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It is important to breastfeed children exclusively for the first six months of their life to boost their growth and development. For the unversed, exclusive breastfeeding means giving the newborn only breastmilk and no other liquids, not even water, or solids. Many children around the world are being deprived of breastmilk in the early stage of life, leaving them at the risk of developing malnutrition and several life-threatening illnesses. We know that breastfeeding is crucial for the early development of a baby. But is it safe to breastfeed if the mother is getting treatment for breast cancer? We asked an expert on World Breastfeeding Week.
Every year, the first weekdays of August is observed as World Breastfeeding Week to highlight the numerous benefits that breastfeeding can provide to both the mother and the baby. Take note - Breastfeeding also helps decrease a mother's risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) organises the World Breastfeeding Week in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to promote breastfeeding around the world. This year, the event is being celebrated with the theme "Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support".
Breast cancer is considered the most common cancer among Indian women. It is estimated that every 4 minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and a death occurs every 13 minutes in the country.
According to Dr Haneesha, Omega Hospitals, Hyderabad, breast cancer accounts for about 25 per cent of all female cancer cases in India.
There are the different types of treatments for breast cancer, depending on the stage of the cancer. These include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, etc. A combination of different types of treatments may be involved in cancer care.
There are two types of breast cancer surgery: Lumpectomy and Mastectomy. While lumpectomy is done to remove the tumor or other abnormal tissue and a small amount of the healthy tissue around it, the entire breast is removed in mastectomy.
Now the main question arises - Can a mother who is undergoing breast cancer treatment continue nursing her child?
It depends on the method used for your cancer treatment, according to Dr Haneesha.
She said, "Depending on the method used for treatment, you might be allowed to continue nursing both before and after surgery to remove the tumour. But you won't be able to breastfeed after a double mastectomy."
"After a lumpectomy, a breast that has had radiation treatment typically produces little to no milk. However, you might be able to breastfeed using the untreated breast. You might need to pump your milk and stop using it for a while before starting again. If you require chemotherapy, you will have to stop nursing your child. The potent medications used in chemotherapy may have an impact on how the body's cells divide. You might be allowed to carry on nursing while undergoing radiation treatment. Depending on the radiation kind you are exposed to. Some women are only able to breastfeed using the unaffected breast."
Your doctor can assist you in determining whether breastfeeding is a healthy option for you and your child throughout cancer treatment, she added.