Postpartum relapse risk in multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Charlotte Schubert, Lea Steinberg, Julia Peper, Caren Ramien, Kerstin Hellwig, Sascha Köpke, Alessandra Solari, Andrea Giordano, Stefan M Gold, Tim Friede, Christoph Heesen, Anne Christin Rahn


The influence of pregnancy on the course of multiple sclerosis (MS) has long been controversial. While historical evidence suggests a substantial decline in relapse rates during pregnancy followed by a rebound in the postpartum period, more recent work yielded equivocal results. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis on data from cohort studies to determine whether women with MS experience increased relapse rates after delivery. A systematic literature search was conducted in the databases MEDLINE and Epistemonikos on the topic 'motherhood choice in MS' in March 2022. We included cohort studies assessing the association between pregnancy and MS relapse activity defined by the annualised relapse rate after 3, 6, 9 and 12 months post partum. Furthermore, information about disease-modifying therapies (DMT) and breast feeding was considered, if available. 5369 publications were identified. Of these, 93 full-text articles on MS relapse activity during the postpartum period were screened. 11 studies including 2739 pregnancies were eligible. Women with MS showed a significantly increased relapse rate in the first 6 months post partum, compared with preconception with the incidence rate ratio (IRR) almost doubled in the first 3 months post partum (1.87, 95% CI 1.40 to 2.50). However, at 10-12 months post partum, the IRR decreased significantly (0.81, 95% CI 0.67 to 0.98). Subanalysis on influencing parameters suggested that preconceptional DMTs (IRR for highly-effective DMTs 2.76, 95% CI 1.34 to 5.69) and exclusive breast feeding (risk ratio 0.39, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.86) significantly influenced postpartum relapse risk. Increased postpartum annualised relapse rate and possible modifiers should be considered in counselling women with MS who are considering pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry
Pages (from-to)jnnp-2022-330533
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Center for Population Medicine and Public Health (ZBV)


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