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Breastfeeding and MS

It's well established that women with multiple sclerosis tend to have fewer relapses -- bouts of the disease's unpredictable symptoms -- when they're pregnant. The trade-off is that they usually have much higher risk of relapse during the first 3 or 4 months after giving birth.

New research to be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting shows that women may buy themselves some extra relapse-free time by breast-feeding their newborns exclusively (without introducing formula) for at least two months.

Researchers at Stanford University and the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Division of Research made that discovery and this more startling one: women who resume their MS meds within two months after giving birth have higher relapse rates than those who didn't -- whether they breast-fed or not.

None of the six medications used to treat MS has been tested for safety during pregnancy or breast-feeding, so women are usually cautioned not to use them during those times. So new moms are faced with a choice: Forgo nursing and get right back on medication after giving birth, or forgo medication so they can nurse their babies.

The new study followed 32 women with MS throughout their pregnancies and the year after they gave birth. Just under half nursed their babies exclusively for at least 2 months; just over half opted not to nurse or to introduce formula before their babies were two months old.

Among those who breast-fed exclusively, only 36 percent suffered relapses, while among those who didn't, 87 percent relapsed. Taking into account differences in the women's ages and the severity of their disease, researchers calculated that women who didn't breast-feed exclusively were 7 times more likely to experience relapses than those who did.

The study suggests that women with MS might fare best if they could skip their medications and nurse exclusively for those first two months of motherhood. In fact, the researchers note that, should larger-scale studies confirm their findings, physicians might want to order longer maternity leaves for women with MS so they can exclusively breast-feed their babies.

I had my babies before I was diagnosed with MS, so I didn't face this decision. How about you other moms with MS? How have you juggled your disease, pregnancy and nursing?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 25, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chronic Conditions , Family Health , Women's Health  
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I have had MS for 17 years - have been taking Betaseron for 14+. Stopped Betaseron during my 2 pregnancies, which were uneventful as far as MS is concerned. I knew that pregnancy itself was thought to have a protective effect on the MS but the conventional wisdom was that my risk for a flare-up was increased after I gave birth. I was scared that I would have a flare-up and I chose to feed my babies with formula. Worked great for us. My kids are 9 and 8 now and I have had only one flare-up since they were born.

Posted by: rkjf1 | February 25, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Sorry - I thought this was an off-beat article about Microsoft...

Posted by: Apostrophe | February 25, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

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