Biological Trace Element Research

, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 30–37

Mercury Concentration in Breast Milk and Infant Exposure Assessment During the First 90 Days of Lactation in a Midwestern Region of Brazil


  • Leandro Rodrigues da Cunha
    • Laboratory of Toxicology, Faculty of Health ScienceUniversity of Brasilia
  • Teresa Helena Macedo da Costa
    • Department of Nutrition, Faculty of Health ScienceUniversity of Brasilia
    • Laboratory of Toxicology, Faculty of Health ScienceUniversity of Brasilia

DOI: 10.1007/s12011-012-9542-2

Cite this article as:
da Cunha, L.R., da Costa, T.H.M. & Caldas, E.D. Biol Trace Elem Res (2013) 151: 30. doi:10.1007/s12011-012-9542-2


Breast milk samples collected from 18 nursing mothers between the 15th and 90th day of lactation were digested in nitric acid in a microwave, and total mercury (THg) levels were quantified by atomic fluorescence spectrometry. Participants responded to a 24-h dietary recall questionnaire on the 74th and 76th day of lactation and to a Food Frequency Questionnaire querying the frequency of fish intake over the last 90 days. Usual intake was estimated using the PC-SIDE software package. A meal of fish was offered on the 75th day of lactation. Mothers’ individual mean THg levels ranged from <0.76 to 22.7 ng/mL during the period, and the mean level for all samples (n = 142) was 6.47 ±6.04 ng/mL. The multilevel mixed linear model used showed high heterogeneity of the mercury levels among the mothers, and THg levels did not change significantly over the period under study. However, a significant increase in THg levels was observed after the intervention with the fish meal. Exposure increased for most infants on the 90th day of lactation, with intakes exceeding the THg provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) at least once during the period for 77.8 % of samples. Mothers consumed mostly food from the fat and grain groups, and a significant correlation was detected between consumption of food of these groups and breast milk THg levels (p = 0.006 and 0.007). A significant correlation was also found between vegetable consumption and carbohydrate intake and THg levels in the samples (p = 0.015 and 0.045, respectively). No correlation was found between mothers’ daily fish consumption frequency and THg levels. Although this study showed that mercury intake by infants during lactation may exceed the toxicologically safe exposure level (PTWI), we nevertheless believe that the benefits of lactation for both the mother and the infant outweigh the eventual risks that this exposure may represent.


MercuryBreast milkFood consumptionInfant exposureBrazil

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012