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70% of Moms Say Their Physical and Mental Health is Worse After Having Kids

Thrive Nutrition Practice is the home of the Thrive Mama Makeover, a targeted nutritional therapy programme to support the physical and mental health resilience of mothers. Cristina Tahoces, owner and lead nutrtionist, shares how eating with purpose can help you achieve your daily goals in her TEDx Talk "Sleep Love Poop".

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In honour of International Women’s Day, Thrive Nutrition Practice, a wellness center focused on supporting women’s physical & mental resilience, is sharing the results from their “Silent Warrior: A Mother’s Health & Wellness Survey”.

The data shows that the majority of mothers live in a state of low energy & high anxiety that keeps them from performing at their best.

Over 70% of moms say their physical & mental health is worse after having kids across more than three key areas of their health.

We need to do better.

We need to start supporting women’s health – and in particular – mothers’ health, with programs that target their specific physical and mental health needs.


What are the Top 5 health & wellness isssues that moms should watch out for?

THYROID HEALTH:

The rate of frequency & severity of hypothyroid symptoms rise more than any other health & wellness issue post childbirth.

Over 60% of women experience hypothyroid symptoms often or severely in the first year after giving birth; and the frequency and severity of these symptoms continue for years well after childbirth. Moreover, 74% of women rate the negative impact of hypothyroid symptoms as moderate or severe in terms of their quality of life.

Thyroid function is a big problem because the thyroid directly impacts mental health, brain function, digestion and hormonal balancing. And when we asked women which health & wellness issues most impacted their ability to reach top performance in their daily life, they cited, low energy, fatigue, weight issues and mental health symptoms (i.e. anxiety) as top factors. ALL these factors are affected by the thyroid.

Thyroid health also has a direct impact on our likelihood of developing life-threatening diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. We already know that there is a massive gender gap in how heart disease is diagnosed in women. Part of the problem may be start here: the lack of timely diagnosis for hypothyroid conditions.

MENTAL HEALTH

In the first year after childbirth, we see the frequency and severity of mental health issues triple in women.

It is not surprising that mothers rank mental health as the second most important issue which impacts their ability to reach top performance in their day-to-day life.

Anxiety is the mental health issue that women struggle with the most over the longer-term. One mom confessed,

“Since I had kids, my anxiety is so bad that any little thing throws me off”.

Silent Warriors Survey Interviews, Thrive Nutrition Practice

To make matters worse: stress, their reported lack of confidence (due to weight issues), lack of sleep & fatigue all impact how women rate their mental health and their ability to maintain a positive outlook.

WEIGHT ISSUES

The inability to lose weight or reach an ideal weight carries as significant an impact on a mother’s mental health, as it does on her physical wellbeing.

Over 50% of mothers describe their weight struggles as moderate or severe; and these women say their weight means they struggle with self-confidence on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, this struggle is not short term, as over 40% of mothers continue to describe their weight struggles as moderate or severe for years after having children. As one mom said,

“I know I need to go to the gym to lose the baby weight, but I’m so tired all the time”.

Silent Warriors Survey Interviews, Thrive Nutrition Practice

This quote basically sums up the language of despair mothers use to speak about their weight struggles and the hopelessness that many feel about achieving their weight goals.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have also seen in clinical practice, mothers who embark on either calorie restrictive diets or aggressive exercise programs (or both) – too soon after giving birth. These measures compromise their ability to cope with stress because they strain the adrenal system. In turn, this strain places further pressure on thyroid function; and the calorie restriction further reduces dietary good fats, which they need to support their memory and balance their hormones.

There is no question that the perceived need to lose the excess “baby weight” has significant physical & mental health consequences, which weigh on many mothers, not just in the first few years after having children, but well beyond.

MEMORY

Prior to pregnancy, only 4% of women reported issues with memory function. This figure increases to 45% in the first year after childbirth and only declines to 36% in the subsequent three years.

From a nutritional perspective, these results align with the medical research already published linking deficiency in omega fatty acids and the resulting potential for inflammation with both an increased risk for anxiety, depression and brain function. Omega fatty acid deficiency is a common risk for mothers because this nutrient is needed for the development of the fetal brain and the retina. After birth, omegas are also used to make breast milk.

And no surprise, mothers reported that baby brain was the fourth biggest health & wellness issue which impacted their confidence and performance on a daily basis.

IMMUNITY

The bottom line is – become a mom and expect your immunity to be compromised, especially in the first three years after starting a family.

Colds, bronchitis and sinusitis plague mothers. As one mom said,

“I had my first child 3 years ago and since then, every cold I get turns into sinusitis”.

Silent Warriors Survey Interviews, Thrive Nutrition Practice

Mothers report that their chronic respiratory tract infections also affect sleep, energy levels and as a result, their ability to perform at their best. Low immunity also has a tremendous negative impact on positivity & mental resilience.

