Women who breast feed for a longer period of time are less likely to get rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study published on May 13, 2008 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, a BMJ Specialist journal.

In the last thirty years, the fraction of women breastfeeding for more than six months has increased substantially. This study examined the effects of breast feeding, administration of oral contraceptives, and having children (but not breast feeding) on rheumatoid arthritis. The investigators studied 136 women with rheumatoid arthritis and 544 women without the disease.

The only group that experienced reduced rheumatoid arthritis had children and breastfed for extended periods of time. Those who breastfed longer were more likely to decrease arthritis risk. In comparison to the group that never participated in breastfeeding, women who had breastfed for one to 12 months had only three-quarters the chance of getting the disease. Women who had breastfed for 13 months or more had half the chance of getting rheumatoid arthritis as those who had never breastfed.

Notably, this relationship was not found with the use of oral contraceptives, which mimic the hormonal effects of pregnancy.

The authors concluded that there was some difficulty in drawing a direct connection between the higher rates of breast feeding and the correlating drop in the number of women affected by rheumatoid arthritis. However, they claim that the study shows another reason why women might consider to continue breast feeding.

Breast feeding, but not use of oral contraceptives, is associated with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis
M Pikwer, U Bergstrom, J-A Nilsson, L Jacobsson, G Berglund, C Turesson
Online First Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2008;
Click Here For Abstract

Written by Anna Sophia McKenney