Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research

Metals and trace element concentrations in breast milk of first time healthy mothers: a biological monitoring study

Karin Ljung Björklund1, Marie Vahter1, Brita Palm1, Margaretha Grandér1, Sanna Lignell2 and Marika Berglund1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, PO Box 210, 171 77, Stockholm, SE, Sweden

2 National Food Agency, PO Box 622, 751 26, Uppsala, SE, Sweden

For all author emails, please log on.

Environmental Health 2012, 11:92  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-11-92

Published: 14 December 2012



Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the newborn infant. However, since all infants cannot be breast-fed, there is a need for background data for setting adequate daily intakes. Previously, concentration data on major essential elements and some toxic elements in breast milk, based on different analytical techniques, have been published. There is no recent study on a large number of metals and trace elements in breast milk, using a sensitive analytical method for determination of low element concentrations.


Breast milk concentrations of 32 metals and elements in early lactation (days 14-21) were determined in a random sample of first time Swedish mothers (n = 60) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS).


There were small inter-individual concentration variations in the macroelements Ca, K, Mg, P and S, and striking similarities across studies and over time, supporting a tight regulation of these elements in breast milk. Large inter-individual and over time differences were detected for Na concentrations, which may reflect an increase in salt consumption in Swedish women. Large inter-individual differences were also detected for the microelements Co, Cr, Mn and Mo, and the toxic metals As, Cd, Pb, Sb and V. Arsenic and B were positively correlated with fish consumption, indicating influence of maternal intake on breast milk concentrations. Observed differences in breast milk element concentrations across studies and over time could be attributed to the timing of sampling and a general decline over time of lactation (Cu, Fe, Mo, Zn), a possible lack of regulation of certain elements in breast milk (As, B, Co, Mn, Se) and time trends in environmental exposure (Pb), or in some cases to differences in analytical performance (Cr, Fe).


This study provides reliable updated information on a number of metals and elements in breast milk, of which some have not previously been reported.

Breast milk; Toxic metals; Trace elements; Infant exposure; Microelements; Macroelements