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Early menopause comes with health risks -- but there’s something that can delay it

Add this to the list of ‘gifts of motherhood’

Woman in a sweater.
Woman in a sweater.

Past studies have shown that women who go through menopause before the age of 45 have an increased risk of early death, cognitive decline, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Menopause, which includes symptoms like weight gain, skin changes, mood changes and hot flashes, happens, on average, to women in the U.S. at the age of 52. It will stop a woman’s period completely.

So, what things can keep a woman from going through early menopause?

According to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

An analysis of the study showed that women who breastfeed their infants for seven to 12 months may have a significantly lower risk of early menopause than women who breastfed for less than a month.

“The study results provide the strongest evidence to date that exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the risk of early menopause,” said Dr. Lisa Halvorson, chief of the NICHD Gynecological Health and Disease Branch, which oversaw the research.

Researchers gathered and analyzed data from more than 100,000 women ages 25-42 in the Nurses’ Health Study II.

Here’s how it broke down:

During premenopausal years:

  • Women who breastfed for 25 months or more had a 26% lower risk than women who breastfed for less than a month.
  • Women who breastfed for seven to 12 months had a 28% lower risk of early menopause, compared to women who breastfed for less than a month.

But why is this the case? Researchers said they could not determine definitively why pregnancy and breastfeeding lowers the risk of early menopause, but they believe it is because both stop ovulation. By doing that, a woman’s egg loss slows, causing a delay in the onset of menopause.

The U.S. Office on Women’s Health reports that 5% of women naturally go through early menopause -- those between the ages of 40 and 45 -- and that certain medicines or treatment and smoking can cause menopause to come earlier than usual.


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