Breastfeeding in women with rheumatic diseases

Lupus Sci Med. 2021 Apr;8(1):e000491. doi: 10.1136/lupus-2021-000491.


Objective: Many rheumatologists and women with rheumatic disease worry that the disease or treatment will prevent breast feeding. International guidelines establish, however, that most antirheumatic medications are compatible with breast feeding. We sought to identify the frequency and predictors of desire to and actually breast feeding in women with rheumatic diseases.

Methods: Pregnant women with rheumatic disease were enrolled prospectively. Demographics and breastfeeding intention were collected at study entry, while actual breastfeeding decision was recorded postpartum. Maternal diagnosis, demographics and medication use was collected throughout the study. Predictors of breast feeding and intention were identified using stepwise logistic regression.

Results: A total of 265 pregnancies were included in the study, 88 with SLE, 33 with undifferentiated connective tissue disease, 100 with arthritis and 44 with other rare rheumatic diagnoses. Of these, 79% intended to breastfeed, 84% of women ever breast fed and 65% were still breast feeding at an average of 7.6 weeks postpartum. Medication concern was the most commonly cited reason not to breastfeed though only 5% of women were taking or planning to start a non-lactation compatible medication at their postpartum visit. In multivariate analysis, women with a college degree were more likely and women with SLE were less likely to intend to breastfeed. Actual breast feeding was most strongly predicted by the woman's intention to breastfeed, but also increased with maternal age, decreased if the baby was born preterm and decreased the further the postpartum appointment occurred from delivery.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that the majority of women with rheumatic disease want to and can breastfeed successfully. Additionally, very few women required a medication that was not compatible with breast feeding to control their rheumatic disease in the postpartum period. Despite this, an important minority of patients did not continue breast feeding due to their personal concerns about the risks of antirheumatic medications to their infant.

Keywords: arthritis; lupus erythematosus; systemic; tumour necrosis factor inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intention
  • Medicare
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Rheumatic Diseases*
  • United States