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Breastfeeding and Radiation Exposure

By Annie Wang on May 2, 2018

Breastfeeding and Radiation Exposure

As you’ve surely come to realize, caring for a new precious human being is a big responsibility. It’s amazing how new moms are quickly hardwired to consider their baby’s needs and safety first and foremost. When you’re breastfeeding, your body doubles as your baby’s food source so normal health situations take on a whole new level of consideration. If you’re a new mom facing radiation exposure – whether planned or in an emergency – you may wonder how it will affect your baby. Today we’re exploring breastfeeding and radiation exposure so you’ll know what’s safe for you and your baby during this sacred time.

Everyday Exposure

Each of us is exposed to small amounts of radiation in our everyday lives. Between cell phones, microwaves, other electronics and our means of transportation, radiation is everywhere. In these small doses, radiation is not a major threat to your body or breast milk. But when it comes to medical exams, treatments and potential emergency situations, radiation is another story, especially while you are breastfeeding.

Medical Exams

It’s always important to remind your physician that you are breastfeeding when discussing any routine tests or procedures to ensure you are not passing along any potentially dangerous toxins to your baby through breast milk. And the good news is that most exams are safe including ultrasounds, X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs and mammograms. Even using most types of dyes and contrasts in medical tests are safe during breastfeeding.

Radioactive Isotopes

Some radioactive isotopes used for diagnostic tests and radiation therapy are unsafe for your baby and may even be dangerous for you if you do continue breastfeeding during the time of radiation exposure. Iodine-131 is a common radiation agent that is particularly unsafe for breastfed babies and could increase a mother’s risk of breast cancer. In this case, weaning may be necessary.

But other types of radioactive isotopes may only require a temporary interruption in breastfeeding during testing and treatment. You can pump during this time and then have the milk tested to find out when the radioactivity is no long present in the breast milk. Pumping is essential to maintaining a strong milk supply and frequent pumping will help you resume breastfeeding faster. Plus, radiation therapy can decrease your natural milk supply so pumping and frequent breastfeeding after radiation are the best ways to build it back up again.

Emergency Radiation Exposure

In the event that you are around a radiation emergency, you may be exposed to radiation through the air, your food and your water sources. Because this type of radiation would pass through to your breast milk and may be hazardous to your baby it is important to discontinue breastfeeding until you can consult your physician, according to the CDC. If you are giving your baby breast milk bottles during this time, clean them thoroughly before and after feedings. In order to maintain your milk supply, pump frequently and discard the milk. Be sure to sterilize all of your pump equipment. Should you have no other access to any other food source for your baby, continue breastfeeding. Clean your breasts before and after feedings with warm soapy water and wipe your baby’s mouth after feedings.

Working Around Radiation

If you work around radiation in the medical profession or elsewhere, it’s important to discuss your exposure with your doctor. You may be able to limit your exposure by wearing protective gear or a temporary reassignment may be in order until you and your baby are ready to wean.

Sources: KellyMom, LaLecheLeague, Breastfeeding Today, Just Breastfeeding and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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