The benefits of breastfeeding for baby are well-documented, but what about Mom? A new case-control study, published online in the journal Neurology, suggests that women who breastfeed may have a reduced risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life.
Drawing data from the Kaiser Permanente MS Sunshine study, the researchers looked at 830 women, 397 of whom had been recently diagnosed with MS or its precursor, Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS). The women with MS were compared to 433 women who didn’t have the condition. All of the women had filled out questionnaires on their pregnancies, breastfeeding, hormonal contraceptive use, and menstrual patterns.
Remarkably, women who breastfed for a total of at least 15 months (over one or more pregnancies) were 53 percent less likely to develop MS or CIS, compared with women who breastfed for a total of four months or less.
Previous studies have found that women with MS struggle less with symptoms during pregnancy and exclusive breastfeeding, points out Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena says in a news release. “Many experts have suggested that levels of sex hormones are responsible for these findings, but we hypothesized that the lack of ovulation may play a role, so we wanted to see if having a longer time of breastfeeding or fewer total years when a woman is ovulating could be associated with the risk of MS.” (Here are 11 silent signs of multiple sclerosis.)
The onset of menstruation also seemed to play a role, the researchers discovered: Women who were 15 or older at the time of their first menstrual cycle were 44 percent less likely to develop MS down the road than women who were 11 years old or younger at the time of their first menstruation.
More research needs to be done to confirm the findings, but as the study authors point out, their findings add to the “evidence that women who are able to breastfeed their infants should be supported in doing so.”
“This is another example of a benefit to the mother from breastfeeding,” adds Langer-Gould. “Other health benefits include a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart attack.”