Exclusive Breastfeeding Does Not Increase Women’s Risk for Multiple Sclerosis Relapse

Patricia Inacio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inacio, PhD |

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In a new study entitled “Exclusive Breastfeeding and the Effect on Postpartum Multiple Sclerosis Relapses,” researchers investigated how breastfeeding impacts risk for disease relapse in women with multiple sclerosis. The study was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Around 20 to 30% of women with multiple sclerosis – a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by the destruction of myelin, a protective layer surrounding nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord — experience an increased risk for disease relapse, usually occurring within three to four months after giving birth. However, how exclusive breastfeeding impacts the postpartum risk for multiple sclerosis relapse remains unclear.

In this new study, authors investigated the link between exclusive breastfeeding and risk for disease relapse and how introducing supplemental feedings impacts this risk. The team of researchers analyzed data, collected in the nationwide German multiple sclerosis and pregnancy registry, for 201 pregnant women (from January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2012). Additionally, they also analyzed the results obtained for a follow-up period of one year after birth. The team defined exclusive breastfeeding as a minimum period of 2 months without any meal replacement by supplemental feeding. The study primary goal was to determine the first postpartum multiple sclerosis relapse within the analyzed groups.

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They identified 59.7% of women who breastfed exclusively during 2 months (at least) and 40.3% breastfed and complemented with supplemental feeding (20.9%), while 19.4% did not breastfeed. The authors observed that while 38.3% of the women who did not breastfeed exclusively had a relapse within the first 6 months post partum, this was observed only in 24.2% of the women who intended to breastfeed exclusively for at least 2 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 study findings suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is a potential natural process that delays multiple sclerosis relapse. As a result, authors highlight that women with multiple sclerosis should be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed, since it does not increase the risk of 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.”

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