Mums are so used to taking care of everyone else all the time that we often forget about us. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken my sons to the doctor over this or that, but ignored a health niggle of my own. Mums are just used to putting ourselves second.
But here’s the thing. When it comes to our health, we can’t. We really, really can’t. Because by putting our own health checks at the bottom of our stupidly long to-do-list, we risk not being the present mums we want to be for our kids. There’s a reason we’re told to put on our oxygen mask in an emergency before tending to our little ones: we need to take care of ourselves first, in order to be able to take care of them.
With this in mind, I asked my lovely GP, Dr Nicole Gouda, the health checks she thinks all mums with young kids should stay on top of. It was a general chat, and she asked me to advise readers to please follow up any of their concerns with their GP.
Here are her thoughts.
1. A cervical cancer screen
While you may have gotten the cervical cancer jab, Dr Gouda still recommends us mums get checked for the presence of the HPV virus in the form of a cervical screening test.
“Prior to cervical screening, cervical cancer was the biggest female cancer. So it affected the largest number of women, and that’s really dropped off now,” explains Dr Gouda who says she advises mums who have not been infected by the virus, or are immune through vaccination to get the test done every five years.
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“So even if you’ve had a cervical cancer vaccine you still start having cervical screening tests or CSTs from the age of 25, unless you’ve had sexual intercourse prior to having your vaccines and then we would do it earlier than that,” she says.
If you haven’t been vaccinated, then Dr Gouda suggests you discuss your risk with your doctor who will advise you when to start screening.
2. A breast cancer check
Dr Gouda encourages mums to do a self-breast check to feel for any suspicious lumps, but also to have their GP do one of these every year or two. This is because breast cancer makes up 13.2 percent of all cancer diagnoses, according to the most recent Australian Institute of health a welfare statistics.
“It’s not common that we find something concerning in young women but we do find it occasionally. I have found a few malignant lesions in young women over the years on examination. There’s no definitive screening guidelines about how often you should have breasts checked by a medical examination in this younger age group, but I generally recommend every one to two years,” says Dr Gouda.
3. A mental health check
As mums, taking care of our mental health is really important. Motherhood is taxing, overwhelming and stressful, and as Dr Gouda points out, sometimes a mental health problem can present as a physical ailment.
“Generally women come to see me because they sense there’s an issue with their mental health, but often they present with just tiredness and very non-specific symptoms, and it might end up that they have depression or anxiety.”
You can do a quick mental health check at Beyond Blue and follow this up with your doctor if you are concerned. As Dr Gouda says, our mental health is vitally important, not only for us, but for our whole family.
4. A skin check
Did you know that skin cancer accounts for 80 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in Australia each year according to the Cancer Council? As such, it’s vital that we get regular skin checks.
“I do see plenty of young women with basal cell carcinoma and other types of skin cancers, so skin checks are really important,” says Dr Gouda. “Depending on their skin, I might get them to come back more frequently, maybe every six months. But for some people every year or two might not be fine, it depends on what you find, but it is really important.”
5. A general overall check
Dr Gouda says it’s also a good idea that mums, every so often, get a general overall check when they visit their doctor, just to look at things like blood pressure, weight, sugar cholesterol and thyroid issues, which can be common problems in young mums.
“This is certainly not every time we go to the GP, but it’s something to think about if you haven’t
seen a GP for a year or two,” says Dr Gouda.
Dr Gouda also points out that a general overall check is worthwhile because sometimes health concerns are found incidentally. Alongside family history, she says a general check can be very revealing and pave the way for further investigations.
In all this, the important message to us mums is to try and stay well, not only for us, but for everyone who depends on us.
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