Breastfeeding And Multiple Sclerosis – What You Need To Know

Breastfeeding And Multiple Sclerosis - What You Need To Know

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease which affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

MS is characterised by inflammation and demyelination of neurons, and nonspecific brain and spinal cord damage.

The course of MS varies but most patients experience a period of clearly defined relapses followed by periods of complete or partial recovery.

Breastfeeding And Multiple Sclerosis – What You Need To Know

During relapses, patients may experience deficits in a variety of systems (e.g. physical, sensory, visual).

As with most autoimmune diseases, MS affects more females than males.

The most common age of onset is when people are in their 20s and 30s – hence in a woman’s childbearing years.

Medical advancements over the past twenty years have meant health professionals have been more supportive of young adults with MS who wish to start a family.

Hence, women with MS have gained confidence to be able to safely and successfully become pregnant and have a healthy baby.

Given the onset of MS is typically during the childbearing years, it’s important to discuss breastfeeding in relation to MS too.

Well, there’s actually good news in this regard!

Can Breastfeeding Reduce Risk Of MS? 

Recent research has provided evidence that women who breastfeed longer may be at lower risk of developing MS.

This research showed women who breastfeed for a total of at least 15 months over one or more pregnancies may be less likely to develop MS compared with those who don’t breastfeed or only do so for up to 4 months.

But there’s even more promising news about breastfeeding and MS.

Exclusive Breastfeeding May Reduce The Risk Of Having A MS Relapse

Further study is needed but there’s some promising research indicating exclusive breastfeeding may help protect women with MS from having a relapse.

Exclusive breastfeeding is when a baby receives only breastmilk – no other liquids or solids are given. Leading health organisations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for at least one year after.

A 2012 meta-analysis (the highest quality evidence) concluded women with MS who breastfeed are half as likely to experience a relapse compared to women with MS who don’t breastfeed.

More recent research has supported the findings of this meta-analysis.

It has been suggested that lactational amenorrhea may contribute to a reported decrease in relapse rate with exclusive breastfeeding.

Adding to the other known reasons why breastfeeding is important for maternal health, breastfeeding may also reduce a woman’s future risk of developing MS and exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the risk of having an MS relapse.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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