Environ Int. 2021 Jul;152:106480. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106480. Epub 2021 Mar 16.
BACKGROUND: Infant non-nutritive suck (NNS), or sucking on a pacifier with no nutrients being delivered, has been used as in index of brain function and has been linked to subsequent neurodevelopment. Yet, no data are available connecting NNS to environmental exposures in utero. The goal of this study was to examine the relationship between gestational exposure to phthalates (a group of chemicals found in personal care products, PVC plastics, and other products) and NNS among infants in a birth cohort study in Puerto Rico.
METHODS: Urinary phthalate metabolite levels were measured in women at up to three time points in pregnancy as a measure of in utero exposure to the child. We calculated the geometric mean of each metabolite for each woman as a measure of exposure across gestation. Infants had their NNS sampled using our custom research pacifier between 4-6 (± 2 weeks) weeks of age, yielding the following NNS dependent measures: cycles/burst, frequency, amplitude, bursts/min, and cycles/min.
RESULTS: Two hundred and eight mother-infant dyads completed this study We used multiple linear regression to assess associations between individual phthalate metabolites and NNS measurements, adjusting for infant sex, birthweight, and urinary specific gravity. An interquartile range (IQR) increase in mono carboxyisononyl phthalate across pregnancy was associated with 3.5% (95%CI: -6.2, -0.8%) lower NNS frequency and 8.9% (0.6, 17.3%) higher NNS amplitude. Similarly, an IQR increase in mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate was also associated with 3.4% (-6.5, -0.2%) lower NNS frequency, while an IQR increase in di-2-ethylhexyl terephthalate metabolites was associated with 11.2% (2.9, 19.5%) higher NNS amplitude. Gestational exposure to phthalates may alter NNS amplitude and frequency in full-term infants. These findings indicate that the infants may be increasing their NNS amplitude to compensate for their slower NNS frequency. These preliminary findings could have important clinical implications for earlier detection of exposure-related deficits in neurofunction as well as implications for subsequent neurodevelopment and related interventions.