What is Postpartum Depression

Childbirth can be an emotional experience for new parents. As you settle in with your bundle of joy, you might encounter something unexpected – depression. Postpartum depression is often left undiscussed but affects many parents. What separates this from postpartum “baby blues”? Sometimes a rare but more severe condition called postpartum psychosis can develop. 

Defining Postpartum Depression

By definition by the National Institute of Mental Health, postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women and birthing parents after childbirth. New parents often experience “baby blues” after childbirth, where they might experience mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. The symptoms of postpartum depression may be similar but tend to be more severe and last longer, sometimes interfering with your ability to care for your baby and complete other daily tasks.  

Symptoms

Parents can experience depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, and difficulty bonding with their baby. Other common symptoms include changes in appetite, social withdrawal, and sleep disturbances. Symptoms will usually begin within the first few weeks after giving birth but may begin earlier (during pregnancy) or later, up to a year after birth. More severe symptoms may occur, such as thoughts of harming oneself or the baby, and these require serious and immediate attention. 

Causes

Physical changes and emotional issues play a role in postpartum depression, but there is no single cause for the condition. Hormonal changes after childbirth, such as dramatic drops in levels of progesterone and estrogen, may contribute to postpartum depression. Your risk of developing postpartum depression may increase if you have a history of depression or other mood disorders.

Treatments

Fortunately, postpartum depression is treatable.Treatment and recovery time will vary depending on your individual needs and the severity of the depression. Your medical provider will work on treating the underlying causes and may refer you to a mental health professional. Generally, treatment for depression includes psychotherapy, medication, or both. It is important to continue treatment even after you begin to feel better, as stopping treatment too early may lead to relapse.  Left untreated, postpartum depression can last for many months or longer. 

What is Endometriosis?

Reproductive health must be taken very seriously, which is why women should understand what endometriosis is. It is often a painful disorder inside of the uterus and involves the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and tissue lining the pelvis. and can go undiagnosed for years. Unfortunately, it can lead to infertility.

Defining Endometriosis

Endometriosis is when tissue that makes up the uterine lining is present on other organs inside your body. It usually appears to happen within the pelvis and lower abdomen, but it can happen anywhere in the body. Although men can be affected by the disorder, it is extremely rare and most common in women. 

The Symptoms

Women can experience pain during intercourse, painful periods, lower abdomen pain, and infertility. Over time, unfortunately, pain can increase and become more intense. Some may also experience painful bowel movements and heavy menstruation. Other symptoms can range from bloating, nausea, constipation, fatigue, and diarrhea, especially during their periods. The more severe the pain usually indicates how severe the disorder is. Pain can be the most painful symptom, but some women do not experience any symptoms. 

Due to these symptoms, endometriosis can be often misdiagnosed. It can often be diagnosed as a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or ovarian cysts. Endometriosis also shares the same symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can complicate the diagnosis.

Causes

Unfortunately, the exact causes of endometriosis are unknown, but there are possible explanations. The most common possible explanation is retrograde menstruation, which is menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flowing back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of leaving the body. The disorder can also be caused by surgical scar implantation, which happens after surgery, such as a hysterectomy or C-section, endometrial cells may attach to a surgical incision.

Other causes can range from transformation of peritoneal cells, embryonic cell transformation, endometrial cell transport, and an immune system disorder. Each one of these possible causes is ways that endometrial cells or tissue can invade other tissue of the body. 

Treatment

There are a few treatment options for women diagnosed with endometriosis. Many can treat their pain with medications, such as ibuprofen. Some doctors choose medications that can affect a woman’s hormones, such as contraceptive pills, to help with the pain. The best way to treat endometriosis is through surgery. Surgery can remove the endometriosis, burn the endometriosis lesions outside of the uterus, and remove scar tissue. Fortunately, women who use surgery to treat endometriosis often see improvement pain symptoms and may also help them become pregnant.

Foods to Avoid During Your Period

Women everywhere know the struggle each month of dealing with their menstrual cycle. As if it’s not enough to handle the pain, bloating, and cramping, there’s also the emotional fatigue that can sneak up. What a plethora of women don’t know is that you can use diet to help relieve some of your period symptoms.

