Are Plastics Safe for Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups?

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December 13, 2016

Are Plastics Safe for Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups?

Plastic baby bottles and sippy cups today prominently display "BPA-free" and other safety promises such as "No PVC" to relieve anxiety about potential toxins in plastic containers. But is plastic really safe for baby bottles and cups?

When it comes to giving babies, toddlers, and children food and beverages, plastics are ubiquitous serving vessels. Both in hard and soft forms and most recyclable, plastics are convenient, lightweight, easy to clean, and durable. Indeed, plastic baby bottles, sippy cups, and plates are practically indestructible! But are they safe? And, are there healthier alternatives?

While Bisphenol A (BPA) became widely known as one potentially hazardous chemical used in plastic baby bottles and cups, experts say there are other chemicals which may leach from plastic baby bottles and cups in use. 

Prior to 2009, BPA was widely used in many hard plastics, including polycarbonate baby bottles and sippy cups, to make them hard and clear. Now it is known that polycarbonate breaks down over time with typical use such as repetitive heating and cleaning in the dishwasher. Not surprisingly, BPA-tainted liquid, formula, milk, and other food and beverages is an end result. 

These days, most new infant products for eating and drinking are labeled “BPA free.” The reason is that in animal research, BPA is an endocrine disrupter, mimicking the natural female sex hormone, estradiol. And, there is great concern that in humans, low level exposure to endocrine disrupters such as BPA may be linked to a wide range of issues including possible effects to the brain and neurologic development of fetuses to early puberty, breast cancer, obesity, and behavioral and developmental problems. 

While BPA-free plastic is the new standard for baby bottles and sippy cups, both by federal law and by self-regulation in the plastic industry, the basic hormone-like chemical effect that caused the concern about BPA in the first place may still be present in many plastic products. As reported by NPR and other news organizations, a recent test of over 400 plastic products purchased at popular retail locations like the Walmart and Target found many BPA-free products to leach other endocrine disrupter chemicals. 

Phthalates are plasticizers used in plastics to make them soft and durable. They are present in PVC (polyvinyl chloride), otherwise known as “vinyl.” Historically, phthalates have been widely used in baby products such as teething rings, baby bottles, toys, and even the coverings of baby mattresses and mattress protectors. Like BPA, phthalates are considered to be endocrine disruptors as well as animal carcinogens. EWG advocates a cumulative assessment of the human health risks, especially to infants, of phthalates. 

In a 2008 letter to the National Toxicology Program, Dr Jenkins, then President of the American Academy of Pediatrics said it best: “Absence of evidence is not equivalent to evidence of safety.

What we can say is that the safest path is to avoid plastic when good alternatives, such as glass baby bottles, or stainless steel sippy cups, are available. We recommend you look closely at these alternatives, and you can be sure we'll include these kinds of options in our reviews. 

Practical Advice on Plastics

Avoid Plastic Types #1, #3, #6, and sometimes #7

Label reading is essential when it comes to your baby as some plastics are much safer than others. Non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World provides a useful summary on what types of plastic to avoid. “The most common recycleable plastics have a resin code in a chasing arrow symbol (often found on the bottom of the product).” This resin code signifies what type of plastic it is.

Click to enlarge

Washing bottles. Every bottle we tested is rated “Top-rack Dishwasher Safe,” but experts recommend handwashing plastic baby bottles and parts. The friction and high temperatures in a dishwashing machine can break down the plastic and cause leaching.
Credit: Lindsay Ellis

When it comes to eating on and drinking from plastic, keep in mind the following:

  • Safer plastics — Choose the safer plastics: #2, #4, #5, and only #7 if you are sure it is a bio-based plastic (like PLA, Polylactic Acid). Avoid melamine.
  • Hand wash — Dishwashing plastic exposes it to very hot temperatures and harsh detergents. Overtime, this can wear the plastic down, with the potential to leach chemicals into food and drink. We recommend washing all plastic meant for baby and child in warm soapy water by hand. The downside: this is very time consuming!
  • Do Not Microwave in Plastic — Microwaving food and drink is not recommended, even if the plastic is labeled microwave safe. Additionally, if you are using a bottle warmer, we recommend heating your baby's formula or milk in a glass container instead of plastic.
  • Toss It When Worn or Scratchy — When there are signs of wear in baby's plastic drinking cups, bowls, and plates, replace them.
  • Food Storage — Avoid storing oily, greasy, or acidic foods like tomato-based sauces in plastic containers. Storing foods in glass containers is best.
  • Use Alternatives to Plastic — When possible, use glass, stainless steel, silicone, bamboo or solid wood (coated with a food-safe, non-toxic finish), or ceramic (with a lead free glaze) as safer alternatives, most importantly for hot food or liquids.
  • Canned Food May Have BPA in Liners — Avoid canned food. Frozen is better, but fresh is best.


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