Women with silicone breast implants who breast feed may be putting their babies’ health at risk, according to a study by American researchers.

A growing body of evidence suggests that recipients of silicone are at risk of developing rheumatic and other auto immune diseases.

These are abnormalities of the immune system, in which antibodies are produced that attack the body’s own tissues.

However, Drs Jeremiah Levine and Norman Ilowite of the Schneider Children’s Hospital in New York suggest that the babies of women with breast augmentation may also be at risk of developing the same problem.

They looked at 11 children, aged between 18 months and 18 years, who were suffering long standing problems of the digestive system and whose mothers had had silicone implants. Eight had been breastfed, and three exclusively bottlefed.

The 11 were compared with a group of 17 children with similar stomach problems who had not been exposed to silicone.

The eight children reared on breasts with implants had a host of symptoms, plus abdominal pain.

Three had recurrent vomiting, two had swallowing difficulties, four were considered underweight, and six had irritable bowel syndrome, with irregular bowel movements and increased intestinal gas. Some also had symptoms of joint pains and periodic rashes.

Significantly, all the children were found to have abnormalities in the function of their gullet or esophagus the tube that connects the throat with the stomach. In contrast, the bottlefed babies had a normal esophagus.

An editorial accompanying the study concludes that breastfeeding with all its well documented benefits may still be the better option for women with implants.

“Indeed, advising implant recipients to refrain from breastfeeding may not spare their children entirely from silicone exposure, as silicone formula bottle nipples and infant pacifiers are in wide use,” it said. JAMA, 19 January 1994.

On the subject of the benefits of breastfeeding, a study by the Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center concluded that prolonged breastfeeding or starting at a young age give premenopausal women protection against developing breast cancer.

!ANew Eng J Med, 13 January 1994.

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