It’s Prematurity Awareness Month, and a premature birth takes place more than 3 weeks before the expected due date.
Learn the signs and symptoms that you might be going into labor early.
Some of the greatest risk factors for premature birth are previous premature births, a pregnancy with multiple babies, smoking or drug use, and going less than 6 months between pregnancies.
Premature babies can deal with mild symptoms or more serious complications. Some signs include a small size, sharper features from a lack of stored baby fat, low body temp, and trouble breathing or feeding.
Premature babies will likely need longer hospital stays. Your doctor and a specialized team help care for the baby and can explain what’s happening every step of the way.
Short-term complications from premature birth can include issues with their lungs, heart, brain, blood, metabolism, and immune system.
Long-term complications from premature birth can include cerebral palsy, chronic health issues, and problems with their learning, vision, hearing, and teeth.
If you’re at risk of a premature birth, your doctor might have you take progesterone supplements or have a surgical procedure on your cervix. They might also have you avoid vigorous activity or go on bed rest for the end of your pregnancy.
Giving birth can cause a number of powerful emotions, especially as your hormones change. While you’re experiencing overwhelming joy, you may also feel anxiety or fear. These rapid changes can trigger postpartum depression for many women.
Many new moms experience something called the baby blues after giving birth. This usually starts in the first few days after delivery and can last up to 2 weeks. Signs of these blues include:
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Issues with appetite
But some new moms experience a more severe period of depression called postpartum depression.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
1 in 7 women will struggle with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a serious depression disorder that affects women after childbirth or miscarriage. This depression can then make it difficult to recover from childbirth and care for and bond with a newborn.
This is a complication from giving birth, not a character flaw or weakness. While there are many risk factors for developing it, there are some causes that might be to blame.
Doctors believe that one of the causes of postpartum depression is the radical drop in your estrogen and progesterone levels that can trigger emotional responses.
Other causes include sleep deprivation and the load of emotional situations layered on top of one another. These issues might include:
- Dealing with complications from childbirth
- Feeling less attractive
- Struggling with your sense of identity
- Concerns about being a new parent
Symptoms typically begin a few weeks after childbirth, although they can also appear later. For many, these feelings are most intense at the beginning and ease over time. Postpartum depression can last up to 6 months after giving birth.
Any new mom can experience postpartum depression, but your risk might be higher if you have:
- Trouble breastfeeding
- Multiple births, like twins
- A newborn with health problems or special needs
- A personal or family history of depression or other mood disorders
- Experienced depression after previous pregnancies
- Bipolar disorder
- Had stress over the last year, like pregnancy complications, illness, or major negative life changes
- Issues in your relationship with your significant other, support system, or finances
- Doubts about the pregnancy because it was unplanned or unwanted
Knowing these risk factors can help you recognize your risk before giving birth. Then you can plan ahead with your doctor.
Prevention When You Know You’re at Risk
If you have a history of depression or postpartum depression, tell your doctor about it once you find out you’re pregnant.
During pregnancy, your doctor can keep an eye on any signs of depression. They may also have you take depression screenings before and after delivery. They might recommend support groups or counseling, or even antidepressants in some cases.
After your baby’s born, they might also recommend a postpartum checkup to check for depression. The earlier they find it, the earlier they can start treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs that you might be struggling with postpartum depression include:
- Trouble bonding or caring for your newborn
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of sadness, sometimes overwhelming, and crying excessively
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Anger and irritability
- Severe or sudden mood swings
- Feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, or worry that you’re not good enough
- Cutting yourself off from loved ones
- Changes in appetite
- Fatigue, loss of energy, and trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in things you once loved
- Trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Dwelling on thoughts of death or suicide
If left untreated, postpartum depression can cause long-term issues in your family. It can last for months and sometimes become a chronic depression issue.
It can also interfere with your ability to bond with your baby, which can impact them in the future. Children of mothers who suffered from untreated postpartum depression have more emotional and behavioral problems. They’re more likely to:
- Cry excessively
- Have development issues, especially delays in language skills
- Have trouble sleeping
Many people feel guilty or embarrassed that they’re depressed after giving birth, which can make it hard to admit they’re struggling. But it’s time to see the doctor if your symptoms:
- Don’t fade after 2 weeks
- Get worse
- Make it hard to care for your baby or complete normal tasks
- Include thoughts of self-harm
Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, rule out other issues, and might ask for you to take a screening or questionnaire to learn more.
From there, they’ll help you decide on the best treatment depending on how serious it is and your medical history. Common types of treatment include:
- Therapy where you talk with a mental health professional in a safe environment
- Support groups for new mothers
- Medication, like antidepressants
- Healthy lifestyle choices, like getting plenty of sleep and water, a healthy diet, and regular exercise
If you have suicidal thoughts or think about harming your baby, it’s important to talk to your loved ones and get help from your doctor as soon as possible.
If you need help immediately, call a suicide hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Postpartum Depression in Fathers
New dads can also have postpartum depression, making them feel sad, fatigued, overwhelmed, or filled with anxiety.
Young fathers with a history of depression, relationship problems, or financial issues are the most at risk. It’s also more likely if the mother is also struggling with depression.
Left untreated, it can have the same negative effects on relationships and child development that a mother’s postpartum depression can.
If you’re a new father dealing with symptoms of depression or anxiety during your partner’s pregnancy or after your child’s birth, talk to your doctor. Similar treatments are available to help you.
In extremely rare cases, mothers can also experience postpartum psychosis. This condition is more severe and dangerous. Symptoms usually develop within the first week after delivery and include:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
- Sleep disturbances
- Agitation and obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
Postpartum psychosis is very serious and can lead to life-threatening thoughts and actions. It needs immediate attention and treatment. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience or see signs of it.
