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Protect, promote and support: a warm chain of breastfeeding for oncological women—results from a survey of young Italian cancer mothers

7 Dec 2020
Martina Smorti, Ilaria Testa, Marta Gallese, Arianna Dotti, Chiara Ionio, Angelica Andreol, Anna Zilioli, Gabriella Pravettoni, Andrea Greco, Valentina Fenaroli, Giuseppe Nastasi, Nicola Giuntini, Lucia Bonassi

The topic of lactation following cancer diagnosis will become increasingly more current. Although oncological research confirms that breastfeeding after cancer might be possible, there is a lack of guidelines and a good recommendation for oncological women. In the absence of specific recommendations, women with past cancer may be at higher risk for psychological distress related to breastfeeding.

The objective of this article was to analyse the experience of breastfeeding in new mothers with a history of cancer compared to women without a cancer diagnosis. First, we explored the impact of the cancer diagnosis on the breastfeeding choice. Second, we evaluated the relationship between different feeding methods and the mother’s mood states in women with and without a history of cancer.

The sample was composed of 74 mothers divided into two groups: 34 with a cancer history (clinical sample) and 40 without a cancer diagnosis (control group). Participants were requested to complete a questionnaire three months after childbirth which assessed: socio-demographic and clinical data, feeding modes (breastfeeding, formula and mixed feeding) and the profile of mood states (POMS).

Results showed that women in the clinical group breastfeed significantly less and use formula more than those in the control group. Moreover, in the clinical group, women who breastfeed feel reported higher levels of confusion (according to POMS) than mothers who bottle-feed or use a mixed feeding method. On the contrary, in the control sample, women who breastfeed feel significantly more vigorous than puerperae who bottle-feed or use mixed methods according to POMS.

Our findings suggest the need for a specific warm chain of support and the development of guidelines with clear and specific information for women with a cancer diagnosis in order to reduce their confusion around breastfeeding.

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