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LCGB Conference 2023 – Breastfeeding infants & children with cancer

LCGB Conference 2023 – Breastfeeding infants & children with cancer

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Lyndsey Hookway



Childhood cancer affects approximately one in 500 children, making it more common than SIDS. Unlike SIDS, the rate is rising and cancer is the leading cause of death in children aged 1-15 years with 45% of cases diagnosed before the age of five years. Despite this, awareness of childhood cancer and the effects of cancer on breastfeeding are poorly understood, and there is no research at all on this sub-population. 


A not-for-profit awareness campaign and support group – Breastfeeding the Brave – was established in 2019. To date, almost 100 parents of children with various childhood cancers have been encouraged and provided with practical support to persevere with breastfeeding through childhood cancer. 


Clinical experience within the project suggests that continuing to provide human milk either through breastfeeding or via nasogastric tube provides comfort, pain relief, improved enteral recovery, is better tolerated and reduces the incidence of debilitating mucositis. There is emerging evidence that breastmilk contains a specific HMO which may prevent mucositis, and many of the components of human milk including immunoglobulins, macrophages, glutamine, and tumour necrosis factor-α may support optimal gut health as well as reducing iatrogenic and community acquired opportunistic infections during immunocompromise. As well as this, a recent qualitative study found that maternal motivation to breastfeed through cancer and other serious conditions was high, despite the specific clinical challenges that it raised.


This presentation will draw on current research to identify specific childhood cancers, their symptoms, prevalence and common treatments. It will also introduce some of the challenges experienced by parents breastfeeding their child through cancer – such as pain, nausea and weight problems, and some practical ways to support families facing this ordeal.

Learning objectives

  1. Describe the maternal/parental motivations and clinical relevance of continuing to breastfeed a child with cancer.
  2. Identify at least 2 common challenges faced by parents of children with cancer.
  3. Summarise some specific lactation needs of families during chemotherapy and surgery.

Pathology, Clinical Skills (Education and Communication), Pharmacology and Toxicology

1.5 L CERP