Extended Breastfeeding Linked to Higher Hormone Levels and Later Menopause Onset

Epidemiology alumna Nydjie Grimes and Professor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson

Nydjie Grimes '21PhD (left) and
Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson

February 24, 2022

A recent study led by epidemiology alumna Nydjie P. Grimes ’PhD21 found that women who breastfed for two years or longer had higher blood levels of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) and later onset of menopause, compared to women who breastfed for one month or less. The findings also suggest that previously observed relationships between menopause timing and the number of times a woman gave birth may be largely attributable to breastfeeding.

The study appears in the January 2022 issue of the journal Maturitas.

Under the supervision of faculty advisor and senior author Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, Grimes and colleagues in the UMass Amherst Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology analyzed AMH levels in a subset of premenopausal participants from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS2). AMH is produced by ovarian follicles, and low levels can indicate that a woman has few remaining eggs and is close to menopause. In their analysis, the researchers examined potential links between AMH levels and childbirth or breastfeeding among 1,619 NHS2 participants who provided blood samples between 1996 and 1999, before they began menopause. About half of the women also provided a second premenopausal blood sample between 2010 and 2012.

The researchers found that a longer total duration of breastfeeding was linked to higher AMH levels, even when they adjusted their statistical model to account for the number of times a woman gave birth. Compared to study participants who breastfed for less than one month, those who breastfed for 25 months or longer had AMH levels that were 39 percent higher and began menopause more than one year later. Exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of ovulation after childbirth and may slow egg loss. The researchers speculate that this may in turn affect AMH levels and delay menopause.

Study participants who gave birth three or more times appeared to have slightly higher AMH levels than those who had never given birth. However, this potential association between childbirth and AMH disappeared when the researchers adjusted their statistical model to account for the woman’s total duration of breastfeeding. They found no link between the number of births and the woman’s age at the start of menopause.

According to the authors, this is among the first studies to examine how childbirth and breastfeeding are associated with AMH, change in AMH over time, and menopause timing. The findings indicate that a longer duration of breastfeeding is associated with higher AMH levels and later menopause onset. They also suggest that relationships observed between childbirth and AMH levels or menopause timing may instead be attributable to breastfeeding.

The work was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Cancer Institute.

Courtesy National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.