BREASTFEEDING may protect women against developing multiple sclerosis, research suggests.
And women who do develop the condition suffer far less severely if they have breastfed their child, experts discovered.
Some 100,000 people in the UK have MS – and the disease affects twice as many women as men.
It causes loss of mobility, sight problems, tiredness and excruciating pain – and there are few effective treatments.
The latest research – at health group Kaiser Permanente in Southern California – suggests women who breastfeed for a combined total of at least 15 months over their lifetime have half the chance of developing MS as those who breastfeed for less than four months or not at all.
Scientists believe the way breastfeeding influences sex hormones may explain the link.
After birth, women often do not start ovulating again until they have stopped breastfeeding.
Those who bottle-feed have an earlier return to their pre-pregnancy hormone levels – oestrogen levels increase and the body starts ovulating again. High oestrogen levels raise the risk of certain conditions, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer and MS.
The NHS suggests that women should feed their babies exclusively with breast milk until they are at least six months old.
But only 34 per cent of British babies are breastfed to six months, compared to 50 per cent in Germany and 62 per cent in Switzerland. And only one in every 200 children in the UK – 0.5 per cent – are breastfed to 12 months, the lowest level in the world.
Study leader Dr Annette Langer-Gould, whose work is published in the Neurology journal, said: ‘This is another example of a benefit to the mother from breastfeeding.’
The researchers found women with MS have significantly fewer relapses during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
The study involved 397 women newly diagnosed with MS or its precursor, clinically isolated syndrome. They were compared to 433 other women.
Those who had breastfed with one or more children for 15 months or more were 53 per cent less likely to develop MS or its precursor than women who had zero to four months of breastfeeding.
© Daily Mail