Study: Breastfeeding and Pregnancy Decrease Risk of Early Menopause

Researchers have found breastfeeding for any length of time and being pregnant at least once to be associated with a lower risk of early menopause.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Assistant Editor
Published August 4, 2023
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Image: Kjetil Kolbjornsrud | Shutterstock

There are so many challenges that go along with pregnancy and breastfeeding. The sleepless nights, the physical demands–many parents can readily attest to the strain baby can put on your body. But for all of the difficulties and demands, there are quite a few silver linings. The latest—a lower risk of early menopause.

A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found breastfeeding for any length of time and being pregnant at least once to be associated with a lower risk of early menopause.

The study’s findings, published in peer-reviewed JAMA medical journal, The study’s scope was extensive, involving over 100,000 women aged 25 to 42 years, drawing data from the Nurses’ Health Study II conducted between 1989 and 2015.

After reviewing the data researchers identified a notable connection between pregnancy and a lower risk of early menopause. Women who had undergone a single pregnancy exhibited an 8 percent lower risk, while those with two pregnancies had a 16 percent lower risk. The risk dropped even further for those who had three pregnancies, with a 22 percent lower risk.

Interestingly breastfeeding was shown to have an even greater impact on lower the risk of early menopause. Researchers found that women who breastfed for seven to 12 months had a 28 percent lower risk. Those who breastfed for a total of 25 months or more had a 26 lower risk.

Early menopause, occurring before the age of 45, has long been associated with increased risks of various health complications such as early mortality, cognitive decline, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases. Previous research hinted at a potential connection between pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the timing of menopause, but the evidence remained inconclusive due to study limitations.

Dr. Lisa Halvorson, Chief of the NICHD Gynecological Health and Disease Branch overseeing the study, noted in a press release, “The study results provide the strongest evidence to date that exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the risk of early menopause.”

Although the study didn’t determine why breastfeeding and pregnancy are associated with a lower risk of early menopause researchers suggested that it may have something to do with how breastfeeding and pregnancy prevent ovulation. By slowing down egg loss, pregnancy and breastfeeding might contribute to delaying the onset of menopause.

These findings open doors to a deeper understanding of women’s health and the potential impacts of pregnancy and breastfeeding on long-term well-being. While more research is needed to fully comprehend the underlying mechanisms, this NIH-funded study marks a significant step forward in unraveling the intricate links between pregnancy, breastfeeding and women’s health.

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