Pediatricians suggest breastfeeding for at least the first year of your baby's life and exclusively (meaning you don't add formula or food) for the first 6 months. That doesn't change because you have MS.
While breastfeeding can be tiring, it may be less so than preparing bottles. So if you have the strength and stamina and want to breastfeed, your doctor will likely encourage you to go for it.
Safe for Baby
You can't pass MS to your child through breast milk. And breast milk naturally has the vitamins and nutrition your growing baby needs, as well as antibodies that boost their developing immune system. A study found that breastfed babies of moms with MS were less likely than formula-fed babies to get ear infections and other typical newborn health problems during their first year.
Getting enough rest should be your top priority.
Many medicines will be OK to use. But before you start breastfeeding, you should talk to your neurologist and your OB/GYN about what you are or were taking, including supplements and herbs, and whether that's safe.
Steroids. Some research has shown they can make it into your breast milk, so most doctors suggest stopping them while you nurse.
However if you need to start a course of steroids, you could pump extra breast milk before you begin. Use the stored milk to feed your baby during treatment, which usually lasts 3-5 days, depending on whether you're popping a pill or getting an IV. To keep up your milk supply, continue to pump (and throw out) your breast milk while you're taking your meds.
Within a day or two of finishing treatment, you can go back to your regular nursing schedule with your doctor's OK.
Disease-modifying medications. Because we aren't sure either how much of these drugs make it into your breast milk or how they could affect your baby, you won't be able to use these medications while you're breastfeeding:
- Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)
- Dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)
- Fingolimod (Gilenya)
- Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone, Glatopa)
- Interferon beta (Avonex, Betaseron, Extavia, Plegridy, Rebif)
- Mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
- Natalizumab (Tysabri)
- Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)
- Teriflunomide (Aubagio)
In many cases, your doctor will give you the green light to stop taking these drugs as long as you'd like to breastfeed and your symptoms are manageable. If your MS is very active and there's a good chance of relapse, your doctor may recommend restarting your disease-modifying medication right after you deliver, which means you won't be able to nurse at all.
For most women, MS symptoms disappear during pregnancy. They're most likely to return in the first 6 months after giving birth, often between 4 and 8 weeks. Studies suggest that exclusive breastfeeding won't make your MS worse, and it may actually delay an MS relapse. The key seems to be exclusive breastfeeding, for at least 2 months.
Symptoms might be related to the changes in hormone levels that happen during ovulation and menstruation, which go on hold when you're exclusively breastfeeding, as well as hormones triggered by regular, intense suckling.
When you stop nursing or you breastfeed less often, your MS symptoms will likely come back, around the time your period returns. That's something to keep in mind if you start to add bottle-feeding to breastfeeding or decide it's time to give your baby solids.
Do What's Best for You
If you need to continue your medication after pregnancy, are too tired to breastfeed for as long as you'd hoped, or just aren't able to, try not to beat yourself up. Breastfeeding is a choice, and it's not the right one for all moms.
What babies really need to grow up healthy and happy is your love and attention -- whether that comes with a bottle or a breast.