LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 6 no 2, 1998  ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Breastfeeding and Lead

What Do Mothers Need To Know?

Because lead is cheap and useful, it is found in many products and in many places in the environment. Lead can affect anybody, but children under the age of four and the foetuses of pregnant women are most at risk.

Lead can affect children by causing learning and attention problems, impaired hearing thresholds, slowed growth and behavioural problems. The major pathway for lead intake in young children is their normal hand to mouth activities.

Lead gets into adults when we breathe in lead dust or fumes in the air, or if we take in food or drink that contains lead. Small amounts can gradually build up to cause health problems. Half of the lead you absorb into your bones any time in your life will still be in your bones 10 to 30 years later. Lead will leach out of your bones and into your blood as your bones give up some calcium – especially if your calcium intake is insufficient. This might be when you become immobilised due to a fractured bone; when there is an extreme change in activity levels such as lengthy bed rest; osteoporosis; use of steroids or pregnancy and lactation.

Breastfeeding is nutritionally perfect for your baby.

There is much controversy over how much lead is in breast milk, however, experts all agree that breastfeeding should continue unless there has been severe lead poisoning diagnosed in the mother during her life. Artificial baby milks and cow's milk also contain lead. (Abadin HG., Hibbs BF., Pohl HR. 1997, Newman J. 1992, Rabinowitz M., Leviton A., Needleman H. 1985). Reducing your exposure and continuing to breastfeed is the most effective way of limiting your baby’s risk of lead exposure.

How much lead is there in breast milk?

Because breast milk is an ever changing substance, it can be difficult to measure and the literature shows a wide range of results. There has also been the problem of contaminated specimens. What has been found, is that the lead levels in breast milk are related to the lead levels in a mother's blood, but breast milk contains only 5% or less of this amount. Having your blood level checked is a simple way of estimating the risk to your baby. (If you are pregnant, ask your doctor to request a lead level with your next tests or ask your GP - this test is covered by Medicare).

Lead moves from where it is stored in a mother's skeleton, during later pregnancy and lactation, when the need for calcium increases. Maintaining your calcium intake will give the body plenty of circulating calcium in the blood which can be used easily by the body to meet the increased need of the foetus. This means there is less likelihood of the body using the skeletal calcium which might induce lead to leave the bones and enter the blood stream.

The 1994 Australian Market Basket Survey found only trace or undetectable levels of lead in breastmilk, cows milk and infant formulas including soy based formula. In the 1992 Australian Market Basket Survey, lead was below the detection limit in all breastmilk tested. Soy based infant formula had lead levels 4 times the detection limit and other infant formula had 3 times the detection limit. In Broken Hill, which is a lead rich environment, the mothers tested had levels that were one tenth of the amount considered to be a problem for breastfeeding.

How does lead get into my body?

You may have been exposed to lead if you’ve been involved in:

Self or partner working in a lead occupation – there are over 75 occupations which use lead, including building and automotive trades, jeweller, ceramics, glassmaking, chemical and petroleum industries, mining and smelting.

Renovating a pre-1970 house – the older the house, the more likely it is to be lead contaminated.

Diet high in lead – including beverages - This means eating unwashed, especially inner city home grown vegetables or unpeeled root crops. Lead also enters our diet through the containers we use.


  • Storing acidic or alcoholic food or beverage, especially Kombucha Tea, in lead crystalware, hand painted china, old or imported pottery or ceramics – some pre-1993 wines are sealed with lead foil

  • Cracking or poorly fired pottery

  • Acidic imported canned foods in lead soldered tins

  • An excess of wholemeal wheat or rice - (benefits of these foods may outweigh the disadvantage of lead contamination).

Many traditional medicines and cosmetics contain lead

Many "non-Western" medicines and cosmetics contain high amounts of lead and other metals. Often these are made by "Traditional healers" and brought into Australia by friends and relatives to recently arrived immigrants. Especially those from Arab cultures, the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, China and Latin America should be avoided. Folk Remedies containing lead include:

Alarcon, Alkohl, Azarcon, Bali Goli, Coral Ghasard, Greta Liga, Pay-loo-ah, Rueda
Unapproved dyes in certain eye cosmetics from the Middle East or Asia, Kajal and surma or kohl contain potentially harmful amounts of lead.

