By Alyssa Adler
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, a time that is dedicated to building support and creating awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding. But expectant mothers undergoing cancer treatment have to weigh those benefits against the risk of hurting their newborn baby. Although breast cancer is not as common for pregnant women, breast cancer rates are increasing as women are choosing to have kids later on in life. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or those who are postpartum for one year. Further, 1 in every 3,000 pregnant women is found to have breast cancer.
In general, it is recommended that women who are receiving breast cancer treatment after pregnancy stop or not start breastfeeding. For treatments such as surgery, cessation of breastfeeding will limit the blood flow into the breasts, making them smaller and easier to perform an operation. With chemotherapy, some drugs can easily enter breast milk, so it is not recommended to breast feed while undergoing treatment. It is possible to begin breastfeeding again post treatment, once the medications and radioactive components have exited the body. Diagnostic tests such as CAT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, biopsies and mammograms are safe to undergo when breastfeeding.
Depending on the severity and location of the cancer, the method of “pumping and dumping” may need to be considered. This involves pumping out the milk that is collected inside the breast and disposing of it while in treatment. That way there is continual milk production so that once the treatment is over it’s easier to return to breastfeeding.
It is important to note that cancer cells cannot be passed from the mother to the baby via breast milk. However, some medications can be passed from the mother to the baby through breast milk, so be sure to discuss this process with a professional before starting treatment or beginning to breastfeed.
Alyssa Adler was CFYL’s 2016 summer web intern after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Sciences with a concentration in Dietetics. Alyssa has since gone on to earn her Masters degree, and is now a Clinical Nutritionist at Mt. Sinai’s St. Luke’s hospital here in New York City. She also has a food blog called Red Delicious and Nutritious which focuses on healthy eating and living and how decadent foods can be made wholesome and delicious. A woman after our own heart!