A new study cautions women about changes to their breasts during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

mom breastfeeding in grey sweatshirt
Credit: Shutterstock

A new study that finds one in 10 women with breast cancer first spot signs of the disease while pregnant or breastfeeding makes a lot of sense. Because when else are you so in tune with changes to your breasts than during pregnancy, or when you are just beginning to nurse?

A U.K. charity called Breast Cancer Care was behind the study, which included nearly 500 women under the age of 45 who have the disease. The charity asked the women when they noticed the first sign of cancer. The result? One in 10 reported it was while pregnant, or during new motherhood.

What one man who lost his wife to breast cancer after she had a baby told The Manchester Evening News was very thought-provoking for me: "Women who have spotted symptoms of cancer are told by doctors that changes in their body are because of pregnancy when in fact that is not the case. So I think doctors need to be more well-informed," said Pete Wallroth, who now runs a support group called Mummy's Star.

And it's true! During my three pregnancies I would always write off any lumps or bumps as weird pregnancy symptoms.

Of course, it's hard to imagine getting such a devastating diagnosis during pregnancy, or after just having had a baby, but this study urges us not to be so cavalier.

Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, delved into the effects of receiving terrifying health news at such a special point in life, saying:

"Many mums feel they miss out on precious time with their children because they are going back and forth to hospital for treatment or may be dealing with debilitating side-effects—time they will never get back. A breast cancer diagnosis during pregnancy or soon after giving birth can mean some women find it difficult to bond with their baby. The feelings of guilt can be huge and they may feel they have nowhere to turn. So access to support is vital."

Al Qadhi says the takeaway is just that; support is everything in these situations. For me, the message is what I said before: Changes to one's breasts may be normal during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but if you notice something, it is still worth having it checked out by a doctor.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.