How can I reduce the risk?

Maintain optimal calcium intake
1200 mg/day is recommended for lactating women. This will mean that your body will be less likely to use the calcium stored in your bones to make milk.

Eat a balanced diet
You are more likely to absorb lead if you have a diet that is high in fat or low in iron, zinc or calcium.

Eat small amounts often
Lead is more easily absorbed when your stomach is empty.

Use the tips for lead safe house cleaning and renovating in Lead Safe factsheets.

Avoid using lead containing medicines or cosmetics on yourself or your baby.

Wipe with a wet cloth the rim of any wine bottle after the cork has been removed if the bottle has a tin-lead foil capsule, even if you are unsure as to the composition of the capsule (generally only smaller wineries have used lead capsules since 1994.).

Who can I talk to?

Extensive advice is available through the Global Lead Advice & Support Service, which will discuss your level of risk and offer suggestions to reduce lead exposure.

The following are no longer available from the Lead Pollution Line of the NSW Environment Protection Authority:

For more information ring:

Global Lead Advice & Support Service: 1800 626 086
or 02 9716 0014 (For Lead Safe Fact sheets and Booklets)

Pollution Line (NSW): 131 555

Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Counselling can be accessed via email through the association website Australian Breastfeeding Association

  • Phone: National Helpline 1800 686 2 686 (1800 MUM 2 MUM)

  • National Headquarters: Victoria Phone: (03) 9885 0855 Email:

Branch Offices

  • NSW Phone: (02) 8853 4900 Email:

  • ACT/Southern NSW Phone/Facsimile: 02 6162 2716 Email:

  • Queensland Phone: (07) 3324 0577 Email:

  • SA / NT Phone: 08 8333 3276 Email:

 Or visit the website of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Relationships of Lead in Breast Milk to Lead in Blood, Urine, and Diet of the Infant and Mother.
Brian L. Gulson, C. William Jameson,  Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Karen J. Mizon, Nicole Patison, Alistair J. Law, Michael J. Korsch, and Mary A. Salter. Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 106, Number 10, October 1998 pp 667-674


This fact sheet is based on recently completed research into lead in breastmilk by Professor Brian Gulson et al at CSIRO and Macquarie University, supported by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

We extend our thanks to Prof. Gulson, Dr Garth Alperstein and Prof. Geoff Duggin for giving their valuable time to review our fact sheet.

Contents | Previous Item | Next Item

The LEAD Group Inc. Fact Sheet Index

NSW Lead Reference Centre and NSW Government Publications On this site PDF

  1. About the Global Lead Advice and Support Service (GLASS)

  2. Main Sources of Lead

  3. How Would You Know If You or Your Child Was lead poisoned?

  4. Lead aware housekeeping

  5. Ceiling dust & lead poisoning

  6. Is your yard lead safe?

  7. Health Impacts of lead poisoning

  8. Rotary Questionnaire

  9. Lead poisoned Pets and Your Family

  10. Childhood Lead Poisoning Risk Factor Questionnaire

  11. Is Your Child Safe From Lead? - What Can You Do About Lead?

  12. Lead in Drinking Water in Australia

  13. Have We Really Resolved The Lead Issue?

  14. The Importance of the Availability of "Spot Tests" for Lead in Paint

  15. Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy

  16. Breastfeeding and Lead

  17. Lead in breast milk

  18. Beware The Lead In Lead Lighting

  19. Renting and Lead

  20. What to do if you have too much lead in your tank water PDF

  21. Lead Contamination in Stormwater PDF

  22. Contamination At Shooting Ranges PDF

  23. Banned: Leaded Wick Candles

  24. Lead, Ageing and Death

  25. Metal miniatures: How to minimise the risks of lead poisoning and contamination

  26. 7 Point Plan for the MANAGEMENT OF LEAD by Australian parents and carers

  27. Countries where Leaded Petrol is Possibly Still Sold for Road Use, As at 17th June 2011

  28. Lead Poisoning And The Brain - Cognitive Deficits And Mental Illness

  29. Facts and Firsts of Lead

  30. Lead mining royalties by state and territory

  31. Lead Mining Stewardship - Grey Lead and the Role of The LEAD Group

  32. Preventative Strategies of The LEAD Group

  33. What do Doctors need to do about Lead?

  34. A Naturopath's Experience Of Lead & People With Diagnosed Mental Illness

  35. Case File: Helping Manage Australian Lead in Petrol - How GLASS Works

  36. Glass Web & Service-Users, Experts & Volunteers, by Country; Countries with Leaded Petrol for Road Use & Worst Pollution

