Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus
Nursing Madonna (wikimedia commons)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Chemotherapy


I had originally planned to write a post for all those moms who are unable to nurse their babies for various reasons.  However, after doing an Internet search, I realized how little there really is online about pregnancy, breastfeeding and chemotherapy.

This post was inspired by the sister of one of CNML's board members.  Her name is Katy, and she has breast cancer.  She was diagnosed during the pregnancy of her fifth child.  She recently had her little baby and will resume chemotherapy treatments soon.

 Please pray for her healing!  Also pray for all those mothers who are pregnant or who have small children at home and who were diagnosed with cancer.  If you have cancer and would like members of the CNML Facebook group and yahoo group to pray for you, please send an email to: gina@catholicbreastfeeding.org.

Having cancer while being pregnant and when hoping to breastfeed can be so disheartening and scary! You are looking forward to new life and looking forward to that beautiful breastfeeding relationship while hanging onto your own dear life!  From what I am told by others and after seeing my own father struggling with cancer and chemotherapy, it is very rough.  I can't even imagine going through something like that with a newborn baby and possibly other children for which to care! I hope that if you find yourself in this situation, you find a little bit of comfort in knowing that people are praying for your healing.   It is so important to lean on your faith in Jesus at a time like this.  Praying the rosary can be a good way to make it through those difficult times of nausea.  Taking part in the sacraments of the Church - particularly the Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick - will give you added strength to keep going.  Also, pray to Saint Peregrine, patron saint of cancer patients.


If you were diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy, you may be able to receive treatment while pregnant.  Once your baby is born, you may be able to nurse him for a short period of time before you start chemotherapy.  However, sadly, there is a chance that your milk may not come in even if you have successfully breastfed other children.  I am not sure if this is due to having cancer, having a certain type of cancer (such as breast cancer) or undergoing treatment during pregnancy, but it is a possibility.  

When you do need to stop breastfeeding to start chemotherapy, you can hand express or pump just a little bit to soften your breasts periodically throughout the day to avoid engorgement.  As times goes on, your body will start producing less and less milk.  Putting cabbage leaves on your breasts can help decrease your supply, too.  Remove the wilted leaves often and apply fresh ones.  You can also apply ice packs or frozen vegetables to your breasts to help reduce engorgement.  Consuming foods containing peppermint  and sage have also been known to decrease milk supply.

Here are some links you may find helpful:

Professional advice about medication use during pregnancy and lactation:

Scientific studies:
Here is a journal article abstract about chemotherapy and breastfeeding that you or your doctor might like to request: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23199900
Pregnancy and Chemotherapy:  

Encouragement and links to research and personal stories:


Here is the personal story of a woman who is pumping and dumping her milk during chemotherapy with the hope that she will be able to breastfeed after her treatments are completed.  I also want to say that many women are too exhausted to do this during treatments.  Even if you are only able to breastfeed your baby a few times before your chemotherapy treatment or not at all due to your milk not coming in, know that you are a wonderful mother and are doing a great job!

Here is a book on the subject: 

Magazine articles:
LLL's Breastfeeding Today Magazine has an article by Diana West
about Breastfeeding and Cancer:

Breastfeeding after Breast Cancer:

by Gina M. Peterson, BS, IBCLC

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