Breastfeeding Is Best, Even When You Have MS
Is breastfeeding best when you have MS? What to weigh about multiple sclerosis medications.
Bringing a newborn home from the hospital when you have multiple sclerosis adds a whole new dimension to common decisions like whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby.
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The benefits of breastfeeding are well-known. However, the chance that mom could transmit her medications to her baby via breast milk also is a concern.
Mom-to-be Dion W. was diagnosed with MS in 1999. She plans to breastfeed up to a year after her June delivery at Hillcrest Hospital. She hopes to avoid medications during that time.
“I’ve heard positive things and negative things about breastfeeding, so I’m not going to try to even envision what will happen,” she says.
Many medications are safe during lactation. However, it’s important for breastfeeding moms to tell their doctors everything they’re taking – even herbal products.
“Breast is always going to be best unless there are medications that are contraindicated for the baby,” says OB-GYN Jonathan Emery, MD.
“Some patients really want to breastfeed. They should talk to their neurologist,” he said. “Maybe some medications can be switched. It’s on an individualized basis.”
A major question for women with MS is when to start back on medications that alter the immune system.
Relapse rates tend to rise in the first three to six months postpartum. In general, women who need disease-modifying medication before pregnancy are started back on the treatment after they finish breastfeeding. These drugs are not recommended during breastfeeding because it is not known if they are excreted in breast milk.
Women who wish to breastfeed are encouraged to do so unless they must resume MS treatment, such as glucosorticoids, right after delivery.
While a new mom with MS may have more to weigh than many women when it comes to choosing a feeding method, she can reap the same rewards as others if she is able to breastfeed.
“She gets the same benefits that anybody else gets,” Dr. Emery says. Those benefits may include a special closeness with your baby and a stronger immune system and fewer allergies and illnesses for your child.
That’s why Dion is willing to forego her MS medications for as long as possible.
“I heard it is healthier to breastfeed and I have heard of the bond that you have with your baby,” she says.
Other aspects of the disease shouldn’t play much part in choosing whether to breastfeed, except in the rare cases where a mom lacks the strength to hold or carry a baby.
“The number of patients in that situation is going to be exceedingly small,” Dr. Emery says.