Posted by Neharika Sabharwal on February 22, 2009

Seattle, February 20: According to a new study, breast feeding may delay multiple sclerosis (MS) relapses after pregnancy, if women nurse their infants without adding supplemental formula feedings for at least two months.

A research team from Stanford University examined 32 pregnant women with MS and 29 pregnant women without MS. They followed them during each trimester up to a year after they gave birth. The women were questioned about their breastfeeding and menstrual period history.

It was observed that forty-eight percent of the women only breast fed for at least 2 months, while the remaining 52 percent did not breastfeed exclusively and began regular top feed within two months.

The results revealed that 87 percent had a relapse after pregnancy, as opposed to 36 percent who nursed exclusively for the 2 months after child birth.

Interestingly, 60 percent of the women with MS chose not to breastfeed because they wanted to begin taking their MS medications again after giving birth. Yet they ended up having a relapse.

According to researchers, sole breastfeeding results in prolonged lactation amenorrhea and ovarian suppression, which may lead to anti inflammatory effects. Therefore women who only breast fed got their menses back later while menstrual periods resumed earlier in those that introduced formula feed within two months.

Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, lead researcher of the study stated, “Women with MS have fewer relapses during pregnancy and an unusually high risk of relapse in the first 3-4 months postpartum.”

She further added, “Whether breastfeeding is beneficial or harmful in MS is not certain. The few previous studies in women with MS have suggested that breastfeeding has no effect, but they did not distinguish between exclusive and non-exclusive breastfeeding. Current treatments used to reduce the risk of relapses in MS are not recommended for use during pregnancy or lactation and their effect on postpartum relapses have never been studied.”

Dr Annette felt extended research was required to ascertain whether women should delay taking MS medications in order to breast feed. "Our findings call into question the benefit of choosing not to breastfeed or stopping breastfeeding early in order to start taking MS therapies."

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual Meeting in Seattle.

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