Just admit it: You’ve always wanted to go fishing through your baby’s dirty diapers to discover what surprises might be lurking inside. It ranks right up there with ‘Give grandma a suppository’ on the list of things you’ve always dreamed of doing. Were you to indulge yourself in such fun, you’d likely find your baby’s poo was loaded with plastic, and not just because they swallowed those carnival beads you foolishly left within arm’s reach. (Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.) It’s because our babies are pooping microplastics ingested throughout their environment.
In a recent study, scientists sifted through the dirty diapers of six different one-year-olds. (It’s at times like this that I’m really, really glad I’m not a lab scientist.) They then studied it to measure microplastics–tiny specs of synthetic material ingested from their surroundings.
The researchers found an average of 56,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) per gram of feces–10-times more than what is typically contained in adult fecal samples. (A factoid which could only be known because researchers with a poo fetish have apparently done this before.) PET was even found in the meconium of newborns (a baby’s first poop), showing our infants are already being exposed prenatally.
Where are they getting all this plastic from? Everywhere you look–from toys, bottles, food containers, packaged food, clothing, furniture, you name it–our world is a virtual plastiporium (which I’ve been assured is not in fact a dirty word, despite how it sounds). Preparing hot formula in plastic bottles can in and of itself deliver several million microplastic particles each day.
This is fairly concerning, given that plastic isn’t exactly made from the healthiest of substances. (Dibutyltin…WTF is that?) Some plastics can contain as many as 10,000 different chemicals. At least a quarter of these substances are harmful; the rest we simply don’t know about. Among these are chemicals known to cause cancer, disrupt your child’s endocrine system, cause sexual abnormalities, result in early puberty, and lead to the spontaneous sprouting of devil horns coinciding with all manner of mischievous behavior. (Just kidding on the last one. Your child did that all on their own.)
So ready, set: panic. Wail and fret. You can’t even take comfort in the thought of wrapping your baby in a protective bubble, because the bubble would no doubt be made of plastic. It’s just another example of the price we pay for “progress.”
You can, however, work to try and reduce your family’s plastic exposure. Consider switching to glass bottles, which avoid this plastic leeching problem (while coming with the added fun of sometimes shattering when dropped, so just be careful). You can also avoid a lot of exposure by breastfeeding your baby rather than using formula. I would also recommend parents get our book, ‘Toxic Childhood,’ which is better than any Steven King horror story, with the added bonus of being 100% real. But at least you’ll be a lot better informed about the invisible hazards lurking all around you, because what you don’t know can indeed harm your children.
1. The Week, ‘Baby poop is loaded with microplastics,” Oct. 8, 2021, p. 22