Research Shows Baby Poop Contains Microplastics—Here's What Parents Need to Know

Researchers say the tiny plastic particles are present in babies' stools at even higher concentration than in adults. Here's what you should know—plus steps you can take.

An image of a baby in a diaper.
Photo: Getty Images.

There are microplastics in baby poop, according to new research, which also suggests that babies may be exposed to higher levels of these plastic particles than adults are.

In a small pilot study from New York University School of Medicine, researchers tested stool samples from three newborns, six infants, and 10 adults for two kinds of plastics, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polycarbonate (PC).

They found microplastics in two of the newborn samples and all of the infant and adult samples—including higher concentrations of PET in infant stool than in adult stool.

"Infants and toddlers are exposed to a wide range of plastics from toys, teethers, bottles, and spoons used in feeding," says researcher Kannan Kurunthachalam, Ph.D., a professor of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, who says that babies may be exposed to more plastic because they explore things by putting them in their mouths.

Previous research has shown that microplastics are also found in the placenta, suggesting they somehow enter the bloodstream, he says.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic in the environment, and they're a global problem. They can come from discarded single-use items like water bottles and straws. But there are also microplastics in common household things like cosmetics, detergents, and paints.

These particles not only cause environmental pollution, but they also end up in our food, water, and even in indoor dust. They pass through the digestive tract, but whether they go through without harm isn't yet known. Some test tube and animal studies show microplastics can cause issues like inflammation and cell damage, but more research is needed.

What Parents Can Do About Microplastics

Plastic is so common in our lives and in our homes, it's impossible to avoid it completely. But there are some things you can do, such as reducing the use of so many plastic toys (in favor of wood, bamboo, and cloth) and preventing your baby from putting plastic items in their mouths when possible, says Dr. Kurunthachalam.

Here are other ways to use less plastic in your home:

  • Transition from plastic food storage containers to glass ones.
  • Avoid heating food or liquids in plastic, especially when serving your baby.
  • Opt for cloth or beeswax-coated food wraps instead of plastic bags.
  • Use stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic.

And here are some ways you can help reduce microplastics in the environment:

  • Reduce overall waste by finding second-hand, gently-used items for your baby or child when possible, like strollers and highchairs.
  • Switch from plastic straws to stainless steel, and don't use a straw when eating out.
  • Bring your own reusable containers to restaurants for leftovers.
  • Take reusable cloth bags and reusable produce bags to the grocery store.
  • Buy from bulk bins when you can to reduce food packaging waste in your home.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Parents advisor who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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