Since I gave birth in August, I feel like I aged about 10 years. According to a new study, I aged 11 years.
The study found that women who have carried children show advanced signs of aging compared to those who don’t—by about 11 years.
Anna Pollack, Ph.D., a researcher at George Mason University, Virginia, examined the length of telomeres, which are protective pieces of DNA located at the ends of our chromosomes that can indicate our cellular age and health. As in, the longer your telomeres are, the “younger” you are—and the better your health is, in general. (Everyone’s telomeres get shorter with age.)
When Pollack’s team adjusted for factors such as age, education and ethnicity, they found that women who had at least one child had telomeres that were 4.2 percent shorter, on average, compared to women who have never carried a child.
“We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter relative to those who had one, two, three or four, even,” she said in an interview with Newsweek.
She was careful to note that this doesn’t mean you’ll die 11 years earlier than your childless friend, nor is it a sign not to have kids. Telomere length is not a definitive indication of lifespan, she told HelloFlo.
“It is plausible that women who have children start out with shorter telomeres than those who don’t. Or some other non-causal factor could have influenced our observed associations,” she said. “We would need to conduct a study where we measured women’s telomere length across the life span, in order to understand if there is any shortening that occurs around pregnancy and childbirth.”
Interestingly, Pollack said they did not investigate the differences in telomere length between modes of delivery—as in, if women who delivered naturally had shorter telomeres compared to those who had C-sections.