In the first six months postpartum, the risk of a relapse of multiple sclerosis (MS) is lower in the women who exclusively breastfed their babies, according to a study.
The study titled "Exclusive Breastfeeding and the Effect on Postpartum Multiple Sclerosis Relapses," investigated how breastfeeding impacts risk for disease relapse in women with multiple sclerosis. The study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune disease that is characterized by the destruction of myelin, a protective layer surrounding the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Roughly 20-30% of women with multiple sclerosis experience an increased risk for disease relapse, usually occurring within 3 to 4 months after giving birth.
To understand the link between exclusive breastfeeding and risk of disease relapse and how introduction of supplemental feedings influences the risk, the researchers collected data of 201 pregnant women from the nationwide German multiple sclerosis and pregnancy registry. Along with this they also analyzed the results obtained for a follow-up period of 1 year after birth. Exclusive breastfeeding was defined as a minimum period of 2 months without any replacement by supplement feeding.
Among the 201 participants, 120 (59.7%) breastfeed exclusively while 81 (40.3%) either intended to breastfeed and supplement feedings (42, 20.9%) or did not breastfeed (39, 19.4%). Of those who did not breastfeed exclusively, 31 (38.3%) had a relapse within six months postpartum compared to 29 (24.2%) women who intended to breastfeed exclusively for at least two months. The introduction of supplemental feedings resulted in no significant changes in the time for the first postpartum relapse in the two groups analyzed, i.e. women who had or not breastfed exclusively.
The findings of the study suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is a potential natural process that delays multiple sclerosis relapse. And hence the researchers state that women with multiple sclerosis should be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed, since it does not increase the risk for postpartum relapse.
Kerstin Hellwig, M.D., of Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany and study first author commented on the study findings, "Taken together, our findings indicate that women with MS should be supported if they choose to breastfeed exclusively since it clearly does not increase the risk of postpartum relapse. Relapse in the first six months postpartum may be diminished by exclusive breastfeeding, but once regular feedings are introduced, disease activity is likely to return."