Brominated flame retardants in breast milk and behavioural and cognitive development at 36 months.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are persistent flame retardants found in the environment, in household dust, and in humans. Breast feeding is a prominent route of exposure in infancy. PBDEs adversely affect neurodevelopment in animals. Here, we estimate associations between PBDEs in breast milk and behaviour and cognitive skills in children at 36 months of age.


We prospectively studied 304 mothers and their children. We measured PBDEs in breast milk collected at 3 months postpartum. At 36 months, we measured child behaviour with the parent-rated Behavioral Assessment System for Children 2 (n = 192), and cognitive skills with the Mullen Scales of Early Learning (n = 184). We analysed data with robust regression.


We detected BDE-28, -47, -99, -100, and -153 in >70% of milk samples. For each congener, the highest quartile of breast milk PBDE concentration, vs. the lowest, was associated with more anxious behaviour, after confounder adjustment. Select congeners were associated with increased withdrawal (BDE-28) and improved activity of daily living skills (BDE-153). Cognitive skills tended to be positively associated with PBDEs, especially language and fine motor skills. However, most estimates were imprecise.


Here, lactational PBDE exposure was modestly and imprecisely associated with anxiety and withdrawal, but was also associated with improved adaptive and cognitive skills. Positive factors associated with breast feeding may have mitigated some of the hypothesised adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes associated with PBDEs. Further research is needed to inform our understanding of PBDE neurotoxicity and how sources of exposure might confound neurodevelopmental studies.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Adgent, MA; Hoffman, K; Goldman, BD; Sjödin, A; Daniels, JL

Published Date

  • January 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 28 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 48 - 57

PubMed ID

  • 24313667

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3997742

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1365-3016

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0269-5022

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/ppe.12078


  • eng