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Are menopausal hot flashes an evolutionary byproduct of postpartum warming?

Sievert, Lynnette Leidy PhD; Masley, Allison

doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000327
Original Articles

Objective Hot flashes are commonly associated with menopause, and some researchers have questioned whether the widespread phenomenon may somehow be adaptive. It has been hypothesized that hot flashes were selected to occur during the hypoestrogenic postpartum period as a mechanism to warm infants. The purpose of this study was to test whether postpartum hot flashes are similar to hot flashes associated with menopause and whether postpartum hot flashes are concordant with breast-feeding episodes.

Methods Women who gave birth within the past year (n = 20) and a comparison group of women who had not given birth in the past 2 years (n = 14) participated in interviews and anthropometric measures. All wore ambulatory skin conductance monitors for a mean of 6.5 hours during afternoons and early evenings. New mothers also recorded breast-feeding episodes. Objectively measured and subjectively reported hot flashes were compared between groups and in relation to breast-feeding and other variables.

Results Age of infants ranged from 4 days to 11 months. New mothers were more likely to report feeling warmer than the comparison group (100% vs 7%) but were not significantly more likely to demonstrate hot flashes (35% vs 50%) or to report hot flashes (30% vs 21%) during the study period. Of 75 breast-feeding episodes, only 4% were concurrent with an objective hot flash, and only 9% were concurrent with a subjective hot flash.

Conclusions This study does not support the hypothesis that menopausal-like hot flashes evolved to warm infants during the postpartum period.

From the Department of Anthropology, UMass Amherst, Amherst, MA.

Received March 14, 2014; revised and accepted July 9, 2014.

Funding/support: Funding was provided by the Center for Research on Families at UMass Amherst.

Financial disclosure/conflicts of interest: None reported.

Address correspondence to: Lynnette Leidy Sievert, PhD, Department of Anthropology, UMass Amherst, Machmer Hall, 240 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003-9278. E-mail:

© 2015 by The North American Menopause Society.