To improve reproductive health doctors recommend avoiding certain foods and drinks. Don’t worry though, the restrictions are only for the week of your period!

Salty Food

Bloating is very common for women on their periods. However, salty foods can cause even more bloating and gas. If that can be avoided by all means do! Things such as potato chips, popcorn, pickles, and other snacks have a lot of sodium and though cravings are a very real thing, try to refrain. Your body will thank you.

Saturated/Trans Fats

Another source of pain during the menstrual cycle can be caused by the saturated fats in certain meats and dairy products. Avoid eating burgers or drinking whole milk during your period and pain and inflammation can often be lessened. French fries, doughnuts, and other heavy carbohydrates are also best to avoid.

Caffeine

It’s sad, but caffeine is in a lot of the things we enjoy, such as coffee, soda, and chocolate. Just remember, it’s only for a week! Caffeine can raise our anxiety levels and create agitation and trouble sleeping so it’s best to lay off the frappuccinos and candy bars until your menstrual cycle ends.

Sugar

Though we often crave sugary candy during this time, it’s best to stay away. If you’re already feeling bloated candy will surely make it worse. Instead, opt for fruit that has natural sugar. Though candy might help elevate your mood short term, it will wear off and leave your body feeling as bad as before.

Alcohol

If you’re not celebrating with friends and family during your menstrual cycle it’s best to refrain from drinking alcohol. The loss of blood can lower your blood pressure which can heighten the effects of alcohol. Drinking alcohol can also increase your flow, making your period heavier.

Overall, trying to eat healthier (at least during your menstrual cycle) can improve your mood and help to alleviate some of the period pain.

 

Constantly Evolving: How the Female Body Changes During Pregnancy

Pregnancy delivers a host of changes to a woman’s body. Some are visible and commonly expected, such as weight gain and an expanding belly; others are less well-known, such as increasing breast size. Some changes are well-known but invisible, such as backaches, morning sickness, and an enlarged uterus. Awareness of the changes, both visible and invisible, can help you prepare for your body’s adjustments during pregnancy.

Oral Health

A common pregnancy complaint is bleeding gums, which can open a portal to oral infections. With the immune system tamping down, it is vital to practice good oral hygiene. This will prevent the gums becoming inflamed, or gingivitis. While some women are nervous about visiting the dentist while they are pregnant, it is safe to receive dental X-rays with the caveat that the belly must be shielded properly from radiation.

Nails and Hair

Hair and nails tend to grow faster during pregnancy. An increase in estrogen creates an increase in the hair follicles’ growing phase, often creating a result of healthier and thicker hair. Hair may also increase in less desired places, such as the stomach, upper lip, nipples, and back. This excess hair is shed after giving birth. Nails tend to become more coarse in texture, causing them to become more soft and brittle. This can lead to nails splitting more easily. Like hair, the nails have a tendency to grow faster during pregnancy.

Skin

Three main skin changes are possible during pregnancy: stretch marks, a rosy complexion, and pigment changes known as chloasma or melasma. Stretch marks tend to itch and are purplish, pinkish lines that are particularly prone to appear on the breasts, posterior, thighs, and abdomen. The rosy complexion, or pregnancy glow, may appear due to the skin receiving an increase in blood circulation. Pigment changes, or pregnancy’s mask, are another common occurrence due to melanin increasing.

Heartburn

During pregnancy, the muscles that are used to break down food grow more relaxed. Changes in hormones also contribute to slowing down this process. Further, food remains in the stomach for a longer duration to allow the body more time for absorption of nutrients. Each or all of these factors can be the cause of heartburn or make it worse.

Constantly Evolving: Puberty and Menstruation

Constantly evolving is a new series documenting the ways in which women’s bodies change. Based on the time of the month or period of life, the series hopes to highlight the magnificence of the woman’s body.  

The previous “Constantly Evolving” article focused on external physical changes girls experience when going through puberty. In conjunction to evolutions in physical appearance, the female body undergoes a massive change internally with the start of ovulation and menstruation.

