Not Having a Baby Could Put You at Risk for Premature Menopause

A new study finds a relationship between not having children and early onset menopause—but there's another surprising factor at work here.

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Women who have not had children may have a greater risk of entering menopause when they're still young, according to a new study—and if you had your first period before age 11 as well, your risk is even higher. These findings were published in Human Reproduction.

Study authors look at over 51,000 women in Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom to come to this finding: They discovered that women who had their first periods before age 11 had an 80 percent greater chance of premature menopause and a 30 percent increased risk for early menopause. There was a similar correlation found in women who never gave birth, who had a twofold greater risk of premature menopause and a 30 percent increased risk for early menopause. Premature menopause refers to the onset occurring before age 40, while early menopause occurs between ages 40 and 44.  Naturally, this effect increases in women who have both factors at work.

According to research, women who got their periods early may have poor reproductive function or irregular periods, which could explain a link between the two factors. Researchers suggest they may both be associated with accelerated ovarian aging, and early onset menopause makes sense in light of this.

While premature and early menopause may not be weighing heavily on your mind at the moment, this does give women who haven't had children yet something to think about—if you started your period before you turned 12, are approaching 40 and have not had children yet, it may be wise for you to think about starting the process sooner rather than later (only, of course, if you want to have biological children!)

"If the findings from our study were incorporated into clinical guidelines for advising childless women from around the age of 35 years who had their first period aged 11 or younger, clinicians could gain valuable time to prepare these women for the possibility of premature or early menopause," said lead researcher Gita Mishra in a release for this study.  "[This would allow doctors] to focus health messages more effectively both earlier in life and for women at most risk. In addition, they could consider early strategies for preventing and detecting chronic conditions that are linked to earlier menopause, such as heart disease."