I'm a 37-year-old mother of three who practices yoga several times a week. Overall, I considered myself in good health until I had my first physical in five long years. The news wasn't good. Low blood sugar. High cholesterol. Looking back, it shouldn't have surprised me. The fact is, I spend lots of time in the doctor's office for my kids' various issues, but when it comes to my own health, well, that's another story.
Think about it: When you're pregnant, you make sure you and baby-to-be are well, you deliver, return for a postpartum checkup, and then immerse yourself in mothering. There are no well-mommy visits, but perhaps there should be. Physically, new mothers in particular are vulnerable to all types of illnesses.
And all the emotional stresses of being the primary caregiver of a new little life doesn't make things any easier. If you're one of the many new moms whose health is the last thing on her to-do list, read on to find out why you should make it a priority now.
Ask any mother if she ever skipped a well-baby visit for her child. The answer for 99 percent is a resounding no. The fact is, kids come first. That's certainly the case for Jody Kramer, a mother of three who lives in Trumbull, Connecticut. "Between chauffeuring everyone around and refereeing their bickering, I don't have a second to breathe," she says. Nor did she have a second to visit the doctor when severe jaw pain set in. Instead, she popped ibuprofen—a lot of it.
"I wound up developing a gastric ulcer from all the Motrin, and I was diagnosed with temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ), where all the pain was coming from." The lesson here is twofold: Mothers are willing to overlook their own symptoms to care for their children, and letting symptoms slide can lead to more than one illness down the road. "If you ignore symptoms of depletion -- physical or emotional -- your chances of developing a more serious health problem can rise," says Beth McDougall, MD, a physician in private practice in Mill Valley, California.
But what compounds matters even more is the fact that moms put babies first long before they give birth. Pregnancy itself may put some women at a health disadvantage, according to Iffath Hoskins, MD, an ob-gyn and executive director of women's services at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia. "During pregnancy, there's a preferential transfer of nutrients through the placenta to the fetus," she says. Because baby gets first dibs, there will be a finite amount of substances -- iron, calcium, and other nutrients -- left over for Mom on a daily basis.
If a pregnant woman doesn't replenish her system with key nutrients through diet and a prenatal vitamin, she can eventually get run down. And if she breastfeeds, the nutritional deficits will worsen. The most common deficits include iron and folic acid, resulting in anemia; zinc, which weakens the immune system; and calcium, causing brittle bones. The nutritional picture is even bleaker if a woman breastfeeds for a long time or has short spaces between pregnancies.
And nutritional deficits don't just make you feel run down; a body running on scant nutritional fuel is more susceptible to viral infections such as colds, flus, and stomach bugs. To complicate matters further, little kids, particularly those in daycare, toddler programs, or preschool, are especially susceptible to all sorts of bugs.
Add these two factors together, throw in sleep deprivation, and you wind up with a weakened immune system unable to fend off every bug that passes through. Just ask Kathy Azevedo of Livermore, California. "Before having kids, I never got sick," she says. "Ever since my second, I get a cold each time my kids do—only mine are worse and last longer."
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.
Experts agree that you can prevent yourself from reaching rock bottom. They suggest following these tips: