Is breastfeeding after breast cancer safe?

World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated the first week of August each year, celebrates the beauty of breastfeeding. This is the time when we raise awareness of everything related to the breastfeeding process, which is important for the health of the baby and the mother. If you are an expectant mother or a new mother who has suffered from breast cancer, it is natural to worry about breastfeeding your baby. Your concerns are not unfounded, as breast cancer cells start directly inside the milk ducts and/or milk-producing lobules of a woman’s breast, according to the World Health Organization. So, does this mean that it is not possible to breastfeed after breast cancer?

To get you an answer, Health Shots has connected with Dr. Aditi Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant, Cancer Care/Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Breast Cancer, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.

Breastfeeding and chemotherapy don’t mix. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Breastfeeding and Chemotherapy

Breastfeeding and chemotherapy cannot go together. Breastfeeding is not allowed during chemotherapy because the drugs could be transmitted to the baby and cause side effects such as stunted growth, reduced immunity and infections, explains the expert. Sometimes women are 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 regarding the safety of treatment, the unborn child, timing and sequencing of treatment, a coordinated effort is needed between surgeons, radiation oncologists and the obstetrician caring for the pregnancy.

Is breastfeeding safe after breast cancer?

Beating breast cancer, which caused 6,85,000 deaths worldwide three years ago, according to the WHO, is not easy. There is also plenty of aftercare and monitoring after successful breast cancer treatment. Being cancer-free, you might also start planning things like expanding your family. Although many people can give you advice for a healthy pregnancy, you may have doubts about breastfeeding.

Dr Chaturvedi says it is safe to breastfeed after breast cancer if you are not taking any oral hormones or chemotherapy. Of course, there can be complications. A history of chemotherapy and hormone therapy can suppress milk production. The side that has had breast surgery and radiation therapy may not be able to produce milk. Don’t worry, breastfeeding may be successful with the other untreated breast. The expert says that there is no fixed duration, but a gap of three months after stopping treatment is safe to breastfeed your child.

Discover tips for breastfeeding after breast cancer. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Tips for breastfeeding after breast cancer treatment

Once the breast cancer treatment is complete and the doctor gives you the okay, you can try feeding your baby. But feel free to use other sources of infant food. Dr. Chaturvedi explains that the other foods are mainly infant formula available in the market for newborn babies. They are best suited for mums undergoing active cancer treatment, as you don’t want cancer drugs passed to the newborn through breast milk.

If you still want to breastfeed after breast cancer treatment, you can do the following:

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• Be gentle with your breasts and do not rub the nipples with a dry towel to prepare for breastfeeding.
• The breast lobes are damaged by cancer treatment, but they adapt and dry out. So, use cold compresses to ease the discomfort.
• Get a good quality breast pump to help you extract as much milk as possible from the breast that produces less milk.

But if you can’t breastfeed because of breast cancer treatment, don’t feel guilty.

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