After Chemotherapy Treatment for Maternal Cancer During Pregnancy, Is Breastfeeding Possible?

Breastfeed Med. 2017 Mar:12:91-97. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2016.0166. Epub 2017 Feb 7.


Objective: To report breastfeeding complaints of women diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy and correlate success with characteristics of their treatment.

Materials and methods: This is a prospective cohort study of women diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy who attempted breastfeeding. We surveyed participants about breast engorgement, milk let down, and consistent breast milk production through mailed questionnaires. Treatment details, including the type and number of chemotherapy cycles given during pregnancy and antepartum or postpartum depression, were collected. A single pathologist evaluated surgical specimens to note lactational changes while blinded to patient's treatment. The primary endpoint was successful breastfeeding without reporting any lack of or decreased breast milk production.

Results: When comparing women who underwent chemotherapy during pregnancy to women who did not, there was a significant difference in reporting a lack of or a perceived decrease in breast milk supply and the need to provide supplemental feeding to their infants (63.5% and 9%, respectively, p < 0.001). In the women who received chemotherapy, there was no significant difference in maternal age, cancer type, or stage with regard to breastfeeding difficulties. Gestational age at the first cycle and the number of cycles were significant factors associated with breastfeeding difficulties (p = 0.006 and p = 0.0003, respectively). Antepartum and postpartum depression was not associated with decreased breast milk production. A lack of lactational changes and significant lobular atrophy were noted in the women given neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Conclusion: Women who undergo chemotherapy during a pregnancy are more likely to report breastfeeding difficulties.

Keywords: breastfeeding; cancer; chemotherapy; diminished milk supply; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Breast Feeding* / methods
  • Breast Feeding* / statistics & numerical data
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Lactation / physiology*
  • Lactation Disorders / drug therapy
  • Lactation Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Lactation Disorders / psychology
  • Mothers* / psychology
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • New Jersey
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Neoplastic / therapy*
  • Pregnant Women* / psychology
  • Prospective Studies