Unfortunately, a frequent runny nose isn't the only calling card of new motherhood. Below, some of the most common new-mom health woes, how to spot them, and their treatments. Some are mild, some are more serious, but all make you feel pretty lousy, which warrants attention from a doctor.
- Hypothyroid: This illness occurs when your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that regulates everything from your heart rate to your metabolism, doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. It can be tough for new moms to get treatment for this disease because depression, fatigue, and hair loss -- primary symptoms -- are par for the course in early motherhood. It's not unusual for the thyroid to go haywire postpartum because pregnancy and birth cause extreme hormonal shifts, "which can cause the thyroid to dysregulate," says Dr. McDougall.
Treatment is usually a synthetic version of the hormone you're missing taken by pill once a day. Fortunately, the medication starts working immediately. Michelle Hubertus of Short Hills, New Jersey, who was diagnosed with the disorder six months after she gave birth, can attest. "As soon as I started taking the medication I lost 10 pounds and got my health under control," she says.
- Gallstones: The gallbladder is a small sac that stores and concentrates bile, a substance used to digest fats. Gallstones occur when bile, cholesterol, and other substances form hard little crystals that can cause pain, gallbladder inflammation, and in some cases, digestive problems. They're fairly common after pregnancy and usually occur within the first three months after birth, says Dr. McDougall. Pregnancy hormones slow down your gallbladder's output, causing a backup of cholesterol, which can lead to the formation of the stones. If your gallbladder is constantly inflamed from the stones, treatment is surgical removal. Milder cases are usually closely monitored.
- Stress-Related Illnesses: There are a number of very real illnesses affecting new moms that fall into a medical chicken-or-egg quandary. They're at their worst when a person is stressed, but it's unclear whether or not stress is the root of their cause. Irritable bowel syndrome, which causes digestive troubles, TMJ, which Jody Kramer suffers from, and insomnia are just a few. The reason for the wide variety? "Everyone manifests stress differently: Some people hold tension in their jaw, some take it out in their sleep," says Dr. McDougall.
Some experts feel that these types of problems coupled with feeling drained spawns an entirely new syndrome worthy of attention and treatment, called Depleted Mother Syndrome (DMS). Rick Hanson, PhD, a clinical psychologist in San Rafael, California who is studying this phenomenon, estimates that one in 10 women will go through DMS. "Like premenstrual syndrome, each woman who is depleted will experience a different set of symptoms," says Dr. Hanson. "In addition to nutritional deficits, which are always present, she will have some combination of physical and emotional symptoms." Treatment-wise, a combination of medical intervention, therapy, and lifestyle changes can help.