Women's Health: Reproductive Years
From menarche to menopause, your reproductive years can be an exciting and tumultuous time. Some women will find fulfillment by experiencing pregnancy and motherhood while others may grieve the loss of this dream as infertility prevents them from bearing their own child. Within reason, modern women have the means to choose when to become pregnant, and some will choose to forego motherhood altogether. Whatever your choice, make the most of your potential by taking care of yourself.
Taking care of yourself during your reproductive years can help ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes, peak performance during career-building years, and a healthful postmenopausal life. In addition to some of the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle, there are some special 'musts' for women during their reproductive years.
Health During the Reproductive Years
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don't smoke
- Avoid excess alcohol
- Manage stress
- Practice safe sex
- Maintain a healthy urinary tract
- Plan for pregnancies
- Practice preventive care, including monthly breast self-examination and protecting your skin from excessive sun exposure
- Receive regular health care
Smoking puts your health at risk anytime, but for a reproductive woman, smoking can put your child's health at risk. Don't take chances with your health, or the health of your children. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program before you become pregnant.
Avoid Excess Alcohol
Your lifestyle during your reproductive years can impact the health of your pregnancies and determine your future health. Women that use alcohol excessively put themselves at risk for health problems and liver damage. Women contemplating pregnancy should be aware that alcohol ingestion during pregnancy could harm their baby.
Your reproductive years can include some of the most fulfilling moments of your life. They can also be a stressful time as you struggle to achieve career goals, seek fulfillment as a stay-at-home mom or juggle life as a working parent. As you struggle to meet the needs of your children, partner, friends or coworkers, it may be hard to find time just for yourself. It's not 'selfish' to take time for yourself. You will work more efficiently and have more to offer your family if you take time to recharge your inner life by pursuing some interests just for you.
Try and find a balance in your life. It's easy to lose your own identity as a woman if you identify yourself only in your roles as mother, wife, provider and friend. Remember that these hectic years of raising a family won't last forever. As your children grow, they will separate from you and you'll need to have your own interests to fall back on.
If you find yourself feeling sad, alone, or unable to cope, talk to someone. Emotional stress can affect your health and increase your risk for depression. Be sure to seek professional help if you are having difficulty sleeping, losing weight or find yourself more irritable and prone to tears than usual. Depression is more common in women than men and experts estimate that up to 25% of women will experience depression at some point in their lives.
Practice Safe Sex
There are at least twenty different organisms known to cause sexually transmitted diseases or STDs. Currently, experts estimate that there are more than fifty million Americans that are infected with some type of STD. STDs can have more serious consequences for women than for men. Women may experience few symptoms and have an STD go undetected until reproductive organs are damaged. Be sure and see your doctor right away if you have any unusual vaginal discharge or you think you might have been exposed to an STD. Avoid douching as you may actually wash away 'friendly' vaginal bacteria and increase your risk of infection.
Whether you are contemplating becoming sexually active for the first time, or you are with a monogamous partner, learn about the risks of sexually transmitted disease. Some contraceptive methods such as condoms and spermicide, can reduce your risk of contracting a STD, however, the only sure way to avoid an STD is abstinence. Be smart and plan for a healthy sex life by discussing STD risks and the best prevention strategies with your doctor. Don't put your life or your ability to have a baby at risk.
Maintain a Healthy Urinary Tract
During reproductive years, many women suffer problems with their urinary tract. Millions of women suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs). Women are particularly susceptible to UTIs because of their anatomy. Intercourse can contribute to UTIs as the penis pushes bacteria into the urethra (the tube that connects to the bladder). Wiping after using the toilet can also contribute to UTIs if bacteria from the anus are pushed into the urethra.
- Always urinate after intercourse
- Always wipe yourself from front to back
- Drink at least 8 cups of water each day
- Drink cranberry juice
Another problem with the urinary tract that women may encounter is a loss of bladder control or incontinence. Experts estimate that as many as 25 percent of women between the ages of thirty and fifty-nine suffer some loss of bladder control and leak urine. Talk to your gynecologist about Kegel exercises. Kegels can strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and may help for women that have mild incontinence. Kegels are great exercises for women who are pregnant, planning pregnancy or who have given birth; the weight of the pregnant uterus puts a lot of stress on the muscles of the pelvic floor.
Plan for Pregnancies
Women today have choices. Choosing to become sexually active does not have to mean choosing pregnancy. Women have a multitude of contraception options available. These options can promote healthy mothering by allowing women to decide when they feel ready to become pregnant without forcing them to abstain from sexual activity to avoid pregnancy.
There are so many birth control methods available that it's hard to know which one is the best for you. Schedule a visit with your gynecologist or women's health specialist to discuss your contraceptive options. Take the time to plan for pregnancy and you'll have made the first step toward being the best mother that you can be.
During pregnancy most women make a special effort to eat well and take care of themselves. But, preparing for a pregnancy should start long before conception. While balanced nutrition, regular exercise and a healthy weight range should be a priority for all women, this advice takes on new importance for women who wish to become, or have recently become, mothers.
Preventive Health Care
Women can be active in keeping themselves healthy by participating in preventive health care. Women, and men, have unique, ever-changing health needs and risks. By participating in routine preventive health care, you can assure that you are aware and prepared for these changes and minimize your risks. Check with your own doctor about any additional routine care you might need. Be an advocate for your own health by learning how to practice preventive health care and by asking questions of your health care provider.
Reduce your risk of skin cancer and prevent premature aging of your skin by minimizing your exposure to the sun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage people to limit their sun exposure, use sunscreen and wear protective clothing when they are exposed to sunlight, and avoid artificial sources of UV light (such as tanning beds).
Focus on the Important Things
I doubt that many women will reflect back on their reproductive years and wish that they had worked harder to keep their house clean or spent more time at the office. Try and let go of some of the pressures that push women into trying to be everything to everyone. Make time for your close friends and family. If you are a mother, take time to cuddle, read books and listen to your children. Prioritize the people you love as the most deserving of your time and 'don't sweat the small stuff'.