Those are just the top 5 health & wellness issues for mothers.

We haven’t even got into the chronic pain issues which also increase in terms of frequency and severity after having children; the digestive complaints which also worsen and impact immunity, mental health, weight loss and debilitate a human being’s ability to ward off future health problems; the hormonal & reproductive picture which is rife with symptoms of estrogen dominance & chronic inflammation and for which the main remedy is the birth control pill or an IUD.

Unfortunately, our study clearly points to the fact that women can expect to see a decline in their health across a broad range of physical and mental health & wellness categories after having children.

But guess what?

Almost 40% of women do not seek professional help –

despite the fact that they recognise these symptoms impact their quality of life and their ability to achieve top performance.

Which is to say, the majority of women who have children function in a state of sub-par health on a daily basis.

Why is that?

Lack of time is the biggest reason.

Moms are time poor. There’s no time to go to the gym, no time for “me-time”, no time to meditate, no time to talk to their partner about how to distribute the mental load, no time to seek the help they need.

But also, an astounding 45% of women are losing trust in the medical system to offer a holistic solution to their health concerns; and they don’t believe that going to the doctor is a good investment of their time.

As one woman explained,

“The doctor says that all my results are fine, but I don’t feel fine”.

Silent Warriors Survey Interviews, Thrive Nutrition Practice

Today’s women want answers to root cause, not a band-aid to their symptoms – and rightly or wrongly, they see doctors as symptom treaters.

We need to start supporting women’s health – and in particular mothers’ health – with programs that target their specific physical and mental health needs.

What can you do now?

Push your doctor for the diagnostics you need to address root cause.

We need to go beyond the basic blood panel to include:

A full thyroid panel that tests for antibodies, if you are experiencing hypothyroid symptoms.

Our survey revealed that whereas 79% of women never or infrequently experienced thyroid symptoms prior to having children, a whopping 60% went on to experience hypothyroid symptoms either often or severely after childbirth. But only 5% more women were diagnosed with hypothyroidism in the year after they gave birth.

Whilst it’s true that 40% of women don’t seek the help they need, it is also true that the plain vanilla blood test which just includes TSH values is insufficient to screen adequately or correctly for thyroid disfunction.

Nutritional deficiency analysis to detect deficiencies in your vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and omega 3 fatty acids.

Why is this important? Let me just give you a few examples.

A deficiency in selenium – which a baby uses in utero to develop its nervous & immune system – could be a major reason for your hypothyroid symptoms (i.e. cold hands and feet, fatigue, constipation, no sex drive, losing hair). But if you’re immediately put on thyroxin, you will forego an opportunity to address these deficiencies and potentially reverse your symptoms.

A deficiency in VitD3 – which a baby uses in utero for bone development & then is siphoned to the baby through breastmilk – could be why you’re getting sick all the time because it plays a major role in immunity. Correcting it could play a major role in reversing chronic respiratory infections and decreasing antibiotic intake.

A deficiency in omega3 fatty acids could be contributing to your anxiety and histamine intolerance – two seemingly unrelated symptoms which often appear together in mothers with high levels of inflammation.

Include nutrition as a pillar for your physical and mental health

You can supplement till the cows come home, practice mindfulness, get a personal trainer, go to the gym every day, get a career coach, a therapist…but if you’re not eating right, you will always be treating the symptoms and not the root cause.

And if you’re a mom struggling with mental health issues — before you think nutrition has nothing to do with what you’re going through, please know:

Neurotransmitters like serotonin (your happy hormone) are made in your gut. If you are not eating in a way that feeds the good army of bacteria that lives in your gut — then you will forever be reliant on supplements and pharmaceuticals to address your mental health symptoms. AND, you will never maximise the power of mindfulness and exercise.

• Plus, there is a clear, clinical evidence that ties nutrient deficiencies (e,g, omega 3, B vitamins) to mental health issues like depression & anxiety.

• Finally – blood sugar. If you are eating in a way that makes your blood sugar spike too often throughout the day – then you are exacerbating your mental health symptoms and probably wondering why you can’t meditate and why despite going to the gym constantly, you still feel down on yourself.

Stop Suffering in Silence

We are all in the same boat and we are stronger together.

Be an advocate for your physical and mental health needs with your family, your friends, your health practitioner, your employer and even your health insurer.

It will take our collective voice to ensure that we get the targeted support we need to achieve optimal health.

Ladies, we have a long, hard road ahead to achieve gender equality and bridge all the gender gaps that exist. We all need to be giving it 100% and the quality of our physical and mental health will determine how impactful our contribution will be over the long-term.

Stop suffering in silence.

Reach out.

We need you in this fight.

The truth is, we can’t win it without you.

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