The World Breastfeeding Week, observed in the first week of August every year, celebrates the beauty of breastfeeding. It is the time when awareness is raised on everything related to breastfeeding process, which is important for a baby and mother’s health. If you are a mother-to-be or a new mother who has gone through breast cancer, it is natural to worry about breastfeeding your baby. Your worries are not unfounded, as breast cancer cells start right inside the milk ducts and/or the milk-producing lobules of a woman’s breast, according to World Health Organization. So, does that mean breastfeeding after breast cancer is not possible?
To get you an answer, Health Shots connected with Dr Aditi Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant, Cancer Care/Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Breast Cancer, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.
Breastfeeding and chemotherapy
Breastfeeding and chemotherapy can’t go hand in hand. Breastfeeding is not allowed during chemotherapy because the medicines might pass on to the baby and cause side effects such as growth stunting, decreased immunity and infections, says the expert. There are times when women get diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy. Pregnancy associated breast cancer is breast cancer that develops during or one year after pregnancy. Since there are various issues about safety of treatment, the unborn child, timing and sequencing of therapy, it needs a coordinated effort between surgeons, radiation oncologists and the obstetrician looking after the pregnancy.
Is breastfeeding safe after breast cancer?
Defeating breast cancer, which caused 6,85,000 deaths globally three years ago, as per the WHO, is not easy. There is also a lot of follow-up care and monitoring after a successful breast cancer treatment. Being cancer-free, you might also start planning things like expanding your family. While there will be many to give you healthy pregnancy tips, you might have doubts about breastfeeding.
Dr Chaturvedi says it is safe to breastfeed after breast cancer if you are not on any hormone or oral chemotherapy. Of course, there might be some complications. A history of chemotherapy and hormone therapy intake might suppress milk production. The side which has undergone breast surgery and radiation might not be able to produce milk. Worry not, as breastfeeding might be successful from the other non-treated breast. The expert says there is no fixed time duration, but a gap of three months after cessation of treatment is safe to breastfeed your child.
Tips for breastfeeding after breast cancer treatment
Once the breast cancer treatment is over, and the doctor gives a go ahead, you can attempt feeding. But don’t be hesitant about using other sources of infant feeds. Dr Chaturvedi says other feeds are mainly formula feeds available in the market for newborns. They are better for moms who are in any active cancer treatment because you do not want any transmission via breast milk of anti-cancer drugs to the newborn.
If you still wish to breastfeed after breast cancer treatment, you can do the following:
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• Be gentle with your breasts, and don’t go about rubbing nipples with a dry towel to prepare for breastfeeding.
• Breast lobes get damaged by the cancer treatment, but they do adjust and dry up. So, use cold packs to ease discomfort.
• Get your hands on a good quality breast pump to help you get as much milk as possible from the breast that’s producing less milk.
But if you are not able to breastfeed because of breast cancer treatment, don’t feel guilty.