The relation of number of childbirths with age at natural menopause: a population study of 310 147 women in Norway

Hum Reprod. 2022 Jan 28;37(2):333-340. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deab246.


Study question: Does age at natural menopause increase with increasing of number of childbirths?

Summary answer: Age at menopause increased with increasing number of childbirths up to three childbirths; however, we found no further increase in age at menopause beyond three childbirths.

What is known already: Pregnancies interrupt ovulation, and a high number of pregnancies have therefore been assumed to delay menopause. Previous studies have had insufficient statistical power to study women with a high number of childbirths. Thus, the shape of the association of number of childbirths with age at menopause remains unknown.

Study design, size, duration: A retrospective population study of 310 147 women in Norway who were 50-69 years old at data collection.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: The data were obtained by two self-administered questionnaires completed by women attending BreastScreen Norway, a population-based screening program for breast cancer. The associations of number of childbirths with age at menopause were estimated as hazard ratios by applying Cox proportional hazard models, adjusting for the woman's year of birth, cigarette smoking, educational level, country of birth, oral contraceptive use and body mass index.

Main results and the role of chance: Women with three childbirths had the highest mean age at menopause (51.36 years; 95% CI: 51.33-51.40 years), and women with no childbirths had the lowest (50.55 years; 95% CI: 50.48-50.62 years). Thus, women with no childbirths had higher hazard ratio of reaching menopause compared to women with three childbirths (reference group) (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.24; 95% CI: 1.22-1.27). Beyond three childbirths, we estimated no further increase in age at menopause. These findings were confirmed in sub-analyses among (i) women who had never used hormonal intrauterine device and/or systemic menopausal hormonal therapy; (ii) women who were born before 1950 and (iii) women who were born in 1950 or after.

Limitations, reasons for caution: Information about age at menopause was based on self-reports.

Wider implications of the findings: If pregnancies truly delay menopause, one would expect that women with the highest number of childbirths had the highest age at menopause. Our results question the assumption that interrupted ovulation during pregnancy delays menopause.

Study funding/competing interest(s): This work was supported by the South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority [2016112 to M.S.G.] and by the Norwegian Cancer Society [6863294-2015 to E.K.B.]. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Trial registration number: N/A.

Keywords: childbirth; menopause; parity; population study; pregnancy; risk factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menopause*
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Parturition*
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies