Monday, June 26, 2006

Breastfeeding a Baby with Cancer

When Little Warrior was first diagnosed with cancer, I searched everywhere for information on breastfeeding a baby with cancer. I googled all kinds of permutations of +breastfeeding +baby +cancer and all I got was articles about how if you (the mother) have cancer, you should stop breastfeeding. Or how breastfeeding could offer protection against you (the mother) developing breast cancer.

Not helpful.

At the hospital, which is a Children's Hospital, I tried to find someone who could talk to me about it, specifically, were there certain things I could eat that would help, or certain things I should avoid? The sum total of advice I received can be summarized in this quote from one doctor:

"Sure, you can go ahead and breastfeed."

Well, duh, Sherlock. If breastfeeding is best with a 'normal' child, I'm certainly not going to put a baby with cancer on formula.

So, for anyone who ever happens to google the topic, here's my experience:

My daughter was 7 months when diagnosed. She's 13 months now.

She was exclusively breastfed til she was about 11 months. We would have started her on solids earlier, but, probably because of the chemotherapy, she just wasn't interested.

I have breastfed in countless waiting rooms, doctors' offices and of course, in the hospital. Little Warrior even got one of her echocardiograms nursing. She was being fussy, and we didn't want to sedate her, so I hopped up on the table, put her on my lap, and latched her on. The tech had no problem doing her echo/doppler.

In the hospital, we had no problems. One nurse put a sign up on the door saying "Knock! Breastfeeding mother inside!" but that was a pain, since they'd knock, then wait for us to yell "come in." With a sleeping baby, not helpful. I'm discreet, so we just pulled the sign down. And I mean, come on. This is my fourth baby. Modesty went out the window 3 kids ago. I think a medical professional could handle a quick flash of boob.

We were pleasantly surprised that when we requested her hospital crib be replaced with a hospital bed so that I could sleep with her, they didn't even bat an eye.

We were also surprised that the lack of measurability of breastmilk wasn't a problem. After her surgeries, as soon as she had taken a certain amount of pedialyte, I was allowed to nurse her. They just weighed all of her diapers and used that for a gauge.

Only challenges: when she went through surgery, she couldn't nurse for about 4-5 days. As soon as you know you'll be in that type of situation, request a breastpump. No matter how stressed you are, pump. Make sure you're pumping every 3 hours. A friend of mine brought me up some "Nursing Mother Tea" and that helped. (Or just fenugreek tea.)

Other challenge: I had never gotten Little Warrior on to a bottle. Didn't really have the need, since I was a stay-at-home mum. The only time this was an issue was when we needed to get "contrast" down her or the pedialyte. Well, they make giant syringes that you can request. It's going to be a pain, and Baby is going to be mad at you, but it's better than doing an NG tube, in my opinion.

Whenever LW gets a CT scan, they sedate her. Coming out of that, they've never required her to do pedialyte. They just let her nurse. After she nurses for a while (with no throwing up), we're free to go.

End result of all this -- realizing that this is purely anecdotal: Little Warrior's blood counts never dropped below range. She was hospitalized once for infection, but it was probably due to e.coli being released in her system during surgery. (Very common.)

To my eyes, she got skinny, but the doctors never worried about it. And apparently the skinniness was due to the tumors eating up all her calories, because after the tumors were removed (but while still on chemo), she began gaining the weight back.

I'd like to take credit for any of that, but science just doesn't work that way. Who knows? Maybe it had nothing to do with it.

But, if you are breastfeeding your baby already and s/he has been diagnosed with cancer ... well, first of all, I send you a giant cyber hug. I am SO sorry you're facing that. But next, let me encourage you to keep nursing your baby if at all possible. I don't have any information on nutrition for you, other than to say be sure to drink loads of water and avoid alcohol, since it can interfere with chemo. For the first month or so, I also avoided caffeine, but I'll admit that fell by the wayside. I had about a cup of coffee every day. I say "about" because I make a cup of coffee, I lay it down somewhere, I find it later, I microwave it, I set it down, rinse, lather and repeat until I finally give up drinking it.

Good luck. God bless. Boobie love.


Lisa said...

Hi LE,

I found your blog long ago from bloghopping from Anne's site.

I just wanted to say, as a mom, but not one that has had to deal with cancer, I think your amazing and that LW is beautiful. My babies are almost all grown...and I miss having a little one. :-)

That's all.

Oh! And many blessings!


Boobless Brigade Master said...

Oy...I implore you to find a couple of message boards and copy/paste this post to them. It's chok' full o' pertinent information, that as you found out, nobody tells you about or can advise you about. At least other people could search the archives here and there and benefit from your experience.
More importantly...glad to here LW is doing so well! Love the picture with the big, beautiful smile!!!

sunnydeveloper said...

Hi I came through your site just googling 'babies with cancer'. My daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia at 10 weeks. I breastfed her through three rounds of chemo and a bone marrow transplant. She turned one last month.
It's surely one of my greatest accomplishments but also the one thing I felt I had the power to do .
I pumped for a total of two and a half months, filling the hospital fridge with bottles of milk while my babe was on ventilator or TPN. I am so glad I kept up.

Best wishes and congratulations from one trench-nurser to another.

Purrsia said...

It's almost as if I wrote this myself!
I know you wrote this ages ago but I have been feeling so conflicted as I have been trying to decide whether to continue breastfeeding or not as my lil guy is turning 1yrs old in about 18days.
He doesn't eat much solids and nurses to sleep so I dunno what I'm gonna do when I wean him off.
He's had 4 rounds of chemo and we're just waiting for the all clear. He's had 2months off chemo but we are still waiting for the markers in his blood to return to normal.

Your daughter must be all grown now :)
Way to go Little Warrior :)

Lizard Eater said...

Prayers for you and your lil guy, Purrsia. Yes, Little Warrior survived two bouts of cancer - the one as a baby, and then again right before she turned 3.

She's now 5 years off-treatment, no evidence of disease, and has graduated to long-term survivor care. And all she remembers are the fun times.

Hugs to you. You will make it through this.

Unknown said...

I know this is very old, but my 5 month old just started his first cycle of chemo. He has an NG tube with breastmilk right now, but I am hoping to be able to nurse soon. No information anywhere. Thank you for writing this, it makes me feel better to read it.