Women who breastfeed have a lower rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) relapses in the postpartum period compared to those who do not breastfeed or supplement it with regular formula, an analysis of published studies shows.
The findings suggest that breastfeeding protects women from postpartum relapses, but due to the observational nature of the studies included, a randomized clinical trial will be necessary to confirm this link.
The study, “Association Between Breastfeeding and Postpartum Multiple Sclerosis Relapses,” was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.
While many treatments reduce MS relapses, none is recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. As a result, relapse rates in the postpartum period increase, with up to 30% of women experiencing a relapse in the first three months after giving birth.
The findings effectively make women choose between breastfeeding or forgoing breastfeeding to resume their medications. But some studies actually suggest that breastfeeding may protect them from relapsing.
To find out how breastfeeding affects postpartum relapses, researchers at the the University of California reviewed data from 24 studies, published from 1980 to 2018, and encompassing a total of 2,974 women. All studies included a comparator group and were rated as having either moderate or serious risk of bias.
The definition of breastfeeding varied somewhat between studies. Nine studies required the breastfeeding group to do so exclusively without supplementing formula, generally for at least two months. Other studies included women with any history of breastfeeding in the breastfeeding group.
Overall, breastfeeding was associated with a 37% lower risk of postpartum relapse compared to women who did not breastfeed. This was similar to what was found when researchers restricted the analysis to studies with only a moderate risk of bias — 50% reduction in relapse risk among women who breastfed.
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