When girls are born their ovaries contain thousands of eggs called ova. During puberty, the ovaries begin to release estrogen and progesterone leading the lining of the uterus to become thicker.

Simultaneously, the hormones mature an egg and release it from the ovary. The egg travels through the fallopian tube and eventually reaches the uterus. This process is known as ovulation.

This lining of the uterus builds up in preparation for a fertilized egg, which would attach itself to the lining and begin developing. If there is no fertilized egg, the uterus sheds its thick lining and bleeds. The shedding of the uterus is what we call menstruation. This process then repeats month to month.

Girls most often get their periods for the first time between 9 and 14 years of age. Menstruation is often linked to weight, so many girls will not get their period until they exceed 90 pounds. If menstruation hasn’t begun by age 16, seeing a doctor is recommended. Periods may be irregular at first. With time, they begin to fall into a pattern that is easy to track and predict.

Periods can last anywhere from three to seven days. Some pain and discomfort is common, as the uterus is expanding and contracting to shed its lining. Pain can vary in severity, with some girls experiencing extreme cramping and back pain while others only find the cramps annoying. These variances are often caused by the level of prostaglandins the body releases. If experiencing severe cramps that interfere with daily life, girls should speak to their doctors to determine the cause.

Though information about menstruation is readily available, studies show that many women felt unprepared, shocked, and confused when they got their first period. The Constantly Evolving series strives to shine a light on the beauty of the female body and all the changes it endures to create and support new life. Sex education, as well as open communication about puberty, is necessary to break down stigmas and enhance appreciation for the female body.

Constantly Evolving: External Physical Changes During Puberty

Constantly evolving is a new series documenting the ways in which women’s bodies change. Based on the time of the month or period of life, the series hopes to highlight the magnificence of the woman’s body.  

During puberty, the body changes in incredible ways as it prepares itself to enter biological adulthood. Starting as early as 8 years old and as late as 13, the brain begins to release estrogen, the female growth hormone, which induces growth and change in the body.

Puberty is often a difficult time for young women. The body changes in very drastic ways which can be debilitating, uncomfortable, and confusing. Many young women also experience increased levels of self-consciousness during this period of their lives. These feelings are normal, as the amount of change can often make a young girl feel like an alien in their own skin. During this time of life the body changes in a variety of ways:

Weight Gain and Growth Spurts

Two of the first signs of puberty are growth spurts and weight gain. Many young girls will be taller than their male peers at this age since males experience growth spurts later in puberty. Body fat during this period can increase from 8% to 21% as the body prepares itself for menstruation and reproduction.

Body Hair Appears

Hair on the body will begin to grow on areas that have previously been smooth and hair-free, and may become darker and thicker on the arms and legs. Girls will start to develop a few hairs in the pubic area. As puberty progresses, more hair follicles will produce strands and they will start to get thicker and curlier as they grow.

Development of Acne

As hormones begin to surge through the body, girls will often start to experience breakouts of whitehead, blackheads, and pimples. The hormones that are likely to blame for this change are known as androgens, which enlarge the size of pores and create more sebum. Acne during puberty can also be caused by hereditary factors.

Developing Breasts and Hips

Puberty will cause areas of the body to widen. Hips, thighs, and butts will grow during this period since the body is preparing for eventual reproduction and childbirth.

During puberty, girls will also begin to develop breasts. Many girls will feel self-conscious when they start to develop if they feel like they are growing too big too quickly, not fast enough, or unevenly. Breasts continue to grow until women are well into their teens, and if they are growing at uneven speeds will usually even out eventually.

The nipples also begin to change at this time. Some girls nipples will become pink or dark brown, inverted or turned out, and hair may begin to grow in the region. These changes are normal and are mostly based on hereditary factors, as final breast size. Looking to maternal female relatives will often give a clue as to what breasts will look like when they finish maturing.

The ways in which hormones change the physical shape and appearance of women’s bodies is nothing short of incredible, but it can often disrupt a young girl’s sense of self. Suddenly, puberty can make who they see virtually unrecognizable to who they were a year ago. Other evolutions in the body can exacerbate these feelings, such as internal and cognitive changes, which will be discussed in the next few blogs. Check back soon to learn more!

