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Breastfeeding cuts mums' risk of MS relapse

The new research suggests that women who breastfeed their babies exclusively, meaning no bottled formula, for at least two months are less likely to experience a relapse of MS within a year of the child's birth than women who do not breastfeed

Chicago, June 9: It is widely known that breastfeeding is the most nutritious way to feed an infant. Now a new research has found that, besides meeting baby's need for optimum nutrition, breastfeeding can significantly reduce the risk of relapse of multiple sclerosis.

The study findings posted online Monday in the Archives of Neurology showed that MS-stricken women who breastfed their babies exclusively, meaning no bottled formula, for at least two months were less likely to experience a relapse of their disease within a year of the child's birth than women who did not breastfeed.

"The most important thing for patients and physicians to know is that there's no evidence that breast-feeding is harmful for women with MS," said lead study author Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, who was at Stanford University at the time of the study but is now a neurologist and research scientist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena.

"If mothers decide to breast-feed and do what's best for baby, we couldn't see any evidence of risk, and it may even be better for mothers to breast-feed," she said.

The study
To reach their findings, Langer-Gould and her colleagues studied 32 pregnant women with MS and compared them with 29 age-matched women who were pregnant and healthy.

Out of the healthy women, 96 percent breastfed their babies, compared to 69 percent of the MS patients.

The research team first interviewed the women about their MS symptoms during each trimester of their pregnancies and then about their breastfeeding and menstruation history every few months in the first year after the delivery.

What the researchers found
The team found that 87 percent of women with MS who did not breastfeed at all or began formula feedings within two months of giving birth experienced a relapse within a year after their baby’s birth, compared to 36 percent of those who breastfed exclusively, meaning who gave their babies only breast milk for at least two months.

The study authors believe the reason behind the decline of MS relapse could be related to the fact that breastfeeding delays the return of the menstrual cycle.

"It is well-known that women with MS have fewer relapses during pregnancy and a high risk of relapse in the postpartum period," they wrote. "Our findings call into question the benefit of foregoing breastfeeding to start MS therapies and should be confirmed in a larger study."

About Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis or MS is the most common disabling neurological condition in which the body's immune system attacks the nerve fibers and their protective insulation, the myelin sheath, in the central nervous system.

MS, which is characterized by frequent relapses, often progresses to physical and cognitive disability.

The common symptoms of the disease include muscle weakness, difficulties in movement, balance and coordination, loss of physical skills and sensation, distressed vision, problems in speech, bladder and bowel difficulties. Gradually, the disease tends to collapse the neurological functions.

There is no known cure for MS and it affects nearly 400,000 people in the United States.