Babycare Health

How To Feed Kids With Breast Cancer

Parentune Support
0 to 1 years

Created by Parentune Support
Updated on Aug 05, 2022

How To Feed Kids With Breast Cancer
Reviewed by Expert panel

Breastfeeding can be a challenging but important task for many mothers, as it can benefit both the baby and the mother.  What would happen if the mother was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was still nursing?  Breast cancer can make breastfeeding even more difficult. Breast cancer is estimated to affect nearly one in every eight women at some point in their lives. A wide range of factors can contribute to breast cancer. However, breastfeeding has been shown to reduce a woman’s risk. While breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women, it is still possible for women to develop the disease while breastfeeding.

Can breast cancer be diagnosed while breastfeeding?

Detecting breast cancer while nursing poses a diagnostic challenge. Breast changes during breastfeeding can manifest many symptoms of breast cancer. Examples are inflamed breast tissue, the appearance of lumps, nipple discharge, redness, and pain. A lump in a breastfeeding woman's breast may not necessarily mean she has breast cancer, as there are other possible causes such as engorgement or blocked ducts and abscesses that could be to blame. Moreover, women who are nursing have a higher risk of receiving a false-positive or inconclusive result from a mammogram or ultrasound. However, if the new mother has a history of breast cancer, or exhibits classic breast cancer symptoms like growing and immovable lumps, and orange peel-like dimpled skin, the doctor will consider the possibility of breast cancer and order diagnostic tests.

How safe are mammograms during pregnancy?

Mammograms do not have an adverse effect on breast milk, and as a result, the procedure does not put either the mother or her unborn child at risk. Prior to the procedure, it is recommended that the breast be as empty as possible. Breastfeeding will cause the breast tissue to become denser. This can make it more challenging to interpret the mammogram. So it’s important to make sure the doctor knows the patient is breastfeeding and
choose a radiologist to read the mammogram scans who is experienced in reading results from breastfeeding patients. Therefore, it is crucial that the physician be aware that the patient is breastfeeding and that the radiologist reading the mammogram scans has experience interpreting the results of breastfeeding patients.

Treating Breast Cancer During Breast Feeding

It is safe to nurse during diagnostic tests for cancer like mammograms, CAT scans, X-rays,  MRIs, ultrasounds, and biopsies. However, the diagnosis of breast cancer during breastfeeding may make treatment more difficult. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and anesthesia administered during surgery can all be passed to the baby through breast milk during breast cancer treatment. If the mother is undergoing radioactive isotope therapy or chemotherapy, she should discontinue breastfeeding until the radioactive elements and medications have left her system entirely. Most physicians will recommend that patients stop breastfeeding if they are diagnosed with breast cancer while nursing. 

Can a woman breastfeed if she has breast cancer?

A doctor can advise whether breastfeeding should be continued after a cancer diagnosis. In most instances, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer will be advised to stop breastfeeding. If a mother with breast cancer can breastfeed her baby, it depends on the treatment. It may be possible to breastfeed during cancer treatment, but it is imperative to consult with a physician prior to beginning treatment. The following are some possible treatments for breast cancer and how they might impact breastfeeding:

1. Surgery- Surgical removal of a lump or cancerous growth may be required in some cases. It is possible to perform a mastectomy or a double mastectomy (removal of one or both breasts, respectively). The extent of the operation will determine whether or not the woman can continue breastfeeding.

2. Radiation- Depending on the type of radiation therapy, some women may be able to breastfeed while receiving treatment. An expert will explain the risks so that the woman can make a decision for herself after weighing the pros and cons.

3. Chemotherapy- Chemotherapy is a treatment that utilizes powerful drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. Women cannot breastfeed while receiving chemotherapeutic medications. In women undergoing chemotherapy, breastfeeding should be discontinued since these
medications interfere with the normal, healthy division of cells in nursing infants.

Challenges for breastfeeding with breast cancer

Mothers who have undergone breast surgery and/or radiation treatment may experience difficulties breastfeeding from the affected breast. Some of the
challenges are:

  • Reduced milk production
  • Changes in breast structure can make breastfeeding painful
  • Breast structural changes make it difficult for babies to latch on. 

Tips to feed kids with breast cancer

Despite all of the aforementioned factors, many women are still able to breastfeed their infants. Breastfeeding while taking cancer treatment medications (such as hormone therapy) must be done only after consulting with your doctor. If you decide to breastfeed while battling breast cancer, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Make use of breast pump- Use a breast pump to ensure a steady supply of milk if you plan to go back to nursing after your treatment ends. When undergoing chemotherapy or surgery, make sure to use a breast pump. Throw the breast milk as while on chemo, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy medications you should not feed your baby breast milk. Pumping fools your body into believing you're breastfeeding, causing it to continue to produce milk. With your doctor's permission,you can resume breastfeeding after your treatment or procedure is over.

2. Try supplemental nursing system (SNS)- SNS is an alternative feeding method. It enables the infant to receive breast milk or formula through a tube while breastfeeding. If you are having trouble with milk supply, an SNS may help by allowing your baby to stimulate your breast while also receiving adequate milk. An SNS may help you if you are having issues with your milk supply. SNS allows your baby to stimulate your breasts while also getting enough milk.  Even if your supply does not improve, you may still find pleasure in nursing your child while they are latched on to your breast.

3. Seek professional help- Consider hiring a lactation consultant for assistance; it is worth the money to get some assistance from a trained professional.

Finally, be prepared for setbacks. Breast milk production may be reduced after a surgical procedure or radiation treatment. Or changes in your breast may make it harder for your baby to nurse. Alternatively, changes in your breasts may make it more difficult for your baby to nurse. Even though these obstacles can complicate things, many women manage to get through them. It is also important to note that breast milk has no way of passing cancerous cells on to your child.

This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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