Pregnancy and breastfeeding lowers risk of early menopause, study finds

People who have been pregnant or breastfeed are less likely to experience early menopause. [Photo: Getty]
People who have been pregnant or breastfeed are less likely to experience early menopause. [Photo: Getty]

People who have been pregnant or have breastfed a baby are less likely to experience early menopause, research has found.

This is because ovulation stops during pregnancy and slows down during breastfeeding, preserving eggs for a longer period of time.

Studies in the past have hinted at this possibility, but one flaw of previous studies has been that it requires women to know the exact date their menopause started.

This can be tricky given that periods can be erratic in the lead up to menopause.

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The new study proves the link more conclusively by relying on data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. This project has asked volunteers for health information once every two years since 1989.

Christine Langton and her team at the University of Massachusetts studied pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause reports of 108,887 people over a 26-year period.

A menopause is described as early if it happens any time before the age of 45.

With over half of menopausal women saying menopause strongly affected their lives, this type of research can prove invaluable towards understanding the patterns behind it arriving early.

Last week, research linked having less sex to early menopause. Women who engaged in sexual activity weekly are 28% less likely to enter into early menopause than women who engaged in it less than monthly.

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“Women who had one pregnancy had an 8 per cent lower risk, those who had two pregnancies had a 16 per cent lower risk, and those that had three pregnancies had a 22 per cent lower risk.” Christine Langton explained to New Scientist.

The research didn’t count anybody who was unable to conceive to ensure that early menopause couldn’t be explained by infertility.

The research also noted that women who breastfeed are less likely to experience early menopause.

People who brestfeed for seven-12 months over the course of their lifetimes - and had one to two children - were 28% less likely to experience menopause under the age of 45. For women with three children plus, that went up to 32%.

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The Menopause Doctor, Dr Louise Newson, has her reservations, though.

“It is always impossible to predict the age of a woman's menopause. These factors may make a small difference but actually it is very hard to know for sure.

“Some women have an early menopause which runs in families, even this is not always the case.”

In Maisie Hill’s book, Period Power, she explains how not all teenagers ovulate every month when their periods start.

By the University of Massachusetts’ theory on ovulation, this could also have an impact on menopause as well as many other factors.

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