The 101 on Feminine Hygiene Products

Have you ever asked yourself: “Is my discharge normal?” or “Am I supposed to smell this way?” You wouldn’t be the first. In fact, you’re only one of many. To accommodate these fears, the market in the last few years has been flooded by feminine hygiene products aimed at making women more confident surrounding their vaginal cleanliness.

Many doctors are wary of these products, suggesting that they may do more harm than good. After all, the vagina is a balanced ecosystem that produces healthy bacteria and fluids aimed at warding off infections. These normal processes are often mistaken for uncleanliness, so women turn to products aimed at hindering natural smells. Doing so, however, can lead to a variety of issues concerning vaginal health.

Problematic Science Involved

Since vaginal washes and wipes aren’t used internally, any claim that the soap is pH-balanced is unlikely. Even if it is, since it is used externally, doctors are skeptical that they have any effect at all on pH. Dr. Ugwumadu, a consultant gynecologist at St. George’s Hospital in London, writes, “There will be no difference in the pH of a woman using such products and a woman who washes with a normal shower gel – except that one will be lighter of pocket.”

More Prone to Infections

The natural processes your vagina goes through helps to keep you safe from infection. The efficacy of these processes depends on your vagina’s pH. A healthy pH ranges from 3.5-4.5. The bacteria produced helps to keep that pH balanced. Washing with soap, using douches, deodorants and wipes can eat away at that healthy bacteria, essentially making you susceptible to infections.

Not Regulated

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor the production of or the ingredients in feminine hygiene products. Since they are classified as cosmetics, the FDA considers them low-risk products. Because of this, it is important that women have an understanding of the ingredients these products may contain. While some are safer than others, steer free of products containing fragrances, alcohols, and glycerin, all of which can put you at risk for irritation or infection.
Doctors do not generally recommend these products, since they are rather unnecessary. However, it is acknowledged that feminine hygiene products may have a placebo effect that leads women to feel more confident about their smell and health. For that reason, as long as the ingredients are safe, women should feel free to use such products at their discretion.

Talking About Men’s Health

When discussing family health, the mother and children most often come to mind, but a huge determining factor in the health of a family unit is often ignored. Men’s health is seldom discussed, perhaps due to the stigma many men have about receiving regular care. Such avoidance of healthcare could be part of the reason why, on average, men have lower life expectancies than women, but biology and ethnicity may also be a factor.

Doctors and scientists have not yet figured out the cause of lifespan differences between men and women, but they do have a few suggestions on how men can improve their health and increase their chance at a long and fulfilling life.

Research Family Medical History

Many health concerns and conditions affect both genders, yet men should know of a few that are more predominant in their gender, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, colon cancer, and skin cancer. By discussing health history with family members, men can figure out certain health conditions or diseases they predisposed to. This information can then serves as a guideline to certain lifestyle changes, treatments, or tests and screenings men may need to take and receive.

Make Healthy Choices

Men are more likely participate in unhealthy and risky behaviors than women, such as smoking drinking, and avoiding medical care. If a man already knows what conditions he may be likely to inherit, changing their lifestyle can often impact their likelihood of being affected by it. However, all men should avoid smoking, limit their alcohol, eat a balanced diet of nutrient-rich foods, and exercise regularly to achieve optimal health.

Prioritize Mental Health

Men are more likely to face stigmas surrounding mental health than women are due to societal expectations and stereotypes. Since emotional vulnerability has often been seen as “unmanly,” too many men avoid treatment for mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. According to a 2017 report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men commit suicide 3.54 times more often than women.

Due to the opposing nature of mental health disorder symptoms and masculinity, men are more reluctant to seek help. Men are also less likely to be diagnosed with depression since the way they describe how they feel (i.e. fatigue, irritability, and a lack of interest in once favorite or enjoyed activities) are different than the usual symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. The only way to improve men’s likelihood to receive proper mental health treatment is to de-stigmatize the topic and make it a national conversation.

