New mothers diagnosed with cancer often wonder how it will affect breastfeeding the new baby. Will the cancer negatively affect the quality of milk? What about the cancer treatments? There are many concerns related to cancer that can worry a new mother. Read on to find out when it is and is not safe to breastfeed with cancer, and what alternatives are available.

As far as cancer affecting milk, this is highly unlikely. If anything, a tumor can affect a breast’s ability to produce milk at all, but any milk produced will be safe for a baby. During the early stages of diagnostic cancer tests, breastfeeding is completely safe even with a breast tumor. Mammograms, CAT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, X-rays, and other tests also will not cause any changes to milk that would harm a newborn.

However, some treatments for cancer can negatively affect milk safety. Radioactive isotope therapy and chemotherapy will both cause changes to breast milk that can be passed on to a feeding infant, and so will prevent breastfeeding for a time. Until the medications or radiation have had time to completely leave your body, your milk may cause harm to a baby’s immature immune system.

If you do undergo these treatments, ask your doctor how long you will need to wait before breastfeeding. Depending on the specifics of the treatment, the time-frame during which breastfeeding is unsafe can vary. Discuss with your doctor your alternatives to breastfeeding during this period, and any other steps that may be taken.

Depending on the time-frame during which breastfeeding will not be viable, one step that can be helpful is to continue pumping breast milk to extend lactation. This pumped milk should then be discarded. By pumping milk regularly, the body will assume there is still a feeding infant, and continue producing milk until your milk supply is safe to drink.

In the mean time, infant formulas can be used to feed the baby instead. While some studies have shown that infant formula is inferior to breast milk, it is important not to delay cancer treatment in order to breastfeed. This could put your life in danger, so it is very important to treat the cancer as quickly as possible.

Make sure to talk to your doctor about breastfeeding to get every option available in your specific case. For example, in some cases, one breast will be safe for breastfeeding during treatment. Explore all options to ensure that both you and your baby are as healthy as possible.

So, while cancer cells cannot pass to an infant or otherwise affect breast milk, breast cancer can still be an obstacle for a new mother. While many cancer tests and treatments are safe, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can both make breast milk dangerous for an infant. Talk to your doctor to decide what the safest course is for you and your baby during your cancer treatment. In the worst case, infant formula can provide an effective alternative to breast milk.

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