  37. Lead in ceiling dust

  38. Lead paint & ceiling dust management - how to do it lead-safely

  39. Esperance parliamentary inquiry follow-up factsheet: Where to from Here??

  40. Broken Hill lead miners factsheet 1893 with Note 20081015

  41. Helping a Doctor Help 35,000 Lead-Poisoned People Around the Lead Smelter at La Oroya in Peru
    Ayuda a un doctor que ayuda 35,000 personas envenenadas por plomo alrededor de la fundidora de plomo en la Oroya-Peru

  42. Fact sheet for Australian toy importers and traders

  43. Iron Nutrition & Lead Toxicity PDF
    Informe de Acciones – Hierro y Plomo en la Nutrición PDF
    情况说明书铁的营养和铅的毒性 PDF

  44. Sanitarium-Are You getting Enough Iron PDF

  45. Do-It-Yourself-Lead-Safe-Test-Kits-flyer

  46. Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  47. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to both adults and children PDF

  48. Lead Exposure & Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There A Link?

  49. In CHINA - Blood lead testing: who to test, when, and how to respond to the result

  50. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you take advantage of the Australian government's Energy Efficient Homes Package: Insulation Program

  51. Alperstein et al Lead Alert - A Guide For Health Professionals 1994 PDF

  52. Ceiling Dust WorkCover Guide Lee Schreiber Final Nov 1999 PDF

  53. What can I do about climate change AND lead?

  54. The Need for Expert Clinical Assessments in Diagnosis Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

  55. Why you should have your ceiling dust removed before you have insulation installed

  56. Thirty Thought-Starters on Ceiling Void Dust in Homes

  57. Pectin: Panacea for both lead poisoning and lead contamination

  58. Nutrients that reduce lead poisoning June 2010 PDF

  59. Lead poisoning and menopause PDF

  60. Fact sheet For Schoolkids From Professor Knowlead About Lead PDF

  61. Prevention of Exposure to Lead at Work in Indonesia

  62. Mencegah kontak dengan timbal di tempat kerja di Indonesia

  63. How to Protect Your Family from Lead in Indonesia

  64. Bagaimana melindungi keluargamu dari timbal di Indonesia

  65. Cigarette Smoking & Lead Toxicity
     صحيفة معلومات: التدخين والتسمم بالرصاص

  66. Medical Evaluation Questionnaire For Occupational Lead Exposure

  67. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to children

  68. Dangers of a blood lead level above 2 µg/dL and below 10 µg/dL to adults

  69. Biosolids used as fertilizer in China and other countries

  70. What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

  71. Alcohol’s link to higher lead and iron levels

  72. USA Case Definition of Adult (including Occupational) & Child Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLL)

  73. Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children - A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention

  74. Occupational Health & Safety Fact Sheet Dangers of lead for roofers

  75. Let’s Make Leaded Petrol History - Let’s Make Leaded Gasoline History

  76. Lead, Your Health & the Environment. Available in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean, Macedonian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese  PDF

  77. Lead Safe Housekeeping PDF

  78. Old Lead Paint PDF

  79. Working safely with lead PDF

  80. A Renovator's Guide To The Dangers Of Lead (Brochure 30 pages) PDF

  81. A Guide For Health Care Professionals (Brochure 34 pages) PDF

  82. A Guide To Keeping Your Family Safe From Lead (Brochure 20 pages) PDF

  83. Lead Hazard Management In Children's Services (Brochure 15 pages) PDF

  84. A Guide To Dealing With Soil That Might Be Lead-Contaminated

  85. Exposure Assessment: Lead Neurotoxicity - Is the Center for Disease Control's goal to reduce lead below 10 µg/dl blood in all children younger than 72 months by 2010, good enough?


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 Last Updated 28 May 2014
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