Breastfeeding is a beautiful and essential process for both the baby and the mother’s health. However, if you have experienced breast cancer, you may naturally have concerns about breastfeeding your baby. The World Health Organization states that breast cancer cells often originate in the milk ducts or milk-producing lobules of a woman’s breast. So, is it safe to breastfeed after breast cancer?
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To shed some light on this matter, we spoke with Dr. Aditi Chaturvedi, a Senior Consultant in Cancer Care/Oncology at Max Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi.
Breastfeeding and Chemotherapy
Unfortunately, breastfeeding and chemotherapy cannot go hand in hand. During chemotherapy, it is not recommended to breastfeed because the medications can pass on to the baby and cause side effects such as growth stunting, decreased immunity, and infections. This issue becomes particularly challenging for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy. Pregnancy-associated breast cancer, which occurs during or within a year after pregnancy, requires close coordination between surgeons, radiation oncologists, and the obstetrician responsible for the pregnancy due to safety concerns regarding treatment, the unborn child, and the timing and sequencing of therapy.
Is Breastfeeding Safe After Breast Cancer?
Overcoming breast cancer, a disease that caused 685,000 deaths globally three years ago, according to the WHO, is undoubtedly challenging. After successful treatment, regular follow-up care and monitoring are necessary. As a breast cancer survivor, you might also consider expanding your family. While many individuals may provide you with helpful tips for a healthy pregnancy, you may still have doubts about breastfeeding.
According to Dr. Chaturvedi, it is safe to breastfeed after breast cancer if you are not undergoing any hormone or oral chemotherapy. However, some complications might arise. A history of chemotherapy and hormone therapy may affect milk production, and the breast that underwent surgery and radiation might be unable to produce milk. Nevertheless, breastfeeding can still be successful from the untreated breast. There is no fixed time duration for when it is safe to breastfeed after treatment, but a gap of three months following treatment cessation is generally recommended.
Tips for Breastfeeding After Breast Cancer Treatment
Once your breast cancer treatment is complete, and your doctor gives you the green light, you can attempt breastfeeding. However, do not hesitate to use other sources of infant feeds as well. Dr. Chaturvedi suggests formula feeds available on the market for newborns, as they are preferable for mothers in active cancer treatment. This precaution prevents any transmission of anti-cancer drugs through breast milk to the newborn.
If you still desire to breastfeed after breast cancer treatment, here are some tips to consider:
- Be gentle with your breasts, avoiding rubbing the nipples with a dry towel in preparation for breastfeeding.
- Cancer treatment can damage breast lobes, but they do adjust and dry up over time. Ease any discomfort by using cold packs.
- Invest in a good-quality breast pump to help you extract as much milk as possible from the breast that produces less milk.
However, if you are unable to breastfeed due to breast cancer treatment, please do not feel guilty.