The age at which a woman goes through menopause has an impact on her risk of disease and quality of life. Women who go through menopause early are at an increased risk for a variety of health issues, including osteoporosis, dementia, and heart disease. It’s best for your health to go through menopause as late as possible.
The average age of menopause in the US is 51. Researchers define early menopause as going through menopause at age 40 to 45, while menopause before age 40 is termed premature menopause. About 5% of women go through early menopause naturally, and it can also be caused by medical treatments (such as surgical removal of the ovaries).
Because early menopause can have health consequences, it’s important to understand the factors that may cause this. Many women wonder whether there’s an association between pregnancy and early menopause. Can having babies when you’re older cause you to go through menopause early? Or does it delay the age of menopause?
Is there an association between the age of last pregnancy and age of menopause?
The research on this topic doesn’t provide a clear answer, because there have been contradictory results in different studies.
Some research does suggest that women who are older at the time of their last pregnancy might tend to go through menopause at somewhat earlier ages. A study of over 700 women found that those who had their last baby when they were 35 or older tended to go through menopause slightly earlier than those who had their last baby at a younger age. The average age of menopause was 49.2 for women who gave birth at age 35 or older, compared with age 50.5 for those who had their last baby at 25 or younger.
However, other studies have shown the opposite – women who have their last baby at an older age tend to go through menopause slightly later than those who give birth when they’re younger. Some studies have shown only a slight trend towards later menopause for those who give birth when they’re older, while others have shown a more significant effect. In one study of over 800 women, those who had their final pregnancy before age 30 were about 47 on average when they went through menopause, while those whose final pregnancy occurred at age 40 or older went through menopause at nearly 51 on average.
It’s important to consider that these studies could be observing an effect of early menopause, rather than a cause. Women who go through menopause earlier may simply be unable to get pregnant at older ages, because their bodies have already begun the menopausal transition. It appears that there may be a correlation between early menopause and age at last pregnancy, but we still don’t know exactly how this relationship works.
Do pregnancy and breastfeeding in general affect the age of menopause?
In general, motherhood does appear to reduce the risk of early menopause. A large study of over 100,000 women concluded that having at least one baby, and breastfeeding exclusively for at least 7 months, were both associated with a reduced risk of experiencing early menopause. Another study found that the age of menopause increased with an increasing number of pregnancies. Women who had three or more children were likely to experience menopause at older ages than those who had never had children.
Mothers who were older when they had their last baby may have a lower risk of going through early menopause than those who were younger when they gave birth. Still, mothers in general have a lower risk than women who have never given birth.
Other factors influencing the age of menopause
The number of pregnancies that you’ve had influences your risk of early menopause, and your age at each pregnancy may also have an effect. However, there are other risk factors that have been shown to influence a woman’s age at menopause. Some of these include:
- Lack of exercise
- Family history
- Early menarche (onset of menstruation)
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Lower body weight
Late pregnancy may be confused for early menopause
In some cases, women who experience an unexpected pregnancy when they’re older may believe that they’ve gone through menopause early. If you’re in your 40s or even your 50s, and your period doesn’t come when you expect it, you should consider the possibility that you could be pregnant, rather than going through the menopausal transition. If there’s any chance of this, a pregnancy test is a good idea. Don’t assume that you can no longer get pregnant until you’ve gone a full year without a period.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.