BPA has been in the news a lot, and many manufacturers are offering alternative container options to plastics made with BPA, but what is it, should parents be concerned, and why?

BPA stands for bisphenol A, a chemical that has been used in production of plastics for over fifty years. BPA can be found in most polycarbonate plastics. Polycarbonate plastics are commonly used to store food and drinks (like the water bottles at the local grocery or gas station). It is also used in epoxy resins to line cans for some foods, in beverage caps, and even in some dental sealants.

Recent studies have indicated that BPA can leech into the foods and beverages from its containers. Most chemically produced goods run a similar risk, but BPA has been linked to potential problems with brain development, behavior, and the prostate glands of infants and children. The Federal Food and Drug Administration has reviewed hundreds of studies and has found the current BPA levels in most food and drink to be safe. The F.D.A. investigation is, however, ongoing.

To be proactive in combating your child’s exposure to BPA, there are some things you can do. When purchasing baby bottles, bottle collars, nipples, sippy cups, pacifiers, and plastic ware, look for items that are BPA-free. Many manufacturers have listened to the marketplace and are offering a wide variety of BPA-free items. If you are using polycarbonate plastic containing BPA, or are uncertain if the plastics you’re using are BPA-free, it is best to not heat them. Don’t microwave bottles or baby dishes that you suspect may contain BPA. Heating the plastic makes it more elastic and allows more chemicals to leech into your child’s food or drink.

The NIEHS, part of the National Institutes of Health, also advises against dishwashing plastics containing BPA. This is contrary to the advice of many experts who say the best way to sterilize an infant product is to wash it on hot in the dishwasher. The problem is that repeated exposure to high heat causes the plastic to break down and allows BPA to leech.

The best option to avoid BPA contamination is, of course, to choose bottles and containers made of alternative materials like glass, aluminum, or stainless steel.