Helping a Loved One
People with depression may not see the signs in themselves or may struggle to acknowledge they’re depressed at a moment usually portrayed as nothing but joyous. If you suspect that a loved one is struggling with postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, talk to them and their support system about getting help immediately.
Waiting and hoping for improvement is dangerous. Talking about postpartum depression as a normal part of pregnancy for many women helps them feel better about their struggles with it.
As this issue is talked about more in the public, more women will recognize the signs and feel comfortable talking about it and dealing with it.
Just when you think the holidays are over and the thrill of the new year has finally tapered down, here comes February — Groundhog Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Mardis Gras, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents Day. February is a multi-themed, food-filled month of celebration.
We anticipate the shadow reveal of Punxsutawney Phil, we break out the football-shaped cheese ball to root for our team, we plan our menu of anything and everything on Fat Tuesday, and if that isn’t enough, we love to eat chocolates on the day of love. Then when it’s all over (and after a slight weight gain), we hit the mall for some comfy stretch wear with Presidents Day sale bargains!
But wait, how about doing something this month to celebrate our health and focus on our heart? If we can take advice from a small woodchuck about the weather, we surely can take advice from the American Heart Association about our health!
February is American Heart Month, and part of that is National Wear Red Day. For those of you who know me, my wardrobe pretty much consists of drab colors and neutrals, but this year, I broke out my red floral scarf for a splash of color as a symbol of support!
The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute encourage all of us to take action against this killer disease. Studies show that 80% of cardiac and stroke events may be preventable with education and action.
Find time to talk to your family and get everyone on board with heart health. Encourage healthy eating habits by making healthier versions of your favorite food. Choose foods and recipes low in sodium and with no added sugar or trans fats. When you shop, buy colorful fruits and vegetables, which are all powerhouses when it comes to nutrition, and stay away from dairy and meat products that are high in fat.
Fiber is important in your diet, and you can find fiber not only in fruits and vegetables, but also in beans, nuts, and whole grain. Take the time to read the nutrition labels on items, and check out the sodium content. (A general rule is, if anything has more than 250 mg of sodium, you may want to search for something with less.)
Physical activity can also help you stay heart healthy. It’s not only what you put into your body, it’s also what you put out. Exercise helps to improve heart health, and it can even help reverse certain heart disease risk factors. Our heart becomes stronger from exercise, which helps it pump more blood through the body and work at maximum level without strain.
Aerobic activities at least 3 to 4 times a week are the best. Choose walking, swimming, or biking, and allow for a good 5 minutes of stretching beforehand to warm up your muscles and a cool down period after you’re through. And of course, always check with your doctor before starting any new physical routine.
So this February, maybe forego indulging in lavish holiday food choices (remember that New Year’s resolution?) and celebrate in a new way. Go out and buy something red to wear to celebrate heart health AND 6 more weeks of winter, or will it be an early spring? Better check with Punxsutawney Phil before you go!
Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Protect yourself now. How can you reduce your risk of breast cancer? Learn more.
Find out what you should be doing to detect breast cancer early.
Create your early detection plan and make sure you’re protected from breast cancer.
Nervous about your mammogram? What you should know:
Use Beyond the Shock, a comprehensive guide to breast cancer, if you or a loved one is diagnosed.
Stories of hope offer support to those who have or care for someone with breast cancer.
How can you support the breast cancer cause? Get started today.
Getting your blood pressure checked is nothing new. But do you understand it all?
What Exactly Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure’s the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common disease when that pressure of the blood flowing through the blood vessels is too high.
If your blood pressure gets too high, it can cause serious damage which can lead to blockage which can cause heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
There are 2 main types of high blood pressure:
- Primary high blood pressure is the most common type and it tends to develop as you age.
- Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or use of certain medicines and it usually goes away when this issue is treated.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
- Age – Men usually develop it around age 45 and women after age 65.
- Race – High blood pressure and serious complications are more common for African Americans.
- Family history – It tends to run in families.
- Certain chronic conditions – Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure.
- Being overweight
- Not being physically active
- Tobacco use
- Too much salt
- Too much alcohol
- Too little potassium
- Too little vitamin D
If you have some of these other risk factors, your doctor may set your blood pressure target lower.
What Are the Numbers?
- Systolic is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts, the top number.
- Diastolic is when your heart rests, the bottom number.
What Are They Doing?
When a nurse takes your blood pressure, you might wonder what they’re doing. These are the steps they’re following:
- They wrap the blood pressure cuff around your arm.
- They place a stethoscope under the cuff at the crease of your elbow (where the major blood vessel of the upper arm is.)
- They inflate the cuff until it stops the flow of blood.
- They slowly loosens the cuff’s valve to let the blood start to flow again and listen for sounds in the blood vessel.
- Then, the first tapping noise they hear, they’ll note as the systolic number, the maximum pressure when the heart contracts.
- The taps fade, and they note the pressure at the last tap as your diastolic number, the minimum pressure while your heart’s at rest.
- Along with your numbers, they note which arm they took your blood pressure on and how you were positioned, like sitting with your feet flat.
Where Should My Numbers Be?
What to Do
|Maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid raising your levels.|
120 to 139
80 to 89
|Make lifestyle changes.|
140 to 159
90 to 99
|Make lifestyle changes. Possibly start a low-level diuretic.|
160 or higher
|Often 1 or 2 meds are required right away, plus lifestyle changes.|
Source: Consumer Reports, “onHealth”, Volume 23 Number 2
It’s also normal for your blood pressure to change when you sleep, wake up, are active, and are excited or nervous.
If you’re worried about your blood pressure, keep an eye on your levels and take them with you to your next appointment. A broad look at your numbers can help your doctor put you on the right track for heart health.