Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer – Everything You Should Know
Breastfeeding creates an affectionate bond between the mother and the newborn. But breastfeeding just after your breast cancer treatment might look like a nightmare to you. It is because of all the trauma involved in breast cancer treatment. With multiple times scanning, biopsies, poking, surgeries, and treatment, you might have already fought a lot.
You have a fighter in you, and now you have a child to look after too. Your little bundle of joy will help you forget all the pain you went through while fighting breast cancer. There might be ample questions about the link between breastfeeding and breast cancer. Relax and read along to understand the impact of breast cancer on breastfeeding.
Is Breastfeeding Possible After Breast Cancer?
Breastfeeding is challenging for every mother, with or without a history of breast cancer. But for a mother who just battled breast cancer, it can be even more complicated. However, research suggests that you can happily breastfeed after the treatment. But the breast cancer treatment and care plan are different for different individuals. And this creates the difference!
The relationship between nursing breast cancer is that nursing after breast cancer is advisable after treatment only when you are no longer under chemotherapy. Also, it would help if you were not on hormone therapy which includes long-term medicines like aromatase inhibitors, trastuzumab, or tamoxifen. It is because cancer cannot travel to your newborn through nursing, but the negative effects of this medication can.
Talk to your doctor about how long you should wait for post-chemotherapy to start nursing your child. If you are pregnant during the treatment, discuss with your doctor how the treatment will affect your course of pregnancy and once the newborn arrives.
Impact of Cancer Treatment on Breastfeeding
As described above, the treatment plan dictates whether you will be able to breastfeed or not. Every case is different, but here is a brief breakdown of the types of surgery that affect breastmilk:
1. Single Mastectomy
In this case, it is possible to nurse from the unaffected breast. But you might get a limited supply of milk initially. But with continuous nursing and pumping, the supply might improve. Talk to a lactation expert.
2. Double Mastectomy
This surgery takes off all the milk ducts; so, there is no possibility of breastfeeding in this scenario.
If you are currently undergoing chemo, it will not be possible to feed your child. You will have to wait for a particular duration of time to nurse next, which will ensure that the drugs have entirely left your system. Consult your lactation expert or gynecologist, or oncologist in this regard.
4. Hormone Therapy
If you are prescribed long-term medications, like tamoxifen, you can’t breastfeed since these medicines pass into your breastmilk and are harmful to the child.
If you were treated by lumpectomy, your ability to nurse depends on the amount of tissue removed and the amount of radiation given to you. In a minimal lumpectomy, some breastmilk is produced from the treated breast.
It is generally safe to breastfeed if you are taking radiation therapy right now; however, get confirmation from your doctor regarding this. But if you were treated with a lot of radiation in the past, your milk-producing tissues may already be damaged; hence, there is a possibility that they do not produce milk anymore.
Mammograms After Breast Cancer Surgery
Different surgeries are used to treat breast cancer. The type of surgery defines the need for mammograms. If you had breast-conserving surgery or BCS, the doctor would ideally advise you to take mammograms of the treated breast 6 to 12 months after the end of radiation therapy. Mammograms help in looking for the early signs of cancer build-up. Also, mammograms are required for the untreated breast at least once a year. If a woman had breast cancer once, there are chances of reoccurrence.
Women treated by mastectomy will not need mammograms of the treated side. But yes, yearly mammograms will be required on the remaining breast. In the case of a double mastectomy, mammograms are no longer required. But in this case, also, cancer might develop on the chest wall or in the skin, which can be diagnosed by physical examination as well.
In the case of reconstructed breasts after mastectomy, mammograms are usually not required. But if something unusual is witnessed during a physical examination, a mammogram might be done. An MRI or breast ultrasound might help in this regard too.
In the case of subcutaneous mastectomy (nipple-sparing mastectomy), doctors advise taking follow-up mammograms. It is because some breast tissues might still be there under the nipple.
Tips for Successfully Nursing After Breast Cancer
If you are someone who has got a nod from your doctor to breastfeed after a breast cancer history, here are some tips to go about it:
- Your breast lobes may be damaged or dried up due to treatment. Try using cold packs or take ibuprofen to ease out the pain.
- Buy a good quality breast pump. It will help you pump a good amount of milk from the untreated or low milk-producing breast.
- Be gentle on yourself and your breast or breasts. Do not take the stress.
- Some people suggest rubbing your nipples with a dry towel, scrubbers, or loofah – it will help tighten up the nipples and easy latching.
- If you feed with a single breast, it will become sore with time. Rub little breastmilk over the nipple, and it will heal on its own.
- Supposedly if you are nursing from one breast, this breast is bigger than the non-nursing one. Insert a silicone bra cup inside your nursing bra to fill the smaller one to manage this size difference.
Myths and Facts – Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer
Here are some eye-opening myths and facts about the link between breast cancer and breastfeeding:
Women might develop breast cancer while nursing
This is a rather rare scenario. But there are a few cases where breast cancer in feeding mothers was found. So, it would help if you keep checking your breasts from time to time to find out any unrealistic lump formation.
Nursing can lower the risk of breast cancer in the mother
Does breastfeeding prevent breast cancer? Not completely true, but yes, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. In nursing women, the count of hormones that increase the risk of breast cancer is much lower.
Nursing mothers can go for mammograms
Yes, you can go for a mammogram. But there are chances that you get a false-positive. It is because the breasts remain dense during this time. Therefore, it will be better to go for a biopsy or imaging.
A lump during breastfeeding could be a sign of breast cancer
This is not necessarily true. Lumps during nursing can be non-cancerous too. But following signs are a cause of concern:
- They do not go away with time and are growing in size.
- Upon pressing the lump, it does not move.
- It makes the skin around it dimple or look like orange peel.
Breastfeeding does form an intimate bond between you and your child. But due to some reason, if you are not able to nurse your child, do not feel guilty, and do not take the stress. Remember to be happy. Bottle feed your child. Bottle feeding also gives you a lot of opportunities to develop a beautiful bond with your child. Remember that it is important to remain healthy and be there with your child to fulfill their needs. Happy Parenting!