Breastfeeding and multiple sclerosis
Elissa Benson, National Childbirth Trust, Breastfeeding Counsellor and Chartered Neuro Physio talks breastfeeding and MS.
There is a lot of information already out there in the public domain that can inform a mother when it comes to making a decision about breastfeeding and there is no reason why a mother with multiple sclerosis (MS) shouldn’t breastfeed if she chooses to. Her MS isn’t going to affect her milk supply and she isn’t going to transmit it to the baby. It’s also worth noting that some research shows that MS mothers who exclusively breastfeed are almost half as likely to suffer a postpartum relapse.
A matter of medication?
Some medications are not intended for use when breastfeeding. The best thing to do is consult with your neurologist or MS nurse, who will be able to advise you based on your MS. Some women opt to delay using medication so they can breastfeed, or some women feel the medication allows them to look after their baby and that’s the priority for them. Some mothers express milk in advance, so they can feed their baby while taking an intensive five day course of steroids. They do have to continue to express throughout those five days to maintain their milk flow and to be able to feed baby afterwards. It’s a very individual choice, it depends on the medication you’re taking and the stage of your condition at that moment in time. Just because you are on medication doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed, but there will be decisions to make.
To find out more information about which medications are, or are not compatible with breastfeeding by visiting the Breastfeeding Networks website.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Under normal circumstances mothers have to make all kinds of decisions about breastfeeding, and for some mothers with MS their options are more limited, so actually dealing with how you feel about that is really important. That’s where we as breastfeeding counsellors come in. We can help mothers explore their options and how they feel about it. It’s an aspect that can often be lost because when you are dealing with the practicalities you can forget to deal with feelings.
Being a new mother is stressful for anyone and if you have concerns over feeding your baby, that can add to the stress. It’s part of our role to help mothers manage their situation so that it can be less stressful and doesn’t make them worse. We all know that stress can exacerbate MS.
Find the right position to feed your baby
A further challenge may be a woman’s physical ability to position themselves properly and support their baby’s weight through a feed. Some women might have a loss of core control, which can be caused by MS but also because they have just been pregnant. Putting together these factors could limit their postural control which might affect the positions they are able to effectively use to feed their baby.
Similarly, arm strength or tone may be an issue. Do they have the arm strength to support their baby? Do they have tonal issues that might effect that? And again that is why some individual support from someone experienced would be really useful.
Laid back breastfeeding, using a baby led approach may be a good option to explore. Basically instead of the mother trying to attach the baby, they just let the baby do it themselves because they are pre-programmed to do it. There are lots of different positions to try, but if you are able to access that individual support it can help you find a position that works for you and your baby.
Dealing with fatigue
Fatigue is a big issue for any new mother, but having MS can make it a lot worse. Having had a baby, you are entering a new phase in your life where you are going to be sleep deprived and your normal sleep pattern disrupted, meanwhile your body is also trying to recover from pregnancy and birth. Managing fatigue is very important, but it is also worth knowing that the hormones that are released when you’re breastfeeding are the ones that help your body return to its pre-pregnancy state.
Often women tend to view feeding baby as a chore and therefore tiring, but actually if you can get a good position for you and baby, if you can get them to latch themselves, you can use it as an opportunity to sit and rest. New-borns feed 8-12 times every 24 hours, so it’s much better if mothers associate feeding baby with resting. This way of looking at it helps with the physiological part of fatigue and then it’s just about the practicalities – making sure you’ve poured yourself a drink, you’ve got your phone and the remote control – and then you can stay sat down. It’s also about managing the support network you have around you, so you can prioritise breastfeeding in those early days.
Managing night feeds could mean that mum goes to bed and when baby needs feeding, their partner, mother or whoever is there to support, gets up and brings the baby to mum, she feeds and then they put settle the baby back down. That way mum doesn’t even need to move, so it’s a really practical solution to this sort of issue.
To discuss your breastfeeding options and find an NCT drop-in session, you can call the NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors Helpline on 0300 330 0700, or visit www.nct.org.uk
Breastfeeding positions – www.nct.org.uk/parenting/breastfeeding-positions
Drugs in breast milk – is it safe? www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailed-information/drugs-in-breastmilk