June 15, 2009

Breastfeeding Appears to Delay MS Relapses

Women with multiple sclerosis who exclusively breastfeed for at least two months after giving birth may be less likely to experience a relapse within a year of their baby's birth than new mothers with MS who opt to forgo breastfeeding in order to restart MS therapies, according to a new study.

Frequently, MS patients suffer from fewer relapses during pregnancy but there's a high risk of relapse during the postpartum period, doctors said. Medications used to treat MS are not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so many women with MS must choose between nursing and resuming MS treatment.

In this study, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine observed that of the 52 percent of women with MS who did not breastfeed or who began regular supplemental formula feedings within two months, 87 percent had a postpartum relapse compared with 36 percent of the women with MS who breastfed exclusively for at least two months postpartum.

Among those who did not breastfeed exclusively for two months, 73 percent said their primary reason for doing so was to take their MS medications.

"Why breastfeeding might be beneficial in humans with an autoimmune disease like MS has not been studies," the authors said. "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."

Although they believe larger studies should be done, the study's authors said their findings suggest that women with MS should be encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first two months instead of resuming medications.

SOURCE: Archives of Neurology, August 2009