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Cancer and Breastfeeding

Many mums and parents hope to breastfeed their child, but cancer can have an impact on how possible this is...

Many cancer treatments can make breastfeeding impossible due to the contamination of breastmilk, including:

  • chemotherapy

  • targeted therapy

  • immunotherapy

  • hormonal therapy

  • radiotherapy to the breast or chest area

If you were hoping to breastfeed or have already established a breastfeeding relationship, and are advised to avoid or cease breastfeeding due to your cancer treatment, you may find this difficult and upsetting. These feelings are normal and valid, and it's important that you speak to a friend or loved one, or a professional (such as your Mummy's star Information and Support Worker) to help understand and process them.

Missed Expectations

A desire to breastfeed can be very strong for some people, and is an integral part of their preparation to become a parent. If this option is taken away then it is important to take the time to process the loss and grief this may stir up inside you.

Talking to a friend or loved one who understands how important breastfeeding was to you can help. You might also seek out a professional, such as your Mummy's Star ISW to share these thoughts and feelings with.

Established Relationship

If you already have an established a breastfeeding relationship with your child, which needs to stop for cancer treatment to commence, you may be very upset and concerned. Weaning may have to happen quite quickly and before you or they are ready. Again, it is important to recognise that this is a loss and there may be feelings of grief, frustration and sadness attached to it, that need acknowledging and processing.

You can watch a video with Professor Amy Brown on Understanding Breastfeeding Grief and Trauma at our Ask The Expert page.

From a medicine perspective, if you are having to cease breastfeeding following a diagnosis and are due to begin chemotherapy or any other form of treatment it is an important to ask about the type of anti-sickness medication you will be given in conjunction with your treatment. Some can promote lactation in the breast, despite breastfeeding ceasing, and this can cause discomfort and infection.

Strong Bond

The physical and emotional bond built by breastfeeding (or the desire to breastfeed) is resilient and will not be broken by a need to avoid or cease the practise of breastfeeding due to cancer treatment.

Bonding with your baby can happen in many different ways and we have a whole article dedicated to how ways might build and strengthen that bond while you are having and recovering from cancer treatment.

Bottle feeding can also build a strong and deep connection between parent and child, if practiced mindfully. Paced and On Demand bottle feeding will mimic some of the characteristics of breastfeeding, encouraging a responsive feeding relationship that shares much of the same closeness that breastfeeding offers. These methods can be helpful in weaning an exclusively breastfed child to bottle.

Donor Milk

If you would like your child to receive the health benefits of breastmilk but your own is not available, donor milk is a wonderful alternative. It is available via the United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB)/NHS registered Milk Banks and the Human Milk Foundation. Mummy's Star can help connect you with milk banks and our financial grant can be used towards accessing donor milk. Please note, donor milk cannot be privately purchased to ensure equitable access.

The United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB) is a registered charity that supports milk banking in the UK. There are strict screening and pasteurisation processes to make sure donor breast milk is safe.

Physical Strain

Breastfeeding may also become difficult or impossible due to the physical impact of your treatment on your body. You may be too tired or in too much pain to manage breastfeeding. In these cases, speaking to a lactation consultant may help uncover the best options, including mixed feeding (breast and bottle), pumping, or switching to donor milk or formula.

Breastfeeding in the future

If breastfeeding in the present is out, it may still be possible to breastfeed in the future. This will depend on your care plan and should be discussed with your care team. If this is the case, you may choose to pump your breastmilk during treatment to maintain your supply.

Remember: each individual case is different, so if breastfeeding is important to you then speak to your care team and a lactation consultant about what options will work best for you.

If you do not feel you are being offered the options that should be available to you, we are here to help advocate for you. Some hospital teams are not fully aware of the range of options that should be available to a person in this scenario, which is why we work very closely with healthcare professionals to raise more awareness.

If you have any other questions about breastfeeding with cancer, don't hesitate to reach out to your Information and Support Worker or email for referral.


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