Can I breastfeed my baby if I have MS?
Research has shown that breastfeeding provides long term health benefits for a baby and may reduce the risk of post-pregnancy relapse in some women with MS. MS cannot be passed on through breast milk.
Current recommendations for the general population suggest giving nothing but breast milk for about the first six months of your baby's life. After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside family foods for the first two years. Only one study has looked at the children of women with MS, and this showed that their breastfed babies, when followed for a year, had been less prone to health problems such as ear infections than babies that had been formula fed. However how to feed a newborn baby is, and should be, a choice. Many women with MS may have concerns about breastfeeding and fatigue can be a real issue. You can discuss these issues with your MS nurse and midwife or health visitor so that they are able to provide appropriate support and advice.
Will breastfeeding affect the course of my MS?
You are less likely to have a relapse during pregnancy when you have MS, although the risk of relapse increases in the six months after the birth and the number of relapses has then been shown to return to pre-pregnancy levels. Studies on the course of MS suggest either no effect or a possible decrease in the relapse rate is associated with breastfeeding. A meta-analysis found that women with MS who breastfed were almost half as likely to experience a post-pregnancy relapse compared to women who did not. A further study suggests that breastfeeding exclusively for a period of two months lowers your risk of having a relapse at this time.
Can I take steroids when breastfeeding?
Steroids have been shown to cross into breast milk. There is very little research that has explored the high doses used in treating MS relapse, so currently women are advised not to breastfeed whilst taking this medication. However you can express as much milk as possible before starting the course of treatment and store this for use during the treatment - usually five days for oral methylprednisolone or three days if taken intravenously. Milk may be expressed and discarded during the actual treatment period. Breastfeeding can then be recommenced between one and two days after the end of treatment – you can work with your MS nurse and neurologist to determine the exact timings that are best for you.
Should I take vitamin D when breastfeeding?
In the UK, breast milk is generally quite low in vitamin D, and parents are advised to give vitamin D supplements to infants who are solely breastfed. Being deficient in vitamin D throughout childhood can be a risk factor for health problems in later life, including multiple sclerosis.
Studies show that vitamin D levels in breast milk are affected by the level of vitamin D taken as dietary supplements in the mother. Moderate levels of vitamin D supplement, around 1000 - 2000UI per day cause a small rise in vitamin D levels in breast millk, but are not enough to match the amount given in infant supplements, or in formula milk. One study showed that if a woman chose to take supplements up to 6400IU/day, she would safely supply enough vitamin D in breast milk for her baby to be getting the recommended amount.
Infant vitamin drops, such as those available free through the Healthy Start programme in the UK, include vitamin D as well as other nutrients. You should discuss your baby's needs with a GP or pharmacist to ensure you are giving the appropriate doses of all recommended vitamins.
Pregnancy and MS
For most women, MS does not make any significant difference to their pregnancy. Find out how to manage MS throughout your pregnancy.
Compare MS treatments
Use our MS Decisions aid to help filter and compare the different types of Disease Modifying Drugs (DMDs) that are available to treat relapsing MS.
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Last updated: November 2017
Last reviewed: April 2016
This page will be reviewed within three years