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Breastfeeding After Breast Cancer

Christina Smedberg
Milan, Italy
From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 1, 2010, p. 22

As a La Leche League Leader in Milan, Italy, I wish to share a very special case with you.

A mother who had undergone treatment for breast cancer and who now wanted to breastfeed contacted me. Six years ago she suffered cancer and one-fourth of her left breast had been removed. Nerves and ducts in the breast had been cut and she underwent radiation therapy. Four years later, a malignant tumor was detected in the breast and she had a mastectomy.

One year after the second surgery, she had her first child, a baby girl. When the mother called me, her baby was six weeks old. She had wanted to breastfeed, but comments from health specialists had discouraged her.

After a month and a half, frustrated, suffering, and often in tears because she felt she was missing out on the experience of breastfeeding her baby, she read about La Leche League International and the use of supplemental nursing systems (SNS).* She came to me, thinking that an SNS might be a good solution and that I could possibly help her to experience breastfeeding with her baby.

I said I would call her back after doing some research on her situation. After reading all the information I could find in LLLI publications, The Breastfeeding Answer Book and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, in Italian translations, I was convinced that this mother could breastfeed her baby. A researcher from a cancer research institute in Milan confirmed my findings. The mother decided to give breastfeeding a try. After some weeks she started producing milk, while continuing to supplement.

It was an emotional experience for her to see her baby latching on and nursing. When I met with the mother I was amazed to see how this bottle-fed child got excited at the sight of her mother's breast and latched on very naturally. She suckled until she fell asleep with a blissful smile on her face. The mother and I shed tears of joy. She went on to breastfeed her daughter into toddlerhood.

I witnessed how the human body is capable of renewing and "repairing" itself. Psychological and practical support makes a huge difference in overcoming challenging situations.

Helping this mother made me feel so useful and so grateful to La Leche League International.

* The SNS has a bottle of milk that hangs around your neck and a tiny tube that you tape to your breast. You latch the baby on to both the breast and the tube at the same time, so she is sucking on the breast but also gets milk from the bottle. It keeps the baby in control of how much she takes, and keeps the milk supply stimulated.

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