- Women who breastfed for about 15 months or more are at reduced risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or clinically isolated syndrome
- Women who were 15 years of age or older at the time of their first menstrual cycle do not develop MS later in life
- Breastfeeding protects women from the risk of breast & ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes & heart attack
Multiple sclerosis (MS) damages the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which in turn disrupts the flow of information within the brain and the rest of the body. Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop MS, especially those mothers who breastfeed for about 15 months over one or more pregnancies, when compared with mothers who don't breastfeed or do so for up to four months, reveals a new study.
Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, with Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, who is also the author of the study, said that it is another example of a benefit to the mother from breastfeeding, apart from other health benefits like reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart attack.
‘Breastfeeding for more than 15 months lowers mother's future risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS).’
The study was published in the online issue of Neurology®,
the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Women who develop MS during pregnancy or while breastfeeding were found to have significantly fewer relapses, or attacks.
"Many experts have suggested that the levels of sex hormones are responsible for these findings, but we hypothesized that the lack of ovulation may play a role, so we wanted to see if having a longer time of breastfeeding or fewer total years when a woman is ovulating could be associated with the risk of MS," Langer-Gould said.
About 397 women with an average age of 37 were involved in the study. These women were newly diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome and were compared to 433 women who were matched for race and age. Questionnaires were given to women in person and the questions asked were about pregnancies, breastfeeding, hormonal contraceptive use and other factors.
Women who had breastfed for about 15 months or more over one or more pregnancies were 53 percent less likely to develop MS or clinically isolated syndrome, when compared with women who had not breastfed at all or breastfed up to four months.
A total of 85 of the healthy women had breastfed when compared to 44 of the women with MS for 15 months or more. For the healthy women who breastfed for zero to four months were 110, when compared to 118 of the women with MS.
Women who were 15 years or older at the time of their first menstrual cycle were found to be 44 percent less likely to develop MS later in life than women who were 11 years or younger at the time of their first menstrual cycle.
In this study, about 44 of the healthy women were 15 years or older at first menstruation, when compared to 27 women who had MS. Besides, there were 120 healthy women who were 11 years or younger at their first menstruation, when compared to 131 of the women with MS.
The total number of years a woman ovulated was not linked with the risk of MS, along with other factors like number of pregnancies, use of hormonal contraceptives and age at first birth.
Langer-Gould said that the study only showed the association between breastfeeding and MS; and does not prove that breastfeeding is responsible for the reduced risk of MS.
The limitations of the study were that women were asked to remember information from years earlier and chances are that they may not have remembered everything correctly. Also, the reasons behind for not breastfeeding or breastfeeding only for a short period of time were not investigated.
"This study provides more evidence that women who are able to breastfeed their infants should be supported in doing so. Among the many other benefits to the mother and the baby, breastfeeding may reduce the mother's future risk of developing MS," said Langer-Gould.
- Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, et al. Breastfeeding, ovulatory years, and risk of multiple sclerosis. Neurology (2017). DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000004207