American Academy of Neurology
By Michael Smith, North American Correspondent, MedPage Today
HONOLULU — For new mothers with multiple sclerosis (MS), exclusive breast feeding for several months after delivery appears to protect against relapses, a researcher reported here.
In a prospective cohort study of 72 women with MS, less than one in 10 who breast fed exclusively had a relapse in the first six months after delivery, according to Kerstin Hellwig, MD, of the University of Bochum in Bochum, Germany.
On the other hand, more than a third of those who did not breast feed exclusively suffered a relapse, Hellwig reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.
In another analysis presented at the same time, Hellwig said findings were similar when she and colleagues looked at 335 pregnancies in a combined retrospective/prospective cohort.
The patients in the two studies did not overlap and the methodologies differed, Hellwig noted, but the conclusions were similar: “breast feeding exclusively decreases the risk of relapses,” she told an oral scientific session.
The issue is controversial, because it’s known that women with MS who bear children are at risk of a spike in relapses after delivery.
Breast feeding has benefits for the child, but can’t be combined with disease-modifying treatments for MS, so women have to choose “without clear advice to support either practice,” Hellwig said.
The women in both studies are enrolled in the German MS and Pregnancy Registry and were recruited through referrals, advertisements, and visits to Hellwig’s clinic.
For the prospective study, the researchers enrolled 72 women, including 34 who breast fed exclusively for at least four months, and 38 who did not.
The key finding was that three patients in the breast feeding group — or 9% — suffered a relapse in the first six months. In contrast, 14 of the 38 who did not breast feed exclusively — or 37% — had a relapse.