Regardless of whether you’re a new mom or a long-time mom, here are some essential women’s health checks you should schedule for 2018. From pelvic floor checks to hormone checks, period checks and mental health checks, we’ve got you covered.
1. Pelvic Floor & Pelvic Organ Prolapse Check
Did you know that women’s health physiotherapists are experts at assessing your pelvic floor and abdominals? And it’s never too late to visit your local physio and get your postnatal pelvic floor check. If you’ve ever had a baby, your body and pelvic floor will always be “postnatal”.
In your pelvic floor check, your women’s health physiotherapist will check your pelvic floor strength as well as check for pelvic organ prolapse. Most moms think this only happens after menopause, but the truth is, pelvic organ prolapse occurs at your very first birth; you just might not know it.
30-50% of first-time moms will develop a prolapse, which is when one or more of your pelvic organs sag down lower in your pelvis. Symptoms of prolapse include bladder or bowel control problems, heaviness or dragging sensations, lower back or lower abdominal pain, incomplete emptying or a visible bulge down there.
Your women’s health physiotherapist can check if you have a prolapse, which prolapse you have, the severity of the prolapse, and can even fit you for a support device called a pessary to help lift your organs back up, so that it doesn’t worsen over time. Moms who have given birth vaginally and who had had a c-section can develop prolapse.
2. Core Muscle Strength Check
You probably haven’t considered the strength in your core muscles, but the activation of these muscles is important in overall women’s health. By core, I don’t mean the 6-pack abdominal muscles, I mean your “true core”.
The true core muscles are what I call the “Core Canister” muscles and they include your breathing diaphragm, your pelvic floor muscles,your deep abdominals – transversus abdominis, and your deep back muscles – multifidus.
These 4 muscles keep your spine and pelvis strong and stable, so that you don’t get back, neck or pelvic pain. They also support your pelvic organs so that you don’t experience embarrassing accidents like bladder and bowel leaks, and vaginal wind or “queefs”.
3. Check for Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
All pregnant women will develop an abdominal separation, however in 40% of moms this diastasis persists. This can lead to problems such as back pain, pooching belly, and even prolapse and bladder and bowel leakage.
It doesn’t matter how long it has been since having a baby, you could still have the abdominal separation, and it can still be fixed. You can do a self-check of your abdominal separation, and then tighten your tummy with some very specific exercises. If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t shift the “mommy tummy”, it’s highly likely you haven’t stabilised and built strength through your abdominal separation.
4. Mental Health Check
Depression, anxiety and stress affect at least 20% of moms. And moms with physical issues like prolapse and pain are more likely to experience mental health issues. Thankfully, there are a lot of services available to moms to improve their mental health.
Speak to your doctor or psychologist about any stressors you’re experiencing. There are a wide range of techniques that can be helpful from cognitive-behavioural therapy to mindfulness or lifestyle changes. Sometimes your hormones may be out of balance and restoring balance to them can help.
5. Menstrual Health Check
If your periods are painful, irregular, heavy or anything unusual, it’s important to get this investigated. Contrary to popular belief, period pain is not normal, and could be a sign of a condition called endometriosis. Endometriosis has a genetic component so chances are your mother, sister, aunt or daughter could also have it.
Irregular periods, spotting, clots and heavy periods could be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. Sometimes your menstrual problems could simply be linked to stress. So checking in to your stress, nutrition and lifestyle can help restore balance to your periods.
6. Hormones Check
So many moms experience hormone imbalances due to stress, poor diet, poor sleep, mental health issues, busy lifestyles and more. As a result other issues can manifest including fatigue, thyroid problems, menstrual problems, low libido, skin problems and more.
If you’re experiencing symptoms like these, speak to your doctor about blood tests and saliva tests for your hormones. Common hormones to check include:
- Sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, FSH, LH
- Blood sugar and stress hormones: cortisol, insulin
- Thyroid hormones: TSH, T3, T4, rT3, thyroid antibodies
- Vitamin D (yes, it’s a hormone!)