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Pregnancy and Breastfeeding After Cancer: What to Expect

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding After Cancer: What to Expect

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding After Cancer: What to Expect

It’s not uncommon for younger women to be cancer survivors. Even breast cancer, which mostly affects older women, happens to about 11% of women under 45. If you’ve been through a major illness and treatment early in life, you might wonder how that changes your future. Many younger women who survive cancer especially wonder whether they’ll be able to have—and nurse—children.

Here’s the good news: Most of the time the answer is yes, you can. And if you’re a breast cancer survivor, there’s still a strong chance that you’ll be able to breastfeed your baby. However, there are a few things to know before planning your family. As always, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

Before your treatment

If you haven’t undergone surgery or therapy yet, talk with your healthcare team before making treatment decisions. Your doctors will go over all your options and share the best ones for your cancer recovery, as well as your hopes for having children. They’ll prepare you if there are any risks or changes to your plans that you need to know. They’ll talk to you about a realistic timeline for your treatment and pregnancy planning.

If you’re getting oncology treatment through Frederick Health Cancer Care, you’re in good hands. Our accredited, award-winning oncology team is here for you through your life journey as a survivor. We’ve treated people at every stage in life and can answer all your questions.

How treatments affect pregnancy and breastfeeding

Everyone’s cancer journey is a little different. This is only a guideline to help you better understand how different treatments might affect your ability to get pregnant and breastfeed.

  • Radiation therapy could impact your situation, depending on where the radiation was directed and how much it affected your breasts or reproductive organs. (However, if only one breast was treated with radiation, the other could still produce milk.)
  • Chemotherapy sometimes makes it harder to get pregnant, but not always. It should still be possible for you to breastfeed if you have a baby later in life.
  • Hormone therapy or other drug treatments may be ongoing, so you may need to complete the full treatment before it’s safe to become pregnant. Work with your doctor to plan a safe time for when you can pause treatment to have a baby.
  • Surgery only affects your chances of pregnancy or breastfeeding if your ovaries and/or uterus, or both breasts, are removed. If you have your reproductive organs and one breast that hasn’t had too much tissue removed, you can still have a baby and breastfeed.

Other safety concerns

Once you receive the all-clear that your cancer is gone, it’s natural to want to get on with your life as quickly as possible and start (or continue) your family. However, you might need to take some time to let your body finish recovering and clear your system of the last traces of your therapy. For example, it’s not safe to get pregnant too soon after chemo.

If you’ve had breast cancer and are worried about whether breastfeeding will make it come back, don’t be. Breastfeeding can actually lower your risk of getting breast cancer again. There’s also no reason to be concerned that your cancer history will bring any risks of birth defects or health problems to your baby.

When you’re ready to get pregnant, reach out to our Birth Place. We’ll help you prepare for your new family as we offer convenient online childbirth classes (including breastfeeding) and other services to make your labor and delivery as smooth and safe as possible. Let’s talk about life as a new mother & cancer survivor and how we can help you with all your questions and concerns.