Hey Moms, New Moms, Moms-of-the-future, and Grandmas-to-be! With Mother’s Day right around the corner, are you getting ready to feel the love? While you’re getting glue-y cards and maybe pampered with pedicures, remember this: The people in your life who love you want you around for years—no, decades!—to come.
So the next time you’re taking care of everyone around you, remind yourself that your own health should also be at the top of your priorities. You need to put your oxygen mask on first, right? Right.
Okay, so now that we’re clear on that, let’s go over some of the key health issues you should be aware of—from the time you hold your newborn baby in your arms to the day you kiss your college-bound kiddos good-bye.
The early years
True or false. You would do anything to protect your precious little one. We already know the answer, so we’re going to give it to you straight: You NEED to put your health first so that you can provide your baby with everything they need to thrive. And, believe me, you’ll need your energy for all those sleepless nights. (Because do they ever really sleep through the night??!)
Here are some health issues to look out for during the early years:
- Blood clot risk. We don’t want to scare you, so we’ll say it up front: The risk of a blood clot after giving birth is very low—fewer than 1 in 10,000 women, to be exact. Still, it’s important to be aware of the signs so that you can act fast in the unlikely event that you find yourself in this minority of new moms. If, within the first 12 weeks after giving birth, you experience trouble breathing, chest pain, pain or numbness on one side of your body, swelling in one leg, or a sudden, severe headache, or loss of balance, seek medical help immediately.
- Postpartum depression. This one’s a biggie. 10-20% of women experience postpartum depression, and please don’t mistake it for a case of the “baby blues.” It can hit anywhere from one week after giving birth to one year later. If you or your partner notice drastic mood swings or changes in your behaviour, or if you’re having thoughts of self-harm, there is no shame in seeking professional help. In fact, it’s the bravest, smartest, safest thing any new mom can do. It’s a weird combo of hormones, environmental factors and a lot of unknowns… so just ask for help like you would if you had a really bad fever. In Canada or the US, help is just a call away at 1-800-944-4773.
Pro tip! There are a number of emotional, mental and physical signs to watch out for. You can find a list of them here.
- Mastitis. While most moms who breastfeed will experience some breast pain or tenderness from time to time, mastitis is a bit more serious. In this case, any pain you are experiencing will be accompanied by a fever of 38.3 C (or greater), as well as a red patch on your breast, swelling and warmth in the area. If you suspect you have mastitis, visit your doctor as soon as possible. You can’t just wait this one out—you’ll need to take antibiotics to flush it out of your system. And please, don’t delay—in some extreme cases, an abscess (a collection of pus which must be drained surgically) can form. The good news is, that mastitis only occurs in 2-10% of breastfeeding women.
- Pelvic floor issues. Painful sex. Incontinence. Back, hip or pelvic pain that won’t go away. No, new mama, I promise you that none of these should be your new normal. With that in mind, see a pelvic floor therapist ASAP if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. And while Kegel exercises may help, they aren’t an effective treatment on their own. Plus 30-50% of women are doing their kegels wrong! The good thing about going to a pelvic floor therapist is that they will do a physical assessment (which is “gentler than a pap smear”) to discover your areas of concern and will then customize your pelvic floor workout based on your unique needs.
- Diastis recti. While nobody expects you to get your “pre-baby body back” anytime soon, if you’ve been consistently working out and just can’t seem to get rid of your post-baby belly, you may have something called diastis recti, where your abdominal muscles have literally separated. The good news is, you don’t need to make a doctor’s appointment to find out! You can check on your own, and work on correcting the issue with a few simple exercises. Just remember, no matter what shape your tummy is in, don’t be too hard on yourself. You did carry a human inside of you for 9 months. Pretty epic workout for over 272 days straight.
Pro tip! If you’re having a hard time letting go of your negative body image, consider joining a body positive exercise group for moms. And stay away from the scale and those beauty magazines until you feel ready!
When your kids are adults (or adult-ish)
So you’ve got some of your independence back, and maybe you’re even sleeping through the night (if your teens are sticking to their curfew, that is), but that doesn’t mean you should let your health slide. As you start to age, the risk of diseases, like breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis, go up. And you’ll have new stressors related to this stage of your life.
Here are some health issues to keep in mind if you’re the mom of older “kids”:
- Sandwich generation stress. If you’re a mother in the “sandwich generation,” you know what it’s like to be pulled in all directions. You’re caring for your growing children and your ailing parents, you’ve got chores to do and errands to run, and it’s very possible that you’re still working full time to boot! The stress that accompanies “doing it all” can be very real, so this is where the importance of self-care comes in. If you don’t feel like you can cope on your own, you may want to consider seeing a therapist. You know the expression, “When mom’s happy, everyone’s happy!” So make sure your mental wellness is a top priority, mama.
- Breast cancer. 1 in 8 Canadian women will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime, so get into the habit of doing a self-examination once every month. Why? Because not all prognoses are bad—early detection is your best weapon in the fight against cancer. And while there is the risk of developing breast cancer at any time in your life, the likelihood goes up with age. Note that if you chose to breastfeed your children when they were babies, your risk may be lower. For breast cancer survivors who are dealing with the emotional repercussions of losing one or both breasts, know that you are not alone.
- Menopause. Just like menstruation, menopause is a completely normal part of life—albeit one that can wreak even more havoc on our hormones. With all the changes going on inside of our bodies, there’s no wonder that there are a myriad of symptoms to look out for: mood swings, anxiety, depression, hot flashes or night sweats, insomnia, thinning bones and vaginal dryness. While some women may experience mild to non-existent symptoms, you may want to consider hormone therapy if the changes to your body and emotions are getting too tough to bear. Keep in mind that these are medications with their own list of side effects, so if you’d rather go the natural route, you’ve got options.
Pro tip! The stress hormone (cortisol) can actually induce symptoms of menopause, so do whatever you need to do to de-stress: meditate, get regular exercise, start a journal—in short, practice self-care!
- Heart disease. With a nickname like the “silent killer of women in Canada,” this is one health concern we should be taking very seriously. While the estrogen in our bodies typically helps protect us from this disease, it’s no secret that hormones fluctuate depending on our stage of life and current health status. With that in mind, it’s important to be aware of when your risk factor is high: during pregnancy, after menopause, or if you develop diabetes.
- Osteoporosis. When it comes to bone health, the odds are stacked up against us from the beginning. Women start off with lower bone density than men—and we lose bone mass at a faster rate. Add menopause to the picture and we are twice as likely to suffer from an osteoporosis-related fracture than the men in our lives. But it’s not all doom and gloom! You can build strong bones, by taking your vitamin D and calcium supplements and by fitting regular exercising into your routine. With osteoporosis, preventions is key!
This Mother’s Day, whether you are a mom or not, understand the unspoken stress that mothers typically take on by caring for everyone else before themselves. Good health is a gift – so if we have it, we need to nurture it and not take it for granted. Know common health risks and be brave enough to ask for help.
League loves moms – happy mother’s day! 💖