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Press Releases: Southern California

June 8, 2009

Breastfeeding Their Newborns May Benefit Mothers with Multiple Sclerosis, A Fundamental Paradigm Shift, According to Recent Study

PASADENA, Calif. — Women with multiple sclerosis who breastfeed exclusively for at least two months appear less likely to experience a relapse within a year after their baby’s birth, according to a report posted online today at www.jamamedia.org. The authors note that “Studies of immunity and breastfeeding, while plentiful, are predominantly focused on breast milk content and health benefits to the infant. Little is known about maternal immunity during breastfeeding.”

Neurologist Annette Langer-Gould, MD, Ph.D., lead author of the study conducted while at Stanford University, is now a researcher with Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Research and Evaluation in Pasadena. Dr. Langer-Gould will join the neurology staff at Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center in the fall. The study, “Breastfeeding Associated with a Reduced Risk of Relapse in Women with Multiple Sclerosis,” will appear in the August print issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The authors note that, “Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that predominantly affects women in their childbearing years. Women with MS have fewer relapses during pregnancy and a high risk of relapse in the postpartum period. Medications used to treat MS by modifying the immune system — including interferon beta and natalizumab — are not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Therefore, women with MS who give birth must choose between nursing and resuming MS treatment.” The study focused on 32 pregnant women with MS and 29 pregnant women without MS who were the same age. “Our findings call into question the benefit of foregoing breastfeeding to start MS therapies and should be confirmed in a larger study,” suggest the authors.

Dr. Langer-Gould adds “the search for pregnancy-related immunosuppressive factors has long drawn attention as a promising therapeutic target for autoimmune diseases. If the finding that exclusive breastfeeding is highly protective against postpartum MS relapses can be replicated, it would imply that a factor common to pregnancy and lactation, such as lack of menses, is responsible for the strong immunomodulatory effect, rather than a factor specific to pregnancy such as high estrogen levels. This would represent a fundamental paradigm shift in the scientific understanding of how pregnancy and even female gender may influence the prognosis and risk of autoimmune diseases.”

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org.

Editor’s Note
This work was supported by a National Institutes of Health's, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award and a Wadsworth Foundation Young Investigator Award. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc. (Arch Neurol. 2009;66[8]:(doi:10.1001/archneurol.2009.132).

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s leading integrated health plans. Founded in 1945, it is a nonprofit, group practice prepayment program with Southern California headquarters in Pasadena, California. Kaiser Permanente serves the health care needs of 3.3 million members in Southern California. Today, it encompasses the nonprofit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and their subsidiaries, and the for-profit Southern California Permanente Medical Group. Kaiser Permanente's Southern California Region includes more than 55,800 technical, administrative and clerical employees and caregivers, and more than 6,400 physicians representing all specialties. More information about Kaiser Permanente can be found at kp.org.