According to a new report issued by U.S. researchers, breastfeeding may help women with multiple sclerosis avoid relapses.
The researchers discovered that MS patients who nursed babies for two months, and did not use bottled formula, were less likely to relapse within a year of their child’s birth, than women who were not breastfeeding their children.
"It is well-known that women with MS have fewer relapses during pregnancy and a high risk of relapse in the postpartum period," said the researchers.
The report appears in the Archives of Neurology.
The women were also advised to not take their MS medication during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. The women could choose between nursing or using formula if they wished to restart their treatment immediately after giving birth.
It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of a baby's life and for nursing to continue for at least a year.
Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena, and her team studied 32 pregnant women with MS and 29 pregnant women without MS.
Almost 96 percent of the healthy women nursed their children, while 69 percent of the MS patients nursed.
The researchers found that 87 percent of the women with MS who did not nurse, or used formula within the first two months, had a relapse, while only 36 percent of those who breastfed for at least two months relapsed.
The women who nursed exclusively delayed normal menstruation, and did not see MS symptoms return.
"Studies of immunity and breastfeeding, while plentiful, are predominantly focused on breast milk content and health benefits to the infant. Little is known about maternal immunity during breastfeeding," the researchers noted.
Multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system attacks the sheath protecting nerve cells.
The disease affects 2.5 million people worldwide, causing mild illness in some, and permanent disabilities in others.