There's nothing quite like a milestone birthday to make you ruminate on life. As 40 begins to looms large for me, I've been reflecting at length on my 30s (and how fast they've whizzed by). While I've packed plenty into the past decade – a career change, a marriage and a surprising range of hairstyles – the biggest difference is how I feel in my body. My appetite for food, fitness and sex have all transformed dramatically in the last 10 years, as has my need for vast quantities of moisturiser. Yet, the change that took me most by surprise was the one to my reproductive cycle. So, here's why you should start thinking (and talking) about menopause in your 30s.
Some people go through menopause in their 30s
Yes, that's right: menopause can occur in your 30s. I was so surprised when I first read about this that I wondered why we don't talk about it more?
Around 1 in 100 women and people who menstruate experience menopause before the age of 40, which is a small but still significant percentage of the population. For some, premature menopause happens naturally while for others it's as a result of medical treatment.
As a society, we aren't great at talking about menopause generally, let alone when it occurs in your 30s. I can imagine going through this could feel quite isolating, which is one of the reasons why I think it's important that we get the conversation about it going a lot earlier.
Your menstrual cycle could go through significant changes
Using an app to track your period is not only great for knowing when your next cycle starts but it also means you can look back at how it has changed over time. This is why I now know that the month I turned 37 was when mine switched gears.
I spent a couple of years wondering why my menstrual cycle was slowly creeping away from its usual 28 days and edging further towards the lower 20s. I started to feel like my ovaries had given up on the idea of me reproducing and were keen to offload my eggs like some kind of fire sale.
Turns out, what I'm experiencing is completely normal. Often in your late 30s, your hormone levels will begin to decrease, which will then in turn affect your cycle. So, my body is effectively sending me a push notification that perimenopause is either here or probably not that far away.
Your menstrual cycle can change in your 30s for lots of reasons and everyone's experience is different. Your cycle may get shorter, lighter, heavier or longer. So it's always a good idea to speak to your doctor about any changes so you can get more clarity.
Talk to your mum about menopause
I've read a lot of articles over the past year about how to calculate your menopause age. When did your periods start? Have you ever taken oral contraceptives? Been pregnant? Had an STI? They all tried to convince me that this was something I could guesstimate with such details.
Turns out, one of the strongest influences upon your perimenopausal cycle is genetics. So, ignore the menopause age calculators and talk to an expert: your mum. All those other factors don't have anywhere near as much impact as she does.
In fact, I recommend talking to your mum (or an older sister or aunt) about menopause in your 30s as their insight might surprise you. While we often imagine it as something that starts when we're a pensioner, most women and people who menstruate reach menopause between 45 and 55 years of age. For context, JLo is currently 51 and I think we can all agree that she looks nothing like a pensioner.
So have a chat and find out what menopause was like for your mum. What were the first signs that she noticed? What were her symptoms like? At what age did her periods stop? While your experience will be your own, knowing your family's menopause history will be one of your most insightful guides.
Not having children could mean you reach menopause earlier
One of the key differences between my mum and I is that she had seven children (impressive, right?) while I've chosen to have none. So I'm interested to see if there will be a big difference between the age at which we both reach menopause.
Some recent studies have indicated that women who have never been pregnant do in fact have an increased chance of transitioning through menopause earlier than the average age range of 45-55 years. This has resulted in tabloid headlines shouting statements such as 'Childless Women Face Higher Risk of Early Menopause!', like this is some extreme form of punishment for not reproducing.
The reality is, menopause is a natural part of being a person who menstruates. There's nothing you can do that will guarantee it occurs later, and really, why try? Change is scary and many of the symptoms that occur around menopause are notoriously difficult, but we shouldn’t fear it. As Kristin Scott Thomas' character sums up in Fleabag "menopause comes and it is the most wonderful f***ing thing in the world."