As moms, our lives are filled with doctor’s appointments. We manage our children’s health like champions, but do we take the time to manage our own health? Keeping up with continually changing women’s health recommendations is tricky, especially when our schedules are packed. So, for all of you busy moms who need the facts in five minutes or less, here are some quick answers.
1. How often do I really need a pelvic exam?
Pelvic exams…what a way to break the ice! Recently Pap smear recommendations have changed, confusing many women on how frequently they need one. While some women may be able to stretch their Pap smears out to every three years (depending on their risk factors), this doesn’t mean that they get to skimp on pelvic, breast and even rectal exams according to Dr. Pratima Stuhldreher, MD, an Indianapolis gynecologist at Clear Vista Women’s Care. The complete pelvic exam looks for changes in the external genitalia, uterus and ovaries, not just the cervix. Since ovarian cancer often lacks early stage symptoms, a yearly pelvic exam could be lifesaving. In short, a yearly well woman appointment should still be on your schedule!
2. Am I going through perimenopause?
If you’re soaking the sheets with night sweats, noticing hot flashes during the day and having irregular vaginal bleeding, then you’re probably experiencing perimenopause. Does this mean that full-blown menopause is right around the corner? Not necessarily. According to Dr. Stuhldreher it is hard to predict exactly when menopause may occur. It could still be ten years before your periods are gone for good. In the meantime, keep a fan and panty liners handy.
3. Do I still need to get vaccines as an adult?
Immunizations aren’t just for infants! Staying up to date on your shots is important for your health and for the little ones around you. Booster immunizations allow your body to once again build up a defense against specific illnesses such as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control now recommend that a mother have a pertussis shot with every single pregnancy. With whooping cough on the rise, getting this shot during pregnancy will pass a larger amount of protective antibodies to your unborn child, affording him more protection during the vulnerable period of infancy.
Travel immunizations are also important to remember. Don’t forget to check the CDC website several months in advance for specific recommendations depending on country and region that you will be visiting. Check with your doctor to see if you are up to date on your standard immunizations. Prevention is key!
4. Am I gaining weight because my metabolism is slowing down or is something else going on?
After menopause many women have a challenging time maintaining their weight or losing extra weight. Hormones fluctuations can play a large role in adding a few pounds around the middle. Instead of getting frustrated, focus on creating a healthy lifestyle filled with a nutritious diet, aerobic exercise and resistance training. By building muscle you will burn more calories even when resting. Resistance training will also strengthen your bones, decreasing your risk for osteoporosis. If you find that your energy is strangely low, you’re gaining unexplained weight or having other symptoms, contact your doctor for an evaluation.
5. Can I skip on a daily vitamin if I’m eating healthy?
While eating a healthy diet is of paramount importance, you still may not be getting all of the nutrients that you need from your food alone. Many of us don’t eat enough iron-containing foods such as red meat to prevent iron deficiency. Adding in a daily women’s multivitamin is a great way to make sure you are getting 100% of your daily recommended values. But, don’t go overboard! Too many vitamins can actually be harmful. A calcium supplement with vitamin D is also incredibly important for preventing osteopenia and osteoporosis (weakened bones more likely to fracture). Keeping your bones strong with supplements and regular resistance training is an important way to prevent bone disease.
Don’t forget that you matter too. Prioritizing your own health will make you a better mom and a happy and healthier person.