Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease process that varies from one pregnant woman to another. Some women give birth and breastfeed as desired without relapse while other women relapse just days after giving birth. Previous research studies proposed a link between MD relapse and breastfeeding. These studies suggested women who breastfed babies after birth were less likely to relapse. According to new research published in Neurology, previous studies may be wrong.
MS medications are not approved for use during breastfeeding. Researchers at the University of Florence (in Italy) suggest that new research information does not support the claims that breastfeeding supports MS relapse. Patients with active MS should not try to breastfeed after birth in an attempt to maintain a relapse. If the risk factors for a relapse all point to problems after birth, alternative feeding methods should be practiced so women can be treated with MS drugs without threatening the life of the newborn.
The study involved nearly 300 women through 302 pregnancies. All pregnancies ended with full-term births. After delivery, information on study participants was collected for 12 months. About 35-percent of the women in the study chose to breastfeed for two months or more. The remaining 65-percent chose not to breastfeed or breastfed for less than two months. During the follow-up time, nearly 40-percent of women suffered an MS relapse and about 7-percent suffered two relapses or more.
Several factors were taken into consideration before the study results were finalized. The number of relapses before pregnancy and during pregnancy, the age of the pregnant woman and how long the women had suffered from MS were all factored. After taking these factors into consideration, researchers found that breastfeeding does not protect against MS relapse.
It is important to note that women suffering from MS relapse in the 12 months before becoming pregnant were more likely to suffer a relapse after birth. Researchers also noted that the frequency and severity of relapses could affect a woman's choice to breastfeed.
Researchers involved in the study suggested steroid treatment after birth may reduce the risk of MS relapse, but this treatment was not a part of the current study.
Source: MS Study Group of the Italian Neurological Society. American Academy of Neurology. 8 July, 2011.