American scientists have identified similar abnormalities in a small group of children whose mothers had implants. These were not present in the bottle-fed children of mothers with breast implants, or in a control group of children whose mothers did not have implants.
The researchers claim that the children's problems were strikingly similar to those experienced by some women who have had silicone breast implants, according to a report in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr Jeremiah Levine of the Schneider Children's Hospital, Long Island, New York, and colleagues examined 11 children aged between 1 and 13 born to women who had the implants. Eight had been breast-fed and three bottle-fed.
Dr Levine found that six of the breast-fed children had significant abnormalities of the oesophagus, the muscular tube connecting mouth and stomach. Food is propelled through the gut by waves of contraction and relaxation of the muscles, but in the affected children this was not happening in the lower part of the oesophagus and was causing pain, chronic vomiting and poor weight gain.
According to the report: 'The similarity of the oesophageal lesions among the (children breast-fed by mothers with implants), contrasted with the controls, suggests that a relationship may exist between breast-feeding by mothers with silicone implants and the abnormal oesophageal motility (movement).'
Although larger studies are needed to verify the findings, Dr Levine says that it is possible that substances leaking from the implant, or antibodies related to them, may be transmitted through breast milk and are taken up across the 'immature intestinal barrier' of the baby's gut.
Silicone breast implants have been linked with a range of disorders in women, including rheumatic illnesses and scleroderma (thickening of the skin) which can result in oesophageal disorders.
The evidence is far from conclusive but some American companies have been forced to make large payouts in damages to affected women, and last year the US Food and Drug Administration called for a voluntary moratorium on breast implants, and restricted their use to clinical trials only.
More than 30 women in Britain are taking legal action against implant manufacturers, although doctors here are sceptical that silicone implants cause significant injury. David Sharpe, a consultant plastic surgeon, said that the American findings were 'interesting, but highly selective and probably not significant'.Reuse content