As if the roller coaster of physical and mental exhaustion that accompanies childbirth isn’t enough, women who have multiple sclerosis (MS) also face an elevated risk of relapse after giving birth. New research, however, shows that exclusive breastfeeding may help prevent those relapses.
It has long been understood that childbirth presents an elevated risk of MS relapse, however it was not previously known how or if breastfeeding affects this risk. In some cases, new mothers with MS decided against breastfeeding all together due to the lack of clear, accurate information on the topic.
In order to determine the effect of exclusive breastfeeding — defined as no regular replacement of breastfeeding with supplemental feedings for at least two months — on postpartum risk of MS relapse and the effect of the introduction of supplemental feedings on MS relapse, Kerstin Hellwig, MD, of St. Josef Hospital in Bochum, Germany, and colleagues collected data on 201 pregnant women with relapsing-remitting MS and conducted a follow-up one year postpartum.
Among the 201 participants, 120 (59.7%) intended to breastfeed exclusively for a least two months 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 (unadjusted hazard ratio, 1.80; 95% CI, 1.09-2.99; P = .02; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.02-2.85;P = .04). Time to first relapse following the introduction of supplemental feedings did not significantly differ between women who exclusively breastfed and those who did not (P=.60).
The study suggests that exclusive breastfeeding is a modestly-effective MS treatment with a natural end date, and women with MS who intend to exclusively breastfeed should be encouraged to do so as it is not associated with an elevated risk of postpartum MS relapse.