5 Common Health Issues Every New Mother Should Know About
Moms have health issues — issues that are often overlooked while monitoring a baby’s feeding or sleep schedule, growth milestones, or the new rash that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
New moms: This is for you. Because you spend every hour of every day thinking of how to better care for your child in this crazy world, and you also need to think of yourself.
To say motherhood changes you would be the understatement of the century. But in the hubbub of pregnancy and a new baby, the post-pregnancy health changes moms experience are often an afterthought. If you thought pregnancy made you feel like your body belonged to someone else, new motherhood may feel like someone returned it to you after adding 100,000 miles.
That is, if you slow down enough to actually listen to your body.
Physical and mental health changes are normal postpartum. For centuries, moms all over the world have been through the very things you’re experiencing now.
But you’re at an advantage — we know more than ever about postpartum healthcare and how to care for new moms. And now more than ever, women are empowered to talk about the things that were once taboo — things like wanting to have an amazing sex life or the embarrassment that goes with peeing a little when you sneeze.
1. Changes in Sexual Health (HSDD)
If you just had a baby, you’re used to this — pregnancy likely brought bouts of insatiable sex drive followed by don’t-touch-me coldness. If getting pregnant was any sort of challenge, sex almost certainly began feeling like a chore. And now that the baby is here, it may feel like you may never have a normal sex life again. Don’t panic; you can.
Sexual health and satisfaction is dependent on a long list of things, including hormonal balance, a healthy mental disposition and a generally healthy relationship (that’s whether you’re dating, sleeping with a friend, or married).
For moms, there are several things that can derail sexual fulfillment: Breastfeeding can cause low libido and painful sex, vaginal delivery can cause new (and sometimes unpleasant) sensations like urine leakage, co-parenting can make intimacy a lost art, the long list of chores and motherly duties can make you feel far from a sexual goddess and hormonal changes can make you simply lose interest.
Hypoactive sexual desire dysfunction (HSDD) is one of the more common sexual problems experienced by moms and women of all types, affecting as many as one in every 10. It’s the complete and persistent lack of sexual interest. Often caused by a hormonal imbalance in the brain, a doctor can determine if medical intervention is necessary. Counseling and lifestyle changes may help as well.
One potential solution for HSDD is known as flibanserin, sold under the prescription name Addyi®. It’s designed to increase women’s sex drive. By targeting serotonin receptors that lead to the release of dopamine and norepinephrine (chemicals responsible for helping you feel good), flibanserin has been shown to increase the amount of “satisfying sexual events” while reducing distress associated with low sex drive in women.
2. Postpartum Hair Loss
New moms often experience thinning hair known as telogen effluvium. Postpartum hair loss is caused by increased shedding, so it could be you’re noticing more stray hairs in your brush, on your floor or clogging up your drains. The phenomena is relatively common, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And, most importantly, it’s temporary.
Generally, postpartum hair loss stops by the baby’s first birthday, if not sooner. Rest assured, that hair that’s shedding is constantly being replaced. In the meantime, take your vitamins, use volumizing hair products and don’t panic.
3. Incontinence (Pelvic Floor Dysfunction)
You’ve heard it joked about, but the first time you pee when you sneeze, incontinence loses its humor. Carrying a baby and then pushing it out can change things dramatically throughout the pelvic floor.
Incontinence is just one symptom of what’s known as pelvic floor dysfunction. The others, also common postpartum, may include pelvic pain, pain during sex and pelvic organ prolapse. The Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute estimates one in five women experience problems with pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth. Thankfully, for many women, these symptoms are temporary.
“Fixing” incontinence can be tricky, but not impossible.
One study published in the BMJ that looked at incontinence treatment in new mothers found bladder rehabilitation efforts — including education on good bladder habits and muscle training — only helped seven percent of those involved. But there are medical professionals equipped to help — physical therapists specializing in pelvic floor dysfunction and urogynecologists.
You can find a physical therapist with the help of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Find a PT page or your doctor may be able to help you find a specialist in your area.
Women are at increased risk of depression after giving birth. Postpartum depression affects as many as one in five mothers, according to the CDC. But women are at an increased risk of depression when they’re simply of childbearing age, and simply because they’re women.
Depression is most common in women ages 25 to 44, according to Mental Health America. And women experience depression roughly twice as much as men. Add a baby to the mix, and the risks go through the roof.
Depression isn’t as simple as the baby blues, or waxing nostalgic about your younger, freer days gone by. It’s marked by feelings of anger, hopelessness, numbness, guilt, disconnection from your baby or fears that you may hurt yourself, your child or others.
Your mental health is as important as your physical health, so don’t minimize the seriousness of depression.
If you believe you’re experiencing signs of depression, whether your child is a newborn or a teenager, get help. Contact your doctor or, if these issues are serious, don't hesitate to reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
5. Postpartum skin conditions
If you had that pregnancy glow the whole time you carried your baby and it wasn’t caused excess sebum or discolorations, this may not apply to you. But if you’re like so many new mothers, you had pregnancy acne and even possibly melasma.
Melasma is a skin discoloration that creates brown or gray patches on the face. Like acne, it’s not uncommon during pregnancy. And like pregnancy acne, melasma may not disappear the moment your baby is born.
If your skin condition was truly tied to pregnancy, it will resolve itself with time. But other factors (likely hormonal) could extend the life of your pregnancy skin problems. The hormone roller coaster your body’s been on could even lead to new skin problems, like a chronically dry complexion.
Fortunately, finding a new skin care routine is a relatively easy solution. And there are more potent remedies, too. Medications can alleviate the hyperpigmentation of melasma, control breakouts and inflammation of acne and help you get ahead of the aging process that’s inevitable for all of us.
Becoming a mother is exciting, joyous and life-changing. But that doesn’t mean everything that goes with it is easy or welcome. Remember to slow down from time to time and take inventory on your own health and wellbeing. You can’t give your baby the best if you’re running yourself into the ground. A well cared for mother is the foundation for a well-cared for child.