Breastfeeding associated with a reduced risk of relapse in women with multiple sclerosis

Jun 08, 2009

Women with multiple sclerosis who breastfeed exclusively for at least two months appear less likely to experience a relapse within a year after their baby's birth, according to a report posted online today that will appear in the August print issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"Multiple (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the that predominantly affects women in their childbearing years," the authors write as background information in the article. "It is well known that women with MS have fewer relapses during pregnancy and a high risk of relapse in the postpartum period." Medications used to treat MS by modifying the immune system—including interferon beta and natalizumab—are not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Therefore, women with MS who give birth must choose between nursing and resuming MS treatment.

Annette Langer-Gould, M.D., Ph.D., then of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif., and now of Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, and colleagues studied 32 pregnant women with MS and 29 pregnant women without MS who were the same age. The participants were interviewed about clinical, menstrual and breastfeeding history during each trimester and again two, four, six, nine and 12 months after they gave birth. In addition, neurological examination findings were collected from the physicians of women with MS.

More healthy women than women with MS breastfed (96 percent vs. 69 percent), and among those who did breastfeed, women with MS were more likely to begin daily formula feedings within two months after birth (30 percent compared with 18 percent). "Of the 52 percent of women with MS who did not breastfeed or began regular supplemental feedings within two months postpartum [15 women], 87 percent [13 women] had a postpartum relapse, compared with 36 percent [five women] of the women with MS who breastfed exclusively for at least two months postpartum [14 women]," the authors write. "Women with MS and healthy women who breastfed exclusively had significantly prolonged lactational amenorrhea [absence of menstruation], which was associated with a decreased risk of relapse in women with MS."

Most women with MS who did not breastfeed or supplemented with formula feedings (11 women, or 73 percent) reported that their primary reason for doing so was to take medications for MS. Eight of them (53 percent) resumed MS medications within two months after birth.

"Why breastfeeding might be beneficial in humans with an autoimmune disease like MS has not been studied," the authors write. "Studies of immunity and breastfeeding, while plentiful, are predominantly focused on breast milk content and health benefits to the infant. Little is known about maternal immunity during breastfeeding."

The results suggest that with MS should be encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first two months after birth instead of resuming medications, the authors note. "Our findings call into question the benefit of foregoing breastfeeding to start MS therapies and should be confirmed in a larger study," they conclude.

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals (news : web)

Explore further: The brain treats real and imaginary objects in the same way

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Can breastfeeding reduce multiple sclerosis relapses?

Feb 19, 2009

Women who have multiple sclerosis may reduce their risk of relapses after pregnancy if they breastfeed their babies, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual ...

Recommended for you

The brain treats real and imaginary objects in the same way

9 hours ago

The human brain can select relevant objects from a flood of information and edit out what is irrelevant. It also knows which parts belong to a whole. If, for example, we direct our attention to the doors of a house, the brain ...

Research suggests brain's melatonin may trigger sleep

11 hours ago

If you walk into your local drug store and ask for a supplement to help you sleep, you might be directed to a bottle labeled "melatonin." The hormone supplement's use as a sleep aid is supported by anecdotal ...

New understanding of stroke damage may aid recovery

11 hours ago

Stroke can lead to a wide range of problems such as depression and difficulty moving, speaking and paying attention. Scientists have thought these issues were caused by damage to the brain's "computer processors"—cells ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.