Nursing After Breast Cancer
Like many breast cancer survivors who become mothers, Hope Hundley dreamed of nursing her baby after birth. Unfortunately, surgery and treatment for her disease meant that Hundley was unable to produce enough breast milk to feed her daughter. If you are a breast cancer survivor expecting a baby, you may be able to nurse. To increase your chances of success:
Consult a lactation expert: Consult a board certified lactation consultant before and soon after your baby is born to assess your breasts, recommend ways to increase milk supply and otherwise guide you.
Read up: There are numerous sites and books that discuss breast-feeding after breast cancer. Educate yourself on the most common problems. Here are few to get you started:
- A Woman's Health
- She Knows
- Le Leche Legue
- The Breastfeeding Answer Book
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, before and after cancer, lowers the risk of getting cancer or having it return.
Use donated breast milk: Sometimes cancer treatment means you just can't nurse. Consider a breast milk share with a trusted nursing friend, ask your birth or postpartum doula for connections to breast milk or call a breast milk bank like the Northwest Mother's Milk Bank or the Breast Milk Depot at Providence Medical Center in Everett.
Accept formula as a safe way to feed your baby if nursing does not work: Many mothers are conflicted about giving their baby formula. The bottom line is that your baby must eat and formula is a safe alternative when breast milk is not possible.
"I wanted to breastfeed and did everything possible to make it happen," says Hundley, whose daughter is 8 months old. "I read books, took breast-feeding classes beforehand and consulted with two lactation consultants once it became a struggle, but I couldn't. The lumpectomy and radiation impacted my ability to produce breast milk in the one breast and I produced very little milk in the other."
The pressure she had put on herself to breastfeed was intense, Hundley says.
"I pushed myself harder than I should have in those first few weeks. A lactation consultant finally helped me make peace with the reality of my situation. She was the first person to give me permission to just enjoy the baby that I had worked so hard to have. That was what I desperately needed to hear."