What to Know About Breastfeeding, Pumping, and Breast Cancer
Here's what you should know about breastfeeding and breast cancer, including common questions and answers around this important topic.
One in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. And many women find that while they’re breastfeeding or pumping, they’re more aware than ever of their breast health, including how they can reduce the risk of breast cancer and what warning signs to watch for.
While some women already know that breastfeeding and pumping can reduce their risks, there are more breast cancer and breastfeeding facts to be aware of. We’re tackling some of the most common questions to keep all breastfeeding moms informed.
Can breastfeeding help reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Yes! Many studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers your risk of developing breast cancer and the longer you breastfeed in your lifetime, the more the risk is reduced.
Can I get breast cancer while I’m breastfeeding or pumping?
While it’s very rare, a small percentage of women do develop breast cancer while they are breastfeeding or using a breast pump. Lactating breasts are often lumpy and bumpy due to normal breast fullness, breast milk production, and the occasional plugged duct. Just be sure to pay attention to how your breasts normally feel and make sure you know the signs of a suspicious lump that needs medical attention.
While you’re breastfeeding or pumping, you’re more likely to be in tune with how your breasts look and feel, but it’s also important to remember to continue doing routine at-home breast checks. Typically, a concerning lump is one that doesn’t go away; it may be firm and non-painful, will stay in a fixed position, and may cause the skin around it to pucker and look like the stippled skin of an orange. If you have any questions or concerns about something you feel in your breasts, be sure to get it checked out right away by your doctor.
Can I still get a mammogram while breastfeeding or pumping?
Yes, it’s possible to get a mammogram while breastfeeding. Just be sure to talk with your healthcare provider first. Because breast tissue is very dense during lactation, a mammogram may not be the preferred diagnostic tool; they may recommend you instead get an ultrasound or MRI. Make sure you empty your breasts completely just before your appointment.
Is it possible to breastfeed or pump after breast cancer?
Many moms want to breastfeed after undergoing breast cancer treatment and, while it may present a few challenges, it’s certainly possible. If you’ve had a single mastectomy or lumpectomy, you can nurse on just one breast, which often supplies enough milk. But if you’re struggling to establish a supply, try working with a Lactation Consultant and consider using a specialty feeding device. It can be incredibly empowering to be able to provide breast milk to your little one after such a harrowing experience.
Does breastfeeding prevent any other cancers?
Recent studies show that women who breastfeed also lower their risk of developing both endometrial and ovarian cancers. Like with breast cancer, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk becomes.
Can using a breast pump reduce the risk of cancer?
While the correlation between pumping and cancer reduction is less explored than the link between breastfeeding and cancer reduction, many healthcare professionals identify pumping as an important part of breastfeeding. Whether you choose to introduce breast pumping along with regular nursing or later in your breast milk feeding journey, it may help you continue to provide breast milk to your little one for as long as you choose, often prolonging the ability to breastfeed - which, in turn, reduces, the risk of cancer.
A clogged milk duct can sometimes be mistaken for a worrisome breast lump. Using a breast pump regularly can help alleviate the discomfort from clogged milk ducts while helping to prevent breast infections - such as mastitis - from occurring.
Understanding these breast cancer, breast pumping, and breastfeeding facts, as well as keeping yourself educated on things like early detection, are the best ways to reduce your risk. Be sure to share this information with the other women in your life!