Breastfeeding and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Breastfeeding may lower a woman’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, according to new research. Published in the journal Rheumatology, the study shows that women who breastfeed are at half the risk of developing the condition as compared to those that have never breastfed.

Scientists have long recognized the benefits of breastfeeding to both a mother and her baby but previous research on the link between RA and breastfeeding has produced mixed results. This newest study hoped to analyze the relationship between breastfeeding, RA and the use of oral contraceptives. The researchers focused the study on older women living in South China, whose cultural habits are different from the West.

The Study

Researchers used data collected from 7,349 women aged 50 years or older entered into the Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study, a collaborative research project between the Universities of Birmingham and Hong Kong, and the Guangzhou Occupational Diseases Prevention and Treatment Centre in China. Women who participated in the study were born in the 1940s and 1950s and had given birth before China instituted its one-child policy in the 1970s.

Participants answered questionnaires regarding sociodemographic background, lifestyle, obstetric medical history and breastfeeding history, and use of oral contraceptives. Additionally, the participants stated whether they had received a diagnosis of RA. Trained nurses assessed the women for signs of RA, including joint swelling and tenderness. The women reported whether they had ever been pregnant, the number of live births, whether they had breastfed these babies, and for how long. The questionnaire also asked the women about their use of oral contraceptives, the age they started using oral contraceptives, and the duration of use.

The Results

Most of the participants had given birth to at least one live baby; of these, 95 percent had breastfed for at least a month. Only 11 percent of participants had ever used oral contraceptives and these women used the pill only for a short time.

Among the women who gave birth to at least one baby, those who breastfed were about half as likely to develop RA. Furthermore, the researchers noted a direct correlation between the duration of breastfeeding and the risk for RA. There was no apparent relationship between the use of oral contraceptives and RA.

Source: Oxford University Press. "Breastfeeding associated with lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to the new study." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 7 Jan. 2014. Web.19 Jan. 2014.

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