Mothers who breastfeed for at least 15 months over one or more pregnancies may be 53% less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS) compared with those who do not breastfeed at all or do so for up to four months, says a study.
MS is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves. The findings showed that women with MS have significantly fewer relapses, or attacks, during pregnancy or while they are breastfeeding exclusively.
“Among the many other benefits to the mother and the baby, breastfeeding may reduce the mother’s future risk of developing MS,” said Annette Langer-Gould from Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
In addition, women who were age 15 or older at the time of their first menstrual cycle were 44% less likely to develop MS later than women who were 11 years old or younger at the time of their first menstruation.
The total number of years a woman ovulated and other factors, such as number of pregnancies, use of hormonal contraceptives and age at first birth were not associated with risk of MS, the researchers said, in the paper published in the journal Neurology.
“Other health benefits include a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart attack,” Langer-Gould said.
For the study, the team involved 397 women with an average age of 37 who were newly diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome, who were compared to 433 other women.