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Analysis of Studies Suggests Breastfeeding Protects Against Postpartum MS Relapses

December 10, 2019

A California team of researchers conclude that breastfeeding protects against postpartum relapses of MS, based on a review and analysis of data from 24 published studies. The team is led by Kristen Krysko, MD, a Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellow of the National MS Society and Emmanuelle Waubant, MD, PhD (University of California, San Francisco).
  • The team conducted a review of studies on breastfeeding and MS disease activity. The goal of this type of “meta-analysis” is to provide a big-picture view of multiple smaller studies. Researchers identified 24 studies for this review, which involved 2,974 women, but excluded 8 studies from the final analysis due to lack of data. The studies were published between January 1980 and July 2018 and all specifically looked at the association between breastfeeding and postpartum relapses.
  • The results show that – across these studies – breastfeeding was associated with a 43% lower rate of postpartum relapses. A stronger benefit was shown with breastfeeding exclusively rather than nonexclusively (supplementing with formula feeding).
  • The authors point out that it is not possible to exclude the possible influence of factors that may bias some study findings, such as previous disease activity. They also note that even in light of the protective benefits of breastfeeding, postpartum relapse rates are fairly high, and that additional strategies are needed to prevent postpartum relapses.
  • It is important to point out that this study shows an association between breastfeeding and lower postpartum relapses but does not prove that breastfeeding will prevent relapses.
  • These findings also highlight the need for more high-quality research on reproductive issues and MS, such as understanding how long the benefit of breastfeeding lasts.
  • Women with MS who are planning to have children and their partners should consider a discussion about breastfeeding, relapses and disease modifying therapies with their MS healthcare provider.
  • The paper, “Association Between Breastfeeding and Postpartum Multiple Sclerosis Relapses, A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”  was published online on December 9, 2019 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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