We all know the advantages of breastfeeding, as far as the baby is concerned. We also know that breastfeeding helps deepen the bond between the mother and the newborn child. But a recent study shows that when it comes to mothers, there is more to breastfeeding than just emotional value. The study showed that the risk of a relapse of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the first six months postpartum, is lower in the women who exclusively breastfed their babies.
The details of the study can be found online at JAMA Neurology.
Women with MS outnumber men by a ratio of four to one in the U.S. In 1940, that ratio was halved, signifying the rapid growth of MS in women.
Historically, statistics show that almost 20 to 30 percent of women with multiple sclerosis experience a relapse within the first three to four months after giving birth. So far there have been no management or therapeutic measures to prevent these relapses. There has been a lot of debate over the effect of exclusive breastfeeding on the risk of postpartum MS relapse, and the current study was undertaken to gain a better understanding of the issue.
For the study, a team from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany took a close look at data from 201 pregnant women with MS. The data (2008 to 2012) was collected from the German MS and Pregnancy Registry with one-year follow-up postpartum information.
Of the 201 women, 120 (59.7 percent) intended to breastfeed exclusively for at least two months. 42 women (20.9 percent) combined breastfeeding with other methods within the first two months, and 39 women (19.4 percent) did not breastfeed at all. For the purpose of the study exclusive breastfeeding was defined as not replacing breastfed meals with supplemental feedings for at least two months. Nonexclusive breastfeeding meant partial or no breastfeeding.
The study revealed that within the first six months after birth, 31 women (38.3 percent) who did not breastfeed exclusively had MS relapse. That percentage dropped to 24.2 percent in the women who intended to breastfeed exclusively for at least two months.
It must be mentioned that after six months, the risk of MS increased in the exclusive breastfeeding women when they introduced supplemental feedings and their menstrual cycle resumed. Remember, the introduction of regular formula feedings or solid food to an infant leads to a flux in a woman’s hormones which results in the return to ovulation.
According to Kerstin Hellwig, M.D., of Ruhr-University Bochum and her coauthors, the findings add weight to the argument that women with MS should be supported if they choose to breastfeed exclusively, since it clearly does not increase the postpartum risk of MS relapse.