”

“As a leading parent and child care brand, Philips Avent takes its role in providing high-quality child and baby care products very seriously and considers the safety of its consumers as our top priority,” the statement continued. “We ensure this by full compliance with all applicable safety requirements globally and locally.”

Handi-Craft Company, which makes Dr. Brown’s bottles, did not respond to What to Expect’s request for comment by press time. What to Expect will update this story if we receive a response from Handi-Craft.

Some big caveats you should keep in mind

All of this information can sound scary, but experts say there are some things you should keep in mind about these suits.

1. Concerns about microplastics aren’t new, but there’s still a lot we don’t know

While these lawsuits are new, worries about microplastics aren’t. Scientists first identified microplastics as a potential issue two decades ago.[8]

Since then, researchers have looked to better understand how microplastics enter the environment and the effect they have on human health.

Ultimately, “the results of exposure are unclear,” Alan says.

2. Other plastic bottles use different materials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better

The big issue with Philips Avent and Dr. Brown’s bottles, according to the lawsuit, is that they’re made from polypropylene (which both companies do disclose on their websites). Other popular bottles use different materials.

Nuk Simply Natural bottles, for example, are made with Tritan, another form of BPA-free plastic.[9]Comotomo baby bottles are made from silicone.[10]

While some plastic bottle materials are considered by the general public to be “safer” than others, any bottle not made from glass or stainless steel has the potential to leach microplastics or chemicals, says Jamie K. Alan, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University.[11][12]

“Microplastic shedding has been observed in various types of plastic baby bottles, including polypropylene bottles, which are a common type,” says Daniel Ganjian, M.D., a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “There isn’t enough research to determine if certain brands shed more microplastics than others.”

Does this mean you should worry about all plastic bottles? You can read more about this below, but the short answer is no.

3. The lawsuits call out baby bottles, but the truth is that microplastics are pretty much unavoidable

Alan stresses that microplastics aren’t a unique issue to baby bottles — they’re in the air we breathe, the water we drink and even breast milk. In fact, research has found that microplastics are in nearly every part of the human body and in human placentas.[13]

This isn’t meant to alarm you, but it’s important to know that microplastic exposure from baby bottles is just a small part of how your baby is potentially exposed to these chemicals.

4. Some of the studies cited in the lawsuit are animal or cell studies — which don’t necessarily mean that the results apply to humans

Research on cells, organoids and animals indicates that microplastics may lead to DNA damage, organ dysfunction, metabolic disorders, immune issues, reproductive problems and developmental challenges. While this is definitely scary, the truth is there’s a lot we don’t know about microplastics.[14]

It’s also important to keep in mind that these animal and cell studies don’t necessarily mean that the same results apply to people. “Animal studies are not always predictive of what happens in humans,” Alan says. Ultimately, she says, more research is needed.

At this point, experts say it’s hard to measure the real risk of microplastic exposure in babies. “I don’t think we fully understand the effects of microplastics over a lifetime,” Alan says.

“There is still ongoing research about the potential health effects of microplastics on people of all ages, including infants,” Dr. Ganjian says. Ultimately, doctors agree that it’s not understood how using plastic bottles that may leach microplastics can impact babies.

So what types of bottles should you use?

Remember to keep this all in perspective. “Feeding your child should be your number one priority, and plastic bottles have been historically used for decades with little evidence of harm,” Alan says.

If you want to minimize your baby’s exposure to microplastics, you can try using glass bottles whenever possible, says Dr. Ganjian — but keep in mind that they’re often a bit more expensive. (Both Philips and Dr. Brown’s make glass baby bottles, if you’d prefer to switch.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics says parents can reduce exposure by handwashing plastic containers and not microwaving formula or pumped milk in plastic.[15]

One hack you can try, per Alan: Heat your child’s formula or breast milk in a glass container or pan, let it cool to a drinkable temperature and then transfer it to your child’s bottle. “It’s a hassle, but it could work,” she says.

And remember, your child’s doctor is always there to help.

“If you’re concerned about microplastics in your baby’s bottles, talk to your pediatrician,” Dr. Ganijian says. “They can help you weigh the risks and benefits of different bottle materials and make the best choice for your baby’s health.”