What’s the Deal with Breastfeeding and CF?

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by Janeil Whitworth |

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Happy World Breastfeeding Week! That’s right, in this column we are talking about breasts and the wonderful thing they can do: feed tiny humans. I want to dive into the reasons to breastfeed and how cystic fibrosis plays a role in the choice of whether or not to breastfeed.

Why breastfeed?

The benefits of breastfeeding are significant for both mom and baby. There are even economic and environmental benefits to families and communities. It’s free, self-packaged, and limits waste. According to research, women who can breastfeed experience faster healing after birth as the release of the hormone oxytocin helps shrink the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size. In addition, women who have breastfed have a decreased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Breastfed infants have a reduced risk of developing asthma, ear and respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Breast milk is the ideal dynamic nutrition for infants. As the baby grows, the breast milk changes to provide exactly what is needed nutritionally to promote health and growth. How crazy is that? I don’t know of any other food that changes composition based on what the consumer needs. (I know what you are thinking. And no, coffee doesn’t do that.)

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It seems pretty clear that in an ideal situation, choosing to breastfeed would be the simple choice due to the shared benefits for both mom and baby. However, with cystic fibrosis, we know nothing is ever simple. Choosing to breastfeed with CF often feels overly complicated because it’s a case-by-case decision made with very little scientific information.

The CF milk maker

Women with CF can successfully breastfeed their babies. (Hip, hip, hooray!) No contraindication makes breast milk from cystic fibrosis patients inconsumable — it might be saltier, but not inconsumable. However, breastfeeding is physically and calorically demanding. Like, that s*** is tough work. I should know — I’m so close to reaching my goal of breastfeeding for an entire year.

When breastfeeding, you can burn up to 600 calories a day just making milk, and this doesn’t include the extra energy expenditure of getting up with baby throughout the night to nurse, as well as caring for an infant all day. Mothers burn a lot of calories breastfeeding, and must consume a lot of calories to sustain a healthy weight. Women often struggle with this, because as all moms know, some days there’s hardly enough time to enjoy proper meals.

There are other factors to consider when choosing to breastfeed with CF, which should be discussed with your doctor and support system. Questions include: Are all my medications breastfeeding-friendly? What happens if I need to go on IV antibiotics while breastfeeding? Do I pump so my partner can help with feedings? Is it smarter, in the long run, to breastfeed for a certain amount of time only, or not at all? The list of questions goes on and on. There’s no right answer because each patient and their disease process is unique. It’s all about finding out what’s best for you and your family.

Moving forward

As people with CF live longer and healthier lives, information and resources for pregnancy, parenthood, and breastfeeding will become even more important. It’s unfortunate that currently the research and information available to any mother with CF looking to breastfeed is relatively nonexistent. There are no nutritional clinical guidelines or goals that outline how to sustain a healthy weight while breastfeeding.

Many mothers are forced to quit because of declining body mass index. More research needs to be done to determine the safety and long-term effects of CFTR modulators on the nursing infant’s health and well-being. Currently, the patient and their doctor are left to decide the risks versus the benefits based on the little information available on these medications.

All nursing mothers need encouragement and resources from their communities. And mothers with cystic fibrosis, in particular, need further support because we face unique barriers specific to our disease. Hopefully, in the years to come, we can celebrate breastfeeding as a normative experience with CF, proving we are as tough as they come.

Happy World Breastfeeding Week to all the milk makers out there!


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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