Can You Breastfeed Post Breast Cancer - Tips & Precautions
Created by Janaki Srinivasan Updated on Feb 20, 2020
If you are a new mom, the first thing you’ll initially struggle with is breastfeeding. It takes time for the baby and the mother to get adjusted to it as it is completely new for both. If you are a breast cancer survivor, it is a totally different ball game.
It is possible that you might have become pregnant in the course of the treatment or after the first round of treatment got over and you may be getting very anxious about the baby and feeding it after birth. Contrary to what many believe or make you believe, it is possible to breastfeed even if you are a breast cancer survivor; the only thing is you need to be aware of the tips and tricks. Cancer treatment might have depressed you completely, but now you have your little bundle of joy—so cheer up!
Benefits of Breastfeeding Post-Treatment for Cancer:
What many might not tell you is that breastfeeding after cancer treatment is beneficial for you as well as your baby. Wondering how?
- Research shows that women who breastfeed for 6 months or more before being diagnosed have lower chances of recurrence.
- Breast milk protects the child, increases their ability to fight illness and improves immunity.
- Post- cancer when a woman is able to breastfeed, she feels good about herself and her body; months of cancer treatment wreaks havoc to a person’s self-confidence. Especially in cases of mastectomy when the entire breast or portions of it is removed.
What Treatment Did You Undergo?
Of course, breast cancer survivors can feed their babies but the level and extent depends on the nature of the treatment. Let’s take a look at the types of treatment and breastfeeding options available for it:
Lumpectomy:In this, surgery is performed to remove abnormal tissue or cancer from the breast. Radiation given after the treatment often reduces or stops milk flow to the breast. Therefore, at times it might be difficult to feed from this side of the breast. Don’t worry, you can always nurse from the other breast, even if you have twins. You just have to be creative, that’s it! You can pump milk and store it for future. Only if the flow is less, you might want to supplement with formula.
Single Mastectomy (Surgical Removal of the Affected Breast):Like Lumpectomy, in this case too, feeding from the other, unaffected breast is possible. Initially you may feel that the flow and quantity is less, but with time, with pumping and with the help of lactation experts this can be improved.
Double Mastectomy:In this the milk ducts are completely removed and hence breast feeding is ruled out. Remember, it is not necessary that you can bond with your baby only if you breastfeed. No cancer survivor should ever feel dejected that she is less of a mother if she is unable to breastfeed. If you stay close and cuddle, the bond between you and your baby is possible even when you bottle-feed.
Radiation:If you are undergoing radiation after your baby is born, you can still safely nurse. Make sure you discuss this with your doctor. At times, extensive radiation might render the ducts less productive and hence the flow might be reduced.
Chemotherapy:if you’re undergoing chemotherapy, you need to wait before you begin to breastfeed, sometimes even for as long as 3 months. You must discuss this with your oncologist and gynecologist because some medicines used in chemotherapy leave your body in a couple of days or weeks, so you might be lucky and able to safely breastfeed.
Hormone Therapy:If you have been prescribed Tamoxifem, you may not be able to feed your baby as it gets into the milk and is unsafe for the baby.
If you haven’t undergone treatment for breast cancer when your baby is born, most doctors recommend that you avoid it completely so that blood flow to the breasts is reduced. This in turn is useful for the surgery and reduces the chances of infection.
Tips and Precautions to Breastfeed When You Are A Cancer Survivor:
- While you’re still pregnant, start planning on ways to breastfeed. You can try to express and pump while still pregnant to get used to it.
- Get help from a lactation expert to understand the process thoroughly. It’s not easy to nurse from one side. Read a lot; try to get as much information as possible.
- Be prepared to breastfeed as often as 10 minutes. The first couple of months can be quite exhausting. Remember, the more you nurse, the more you’ll produce milk.
- Take care of your nipple. Don’t wait for it to get sore and crack. Be gentle with your breasts. Sometimes, breast lobes might be damaged due to treatment; use cold packs for relief.
- Research and find out good breast pump and a good nursing bra. Talk to people, get in touch with support groups and of course consult your doctor to buy a bra that is technically perfect. Ideally you could use a silicon bra cup insert in your nursing bra if the other breast looks visibly smaller.
- If you are not able to nurse and need to go for formula, don’t worry. Breast feeding isn’t the only thing that helps you bond with your baby. Don’t listen too much to what others say. It’s between you and your baby; choose your way to get close.
Remember, don’t let cancer and its treatment come in the way of your joys of joys of parenting. Yes, your parenting journey might be different, but don’t ruin it with your worries and anxieties. Talk to your doctor and take help from support groups. Enjoy your own, unique journey!
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