Men’s health is often overlooked and under-discussed. The conversation surrounding men and their health is vital to increasing life expectancies, treating mental health disorders, and ensuring a happy and healthy family unit. Many communities offer Men’s Health fairs, info sessions, and literature that seeks to educate men on why taking control of their health is important. Urge a man in your life to make more regular trips to a doctor or become more familiar with the conditions and symptoms to look out for.

The RESPECT Model

Visiting a new doctor for the first time can be an anxiety-ridden experience for anyone. Not only are you likely meeting a new person, but you’re also confiding in that person with a very personal matter: your health.

 

A recent survey from this summer found that nearly 40% of women indicated they felt at least “somewhat concerned” prior to their first OB-GYN visit. Because of this number, physicians are working harder than ever to establish an open and trusting relationship with their patients. The RESPECT model is helping to do just that, in OB/GYN offices and beyond:

 

R—Rapport. Building rapport with the patient allows her to connect with you on a social level, not just as another appointment to check off. It strengthens your relationship as a rapport helps you see from her perspective and refrain from making assumptions.

 

E—Empathy. This may be harder said than done at times, but remembering that the patient needs help, and is here to be helped by you will keep you in a compassionate state of mind.

 

S—Support. As a physician, it’s your job to help patients and any obstacles they bring with them. You’re part of their team, and team members support one another.

 

P—Partnership. You’re working as a team to fix any given issue, and for that to work, the patient must have an equal say and solid understanding. This also means negotiating roles on occasion, and being flexible when it comes to a matter of control.

 

E—Explanations. Of course, as a physician, you must explain new concepts to patients in ways that make sense to them. What might make sense to the doctor after years of medical school, residency, and a long career likely will need to be broken down for someone not as knowledgeable in the field.

 

C—Cultural Competence. These days, many patients and physicians come from different backgrounds. They have different life experiences. To work well together, they must be able to respect their differences, and adjusting a style of care to allow for them.


T—Trust. This also happens when the physician and patient come from different backgrounds. There needs to be a trust in place for the doctor to effectively treat the patient, but that trust is not always just given. Often, it must be earned, and taking the time to actively work to establish that trust is the only way to achieve it.

5 Other Reasons to Visit Your OB-GYN

A trusted OB-GYN is a critical part of any woman’s professional health team, whether or not you intend to have children. An OB-GYN makes sure your vagina is healthy and your reproductive system is in good working order. But, did you know that you can go to your OB-GYN for more than just those two things?

 

Screening for Breast Cancer

Think of your OB-GYN as the first line of defense in detecting breast and colon cancers. If your annual appointment includes a breast exam, your obstetrician should be the first to notice any strange growths or changes in your breasts. OB-GYNs can also do rectal exams.

 

Treating Depression

Though OB-GYNs are not psychiatrists, they’re still trained to screen for and evaluate mood disorders. Depending on the case, your doctor could start you on medication or refer you to psychiatrist. Because of your emotional connection with your OB-GYN, especially if they treated you through a pregnancy, they are a safe person to confide in and share your concerns with. If you’re pregnant, your doctor will also be knowledgeable on how the medication will impact both you and the baby, as well.

 

Skin Checks

Of course, while a dermatologist is trained to look for signs of skin cancer, your OB-GYN can still perform skin checks. And given how most people have between ten to forty moles, it’s not a bad idea to get a skin check during your annual visit. In the event they notice any suspicious growths, they can alert you early on and get you into the office of a dermatologist to take a closer look.

 

Family Planning

Unsurprisingly, as they have many pregnant patients, OB-GYNs are great resources in terms of family planning. Whether that means you discuss certain genetic conditions you could pass on or figuring out how to have “the talk” with your daughters, your OB-GYN can help address your fears and provide you with the most current information.

 

Bone and Joint Issues

Millions of women across the country develop osteoarthritis, which can be a devastating joint problem, and it can happen a good way away from the beginning of menopause. By measuring and recording your height yearly, your OB-GYN can catch signs like losing height. They can also perform bone scans to keep an eye on your mineral levels. If they can catch the development early on, you’ll be much better off.