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Breastfeeding while your child is having chemotherapy treatment for cancer fact sheet

Breastfeeding while your child is having chemotherapy treatment for cancer

Breast milk is the perfect food for babies and young children. This includes full-term, pre-term and sick babies and children. Each mother’s own breast milk is ideally suited for her own child because breast milk provides passive immunity through secretory IgA which supports the child’s immune system. Breast milk is easily digested and is packed with essential nutrients for growth. It also contains millions of living cells that work to protect your baby or child from disease. We would like to support you to continue to breastfeed or provide your breast milk while your child has treatment.

Breastfeeding your child while they are having treatment may be difficult at times. Your child may need to fast for procedures or they may refuse feeds when they are feeling unwell. They may develop mouth sores making latching difficult or they may suffer from side effects from the treatment such as nausea or vomiting and diarrhoea. If your child is breastfeeding less than usual, you may need to express your milk to maintain your supply. Occasionally your child may not tolerate your breast milk and may need an additional specialised formula to supplement your breast milk.

If you are breastfeeding a sibling of a child undergoing chemotherapy, you may consider giving any excess breast milk to your child having treatment. Avoid handling chemotherapy whenever possible. If you do handle chemotherapy drugs, use protective precautions where possible (see below) and ensure you wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Lactation consultants are available at the Queensland Children’s Hospital Monday to Friday to provide support with breastfeeding or expressing breast milk. You can phone the lactation service on 3068 1807 or ask a member of your health care team to request a consultation.

The hospital can provide you with an electric hospital grade breast pump and breast pump kits for your use within the hospital. It is important to clean the breast pump before and after use. If you express milk away from the hospital you may need to consider hiring or purchasing a breast pump. Your lactation consultant will be able to give further advice on these options. Meals are also provided for mothers who are breastfeeding or expressing.

Protective precautions when breastfeeding your child:

  • Wash your hands before starting breastfeeding.
  • Where possible, avoid handling your child’s urine, bowel motions, or vomit during their chemotherapy treatments. If this is not possible it is highly recommended that you wear protective equipment (gowns, gloves, goggles and mask). Please ask hospital staff to arrange a supply for you.

Please refer to the parent fact sheet ‘Safe handling guidelines for parents and carers when giving chemotherapy or handling waste products’ for further details.

Resources

Expressing breast milk
Increasing your milk supply
Blocked ducts and mastitis

Contact us

Lactation Service
Level 9, Queensland Children’s Hospital
501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane
t: 07 3068 1807
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
e: CHQ_lactationCN@health.qld.gov.au

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

References

Bauters, T., Laekeman, G., Amant, F., Robays, H., Benoit, Y., & Mondelaers, V. (2013). Breastfeeding a child on treatment for childhood cancer. Journal of Oncology Pharmacy Practice, 20(3), 237-238. doi:10.1177/1078155213494036

McGuire, E., & Miller, H. (2017). Breastfeeding a child with Down syndrome through leukaemia. Breastfeeding Review 2017, 25(3), 27-31

Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service (2011). Breastfeeding a child on treatment for childhood cancer. Southern Health and The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Strategy, 2005.  Guide for Handling Cytotoxic Drugs and Related Waste, Queensland Government, Department Industrial Relations

Resource No: FS350. Developed by Lactation Service/General Paediatrics and Babies Department. Updated: August 2019. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

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