Motherhood is not for the weak at heart. And anyone who tells you differently is either lying or delusional. Every stage of motherhood will come with a variety of ailments, concerns, and risks. This is part and parcel of becoming a parent.
Your obstetric and pediatric providers have seen it all and will be your biggest champions in educating you on the normal changes in your body. But there are some physical and mental changes that need more than a little extra TLC from your healthcare provider. Below are a few examples of how motherhood can make you sick.
One in three adults will experience a mood disorder in their lifetime, and Covid based research suggests women are predominantly more prone to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. As many as 1 in 5 women will experience mood disturbances during or after pregnancy. However common mood disorders are, they are surprisingly unreported by women for a variety of reasons.
Common complaints of women suffering from mood disorders:
1.Unable to perform activities of daily living
2. Ongoing sad, empty, hopeless, or helpless feelings
3. Irritability, anxiety, quick to anger, or restlessness
4. Loss of appetite or overeating
5. Insomnia or oversleeping
6. Physical pain that does not respond to treatment
Left untreated, mood disorders can lead to thoughts of self-harm, harming others, or suicide. ALWAYS tell your provider if your behaviors or thoughts have changed since pregnancy. There are several medications and non-pharmacological interventions that can help, but the first step is to seek help. In addition to medication and/or counseling, women can consider exercise, sunlight, building support systems, and decreasing sugar and high-fat foods.
Menstrual cycles can take several months to return to normal, or your cycle could be significantly different. It is not uncommon for women to have increased cycle lengths, increased cramps, and irregular bleeding. In addition, women may not ovulate or bleed at all while strictly breastfeeding.
It is important to remember that ANY time you have unprotected sex during the postpartum period, you can become pregnant. Especially if your cycles have not returned to normal and you cannot track them using regular methods. Consider a barrier method in the postpartum period to prevent a surprise pregnancy.
Clots larger than a golf ball, foul vaginal odor, or soaking through more than one pad an hour are never normal in the postpartum period. Talk to your healthcare provider if any of these occur to rule out infection or postpartum hemorrhage.
Hair Loss (Telogen Effluvium)
Listen…postpartum hair loss is no joke. Women often say they feel like they are going bald. Major hair loss occurs after childbirth or a miscarriage. This is due to the hair cycle returning to the pre-pregnancy hair loss phase and is completely normal. But major hair loss can be a symptom of other health conditions and should be discussed with your healthcare provider if accompanied by other symptoms.
Low thyroid levels: Hair loss, unexplained weight gain, brittle/dry skin and nails, constipation, fatigue, depression, sensitivity to cold, and muscle aches or cramps.
Iron-deficiency anemia: Hair loss, extreme fatigue or lethargy, headaches, weakness, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath with activity, and cold hands or feet.
Less common conditions include nutritional deficiencies, birth control pills or implants, immunodeficiency conditions, hereditary hair loss, and/or over-styling.
If you haven’t already noticed, these symptoms are vague and can occur at any point during or after pregnancy. When the symptoms do not improve or negatively impact your life, you need to report them to your provider.
This list is not all-inclusive, and pre-existing medical conditions and/or medications can alter the “normal” changes associated with the postpartum period. Make sure you discuss anticipated postpartum changes with your healthcare provider so you know what is abnormal for you.
This article was contributed by MacArthur Medical Center’s Certified Nurse Midwife Jen Rockhold.