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Q&A: Breastfeeding After Chemotherapy?

Can I resume breastfeeding after I finish chemotherapy?
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By Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC , Pediatrician
Updated February 28, 2017
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You can. Generally doctors recommend waiting five half-lives before restarting breastfeeding, which, given the long half-lives that many chemotherapy drugs have, may not be easy. A half-life is the length of time it takes for a drug to be eliminated from the body. Thus, a drug with a half-life of one hour (very short) would be 98 percent eliminated from the body in five hours. Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) has a half-life of 24 to 36 hours, so to be safe, you would have to wait at least five days, maybe one week, before resuming breastfeeding. But even a half-life of 24 to 36 hours is relatively short for chemotherapy drugs.

There is also a theoretical concern regarding milk production: In order to maintain your chances of resuming breastfeeding, it’s helpful to express your milk while being treated, but chemotherapy drugs attack cells with high growth rates, like lactocytes (milk-producing cells), and thus may damage these cells with unknown long-term consequences. This is theoretical only and not proved, but it is a possibility you should prepare yourself for.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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