I Had Breast Cancer. Am I Able to Breastfeed?

Breast feeding
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Many people who have had (or currently have) breast cancer ask if they can breastfeed. The answer is, it depends.

If, for instance, you are currently being treated your oncologist may suggest you discontinue. Medications used in certain treatments, like chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or anesthesia used during surgery may be passed on to your baby. In addition, lactating breasts can be more difficult to examine and operate on.

Research has found that if you have had breast cancer in the past, breastfeeding is feasible. Even if you have had a mastectomy on one breast, there is still the possibility that you can breastfeed from one side. However, sometimes surgery or radiation can result in reduced milk production and difficulty breastfeeding on the affected breast. Support from a doctor and experienced lactation consultant may be beneficial.

Breastfeeding After Lumpectomy or Radiation

After breast surgery of any kind, including lumpectomy, breastfeeding is safe and often possible. Whether or not milk supply is affected depends on a number of things—including the location on the breast, depth of the surgery, and whether nerves and milk ducts were damaged during surgery.

Lactation is possible if you have had radiation treatment on your breast in the past, but research has found that the impacted breast usually has a reduced ability to produce milk. You may rely more on your unaffected breast if you have had radiation in the past.

If only one breast was affected by surgery or radiation, the untreated breast may become bigger and make enough milk to sustain the baby. Many people breastfeed from only one breast for a variety of reasons.

If you have recently completed radiation treatment, be sure to talk to your doctor about whether breastfeeding is safe to resume.

Breastfeeding After Chemotherapy

Many drug therapies, including chemotherapy, enter breast milk and can be passed onto your baby, so breastfeeding is contraindicated during treatment. It takes some time for chemotherapy drugs to get out of your system, but once that happens, you may be able to resume breastfeeding or begin breastfeeding after a future pregnancy. 

Discuss plans to resume or start breastfeeding after any cancer treatment with your doctor. They will advise you on the safety, the amount of time you should wait before starting to breastfeed again, and direct you to supports that you may need to achieve your goals. 

If You're Unable To Breastfeed

Although it can be more difficult, breastfeeding is often possible after breast cancer treatment. If, however, you find you are unable to breastfeed, there are some things you can do to maintain closeness while feeding. 

A supplemental nursing system (SNS) is an alternative feeding method that allows your baby to receive breast milk or formula from a tube while they breastfeed. 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. If your supply doesn’t increase, you may still enjoy having your baby at the breast while they feed.

Even if you don’t breastfeed, you can still replicate the closeness of breastfeeding while bottle-feeding. Cuddling your baby close while feeding, skin-to-skin, and eye contact are all ways to bond with your baby while you feed them. 

Breast Cancer Drugs and Breastfeeding

Here are the most common medications used, and the recommendations for breast cancer patients who wish to breastfeed. These are recommendations, not cut and dry answers that can apply to every person. It's important for a parent to make sure that there's open communication between their oncologist and their baby's pediatrician.

  • Abraxane IV: Withhold breastfeeding for at least 2 weeks after last dose.
  • Adriamycin-Pfs IV: This is contraindicated for use in breastfeeding parents.
  • Aredia IV: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. The FDA advises against breastfeeding while taking this drug.
  • Arimidex Oral: Parents should not breastfeed while consuming this medication.
  • Aromasin Oral: Discontinue breastfeeding during treatment and for one month after final dose.
  • Cytoxan Oral: This drug passes into breast milk. Breastfeeding is contraindicated during treatment with this drug.
  • Epirubicin IV: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Femara Oral: Discontinue breastfeeding while taking this product and for three weeks following the last dose.
  • Gemzar IV: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Herceptin IV: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Lupron Inj: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Neupogen Inj: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Nolvadex Oral or Tamoxifen Oral: There is no information about the presence of this drug in human milk. It is reported to inhibit lactation. People should not breastfeed while using this drug or for three months following the last dose.
  • Taxol IV: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Taxotere IV: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug and for one week after the last dose.
  • Toremifene Oral: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Vinorelbine IV: There is no information about the presence of this drug in human milk or on milk production. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug or for nine days following the last dose.
  • Xeloda: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.
  • Zoladex SubQ: It is unknown if this drug passes through human milk. People should not breastfeed while taking this drug.

If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding after you've had any form of cancer, talk to your doctor and a lactation consultant. They will be able to help you sort through options.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Breastcancer.org

  • Hale TW. Medications and Mother's Milk. 2006

  • Mohrbacher N, and Stock, J. The Breastfeeding Answer Book. La Leche League International. Schaumburg, IL.