Researchers in the United States (US) said pregnancy and breastfeeding were associated with a reduced risk for early menopause.
According to findings of their new study, published in ‘JAMA Network Open,’ people who have been pregnant or have breastfed a baby were less likely to experience an early menopause.
This may be because ovulation is temporarily stopped during pregnancy and slowed down during breastfeeding, maintaining a reserve of eggs for a longer period of time.
Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.
The team studied the pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause reports of 108,887 people over a 26-year period and found that people who had experienced pregnancies that lasted at least six months had a lower risk of experiencing an early menopause – defined as menopause before the age of 45 – than those who hadn’t.
One of the researchers, Christine Langton, at the University of Massachusetts, said the research team observed a linear trend. “Women, who had one pregnancy had an eight 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.”
According to her, several studies have suggested that having a baby might affect the timing of menopause but the majority have required people to accurately recall when their menopause started.
“This isn’t always easy to define as periods can be erratic in the months or years before the menopause, which is usually only confirmed 12 months after periods have stopped.”
Instead of asking for information many years after people experienced menopause, Langton and her colleagues looked at the health records in the Nurses’ Health Study II – a project that has asked volunteers for information about their health every two years since 1989.
The team only observed a correlation. So, they can’t be sure that pregnancies or breastfeeding influence the timing of menopause. But because ovulation is temporarily halted during pregnancy or slowed down during breastfeeding, this may pause the monthly loss of eggs.
In theory, this could preserve egg reserves, and stave off menopause for longer, said Langton.
However, she said the potential to delay menopause shouldn’t influence someone’s decision to have babies.
The team said there were other things that increase the risk of entering menopause early. Smoking has been linked to early menopause. So is being underweight, they noted.