All right, unlike the female characters in the Bridgerton Netflix series, you know where babies come from. But most women are woefully uneducated about their health, as this RCOG "Better for women" report shows.
I certainly felt like a Daphne when after the birth of my second(!) son I realised that still I knew very little about my body. Learning about how a woman's body changes through life stages made me aware of how much my health affected both my professional and personal life, from not being able to return to exercise to negative self-talk. This knowledge allowed me to do small tweaks for powerful results.
It also showed how crucial it is for women to explore their health and its effect on the goals they come to be coached on. Often, there is a strong relationship between the two.
Since my Daphne realisation, I helped 300+ women, talked to 150 women's health specialists, worked with various perinatal health charities, was invited to speak at the Governmental roundtable on improving UK's postnatal care (recommendations now included in the NHS Long Term Plan 2019) and ran 50 raise awareness events for women in my local community.
One conclusion is universal: Your health has a huge impact on your career progression, on how sexy you feel, on your self-esteem, your mood, your resilience, your parenting, your patience, your energy and resources to reach your goals.
Here are the top four things I learnt on the way that ALL women should know:
1. Pelvic floor is a muscle in charge of pee, poo, sex, and it is instrumental for posture & fitness levels. If you want to exercise, enjoy sex and not smell of pee in your old age, pay attention.
Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section, your pelvic floor is affected. 1:3 women experience urinary incontinence and 1:2 have a pelvic organ prolapse. (Learn more about childbirth-related health and what you can do about them here.) Stats are similar for menopause women who have never had children(!) due to hormonal change.
The biggest misconception about the pelvic floor is that it is always weak and needs to be strengthened by Kegel exercises. While actually, good pelvic floor function is about the range - the ability to engage and also to fully *relax*. When you are only strengthening and not relaxing, your muscle can become crumped and not function properly. Vaginal scar tissue (from episiotomy or tear) and C-section both affect pelvic floor function further.
See a specialist women's health physiotherapist at least once in your life and always after pregnancy to diagnose what *your* pelvic floor needs (check out the Squeezy App directory of specialist physios). Your needs are unique.
For women who want to return to/start running after childbirth, check out this Postnatal Running Guidance recognised by UK's physiotherapy, sports and exercise professional bodies. It is equally a good read for active women after childbirth on things to keep in mind about taking care of your muscles, joints, breasts and more.
2. Periods is the barometer of your health. Knowing what is normal for you can tell you a lot about your health. E.g. how stressed or fertile you are. If my periods are 3+ days late, it means I had a stressful month, a clear sign for me to slow down because in the past too much stress would crash my immunity and cause more serious health problems that needed longer recovery. I also know when to expect tender breasts, headache and low mood due to the hormonal change, and when those are out of *my* norm.
Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle also affect your energy levels and proneness to injury. In very simplified terms, elite athletes and their doctors report that an increase in oestrogen levels in the first half of the cycle (before the ovulation) commonly makes you feel more energised but also relaxes your joints and hence makes you more prone to injury. This knowledge becomes very relevant for women who rely on exercise as self-care.
I highly recommend starting tracking your cycle. You will be surprised how many things start to make sense just after a couple of months of tracking. There are many apps. My favourite is Clue - it's informative and easy to use, and the company are using the data to progress the research of women's health and are transparent about the data use. Or use pen and paper.
3. Sleep-Stress-Food-Habits. How sharp is your thinking? What are your energy levels like? Your mood? How are your resilience levels? How are you in conflict situations?
Human beings are ecosystems that change with age. In your 20s, you could go party and turn up in the office the next day and do an all-nighter for a deal closing. You can't do it as easily when you are in your 30s-40s, especially if you have young children. With all my clients, women or men, we explore health and lifestyle as a tool for personal mastery.
4. Menopause might sound like ages away. But the term "menopause" means one specific day 12-24 months after your last period after which point you are no longer considered fertile. All those hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety and other symptoms happen during the "peri-menopause" stage that for natural menopause start in your 40s and may last for a decade. For 1/100 women peri-menopausal symptoms may start in their 30s. Menopause can start at any age for medical or surgical reasons.
All of us will go through menopause, 75% of us with symptoms, and 25% with debilitating symptoms. Peri-menopausal symptoms are managed through a mix of lifestyle and medical treatments, depending on your condition. Something to have on your radar.
Use these four markers to explore how you function. Through self-discovery, you hone your energy and personal mastery for achieving more with more ease and flow. I would love to hear what you discover!
A lawyer-turned-coach, Anya Smirnova has been delivering executive coaching and health coaching since 2015. She loves supporting women to realise their full potential, particularly at times of transition in career/life when choices feel like “either/or” and the temptation is high to trade in dreams and ambitions for the security of the well-known. Her mission is to support more women to have senior positions while being fullfilled in their lives and careers.