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New research at Malmö University Hospital has revealed that mothers who have more children and especially those who breastfeed their babies have a significantly lowered risk of arthritis later in life.

Use of oral contraceptives, on the other hand, is of no benefit.

The study, which was funded by Lund University, The Craaford Foundation and the Swedish Rheumatism Association, wanted to determine whether breast-feeding or the use of oral contraceptives (OC) could affect the future risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in a community-based prospective cohort.

Researcher Dr. Mitra Pikwer found that breastfeeding for more than a year reduced women's risk of rheumatoid arthritis 54% and breastfeeding for at least a month tended to reduce the risk 26 percent.

Moreover, women who gave birth to more children tended to be at lower RA risk, with a 13% reduction for each child they had.

Female hormones are thought to play a role in rheumatoid arthritis because the incidence is twice as high for women than men, the researchers said.

While arthritis often improves during pregnancy, there was no evidence of benefits in RA from the use of oral contraceptives, which contain some of the same hormones that are elevated during pregnancy.

From a community based health survey of 18,326 women, the analysis included 136 women with incident rheumatoid arthritis who were matched by age to 544 women (controls) in the study who did not have rheumatoid arthritis.

Women who had breastfed their children for 13 months or more had an odds ratio of 0.46 for incident RA and those who breastfed for one to 12 months had an odds ratio of 0.74 compared with those who had never breastfed.

See an abstract of the research here:
[15May2008, T.M. Baklinski, Sweden,]
Ann Rheum Dis. Published Online First: 13 May 2008. doi:10.1136/ard.2007.084707
Copyright © 2008 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd & European League Against Rheumatism
Extended Report
Breast-feeding, but not oral contraceptives, is associated with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis
M Pikwer 1*, U Bergström 1, J-Å Nilsson 1, L Jacobsson 1, G Berglund 1 and C Turesson 2

1 Malmö University Hospital, Sweden
2 Mayo Clinic, Sweden
[Accepted 8 March 2008; The most recent version of this article was published on 14 May 2008]