How Having a Baby Later in Life Affects Your Breast-Cancer Screenings
It’s comforting at least to know that I’m not alone: A recent Los Angeles Times article confirms that more and more women older women are having babies. The diagnostic code for all my prenatal testing falls under “AMA”—advanced maternal age—so I am reminded at each and every prenatal visit that I am old. It has got me thinking about the implications of being nearly 40 when I have a newborn. For one, there’s a host of preventative health-screening recommendations for adults made by the U.S. Preventive Task Force. As new moms, how do we schedule mammograms, colonoscopies and other types of screenings while juggling mommyhood, breastfeeding, struggling to lose baby weight and maintaining some sort of anti-aging regimen that is safe while lactating?
With this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, mammograms are at the front of my mind (although I’m getting palpitations thinking about the rest of that list, to be quite honest). Our second pregnancy was a bit of a surprise, and I was planning on starting my mammogram screening right when I turned 40. This was going to be a helpful way to remember my screening schedule and mark my commitment to preventative health. Now, if all goes according to plan, I will be a few months post-partum and was really hoping for successful breastfeeding. I am having visions of laying my engorged breast on the mammography plate and having it flatten and squirt out milk all over the machine and tech. Although this is a highly unlikely scenario, breast-feeding and having to go for a mammogram does make me grab my chest and cringe.
The good news is that, medically-speaking, getting a mammogram while lactating and breastfeeding is totally safe. There are no risks to milk quality, and overall the radiation risk is low. So, the plan is to schedule my mammogram as a warped 40th birthday present to me so I remember it’s importance. I will bring baby or pump with me and brace myself for the discomfort, knowing that I’m doing what I can to reduce my risks. I plan on wearing pink to work October 18th in solidarity of the women who fight breast cancer every day, but also in support of not delaying screening.
Bindu Kumar, M.D., is a Philadelphia-area physician with expertise in primary care and occupational medicine. She maintains her family medicine board certification in both the United States and Canada.