You know that "pregnancy glow" a lot of women experience thanks to hormones and increased blood flow?
Yeah, we were too busy gagging at the smell of cooked food and experiencing pregnancy nosebleeds to notice if we had radiant skin (does sweat count?), either. Then, after giving birth, there's the postpartum hair loss to contend with, maybe a touch of incontinence, and the sleepless nights do our complexions no favours. Add the not-so-small responsibility of raising a human, place the weight of the world on your shoulders, wrap it all up in unwashed leggings and — voila! — your mom look is complete.
Well, it turns out the hits just keep coming, because a new study found that having children ages women on a cellular level faster than smoking or obesity.
It's all in the DNA
The U.S. study, published in February in the journal Human Reproduction, examined the telomere length of nearly 2,000 women between the ages of 20 and 44. Telomeres are caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes from deterioration (kind of like the plastic tips at the end of our shoelaces). Shorter telomeres have been previously linked to mortality, the researchers noted in the study.
Researchers found that women who had given birth had telomeres 4.2 per cent shorter than women who hadn't — the equivalent of adding 11 years to their age, according to a press release. The impact of having children was greater than that of smoking or being obese, the researchers noted.
"Other studies have looked at the effects smoking and obesity have on telomere length and they were notable. They concluded that in these groups, there was a four-and-a-half and eight-year increase in cellular aging, respectively," Anna Pollack, the study's lead author and assistant professor in the department of Global and Community Health at George Mason University in Virginia, told Global News.
"In our study, we found it's even stronger for women who've had children."
Don't change your plans to have children just yet
First of all, shorter telomeres don't necessarily mean a woman has more grey hair and wrinkles, Pollack told Global News.
"We know that telomere length ages you on a cellular level, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you'll look older," she said.
Second, the researchers caution that because the data was cross-sectional, it's impossible to pinpoint the exact cause or when exactly the shortening occurred. The data they examined didn't include information about social factors, stress, and fertility status, they said in the study, and further research is needed to confirm the findings, they added in a press release.
"Moms who had kids have shorter telomeres compared to women who haven't, but we don't know when in their lifespan it happened. We don't know if it's the process of having kids that caused it," Pollack told Global News.
"We want to caution that this shouldn't cause anyone to change their family planning practices."
Still, given that shorter telomeres have also been linked to chronic health conditions and an increased likelihood of dying from heart disease or infectious disease, any moms out there would be well within their right to send the kids to bed early tonight.