Breastfeeding lowers risk of women developing MS by more than 50 per cent

16 July 2017

Breastfeeding can protect mothers against developing multiple sclerosis.

If you’re on the fence about breastfeeding, a new study showing that it can protect women against MS may help you decide.

Not all ladies think breast is best when it comes to their offspring, and some children also don’t get along with breastfeeding. But new research, conducted by California-based health care organisation Kaiser Permanente, has found breastfeeding can protect mothers against developing multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a neurological condition that affects around 100,000 people in the U.K. alone, and while people can suffer from different symptoms, they generally feel fatigued and can have problems with vision, balance and arm or leg movements.

Read more: Skin contact between babies and mothers aids breastfeeding

It’s caused by the immune system attacking the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves, which results in messages traveling along the nerves becoming slowed or disrupted. There is no known cure for MS.

Doctors still don’t know exactly what causes the immune system to attack but this new research suggests that the way breastfeeding impacts oestrogen levels could mean there’s much less of a chance of developing MS. This is because ovulation normally only starts again after pregnancy when a woman has finished breastfeeding, so for ladies that continue with breast milk, they’re oestrogen levels remain low. High levels of oestrogen have been linked to MS, as well as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

For the study 397 women newly diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome, and 433 women without MS were looked at. All participants filled out questionnaires about pregnancy and breastfeeding, and it was found those who had breastfed for a cumulative amount with one or more children for 15 months or more were 53 percent less likely to develop MS or clinically isolated syndrome than women who had a total of zero to four months of breastfeeding.

Read more: Breastfeeding benefits mother and child

“This study provides more evidence that women who are able to breastfeed their infants should be supported in doing so,” study leader Dr Annette Langer-Gould explained.

“Among the many other benefits to the mother and the baby, breastfeeding may reduce the mother’s future risk of developing MS.”

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