I'm a 31 year old, fairly well educated American woman who enjoys doing research and seeking out information. And yet, after going through heinous PMS, infertility, hormone issues, pregnancy, and now postpartum, I am continually astounded by the amount of information I don't know about my body as I plough through each stage of womanhood, ignorant and flailing.
I can't help but pause recently and ask myself: Was I not paying attention in all those middle, high school and college health classes? Or was this foundational information never taught? I think it was the latter.
So why aren't we educating women about being — women? And I'm not talking about fashion, how to look sexier, breaking gender stereotypes, or abstract ideas like loving yourself. I'm talking about foundational, biological information about how a woman's body functions. Information that is basic — and fascinating — so each girl grows up innately knowing that having two-week periods and awful mood swings isn't normal. That certain foods help support different phases in your monthly cycle. That the pelvic floor muscles need more than just kegels to be healthy.
I continue to be maddened by what I wasn't taught, and am also forever grateful for the women I'm learning from through blogs, books, and videos. Amazing women like Marcelle Pick, Christiane Northrup, Alisa Vitti, Sara Gottfried, and Heng Ou.
I started thinking about things I want to tell my 7 month old daughter about her body. She can't even sit up on her own yet, but I want to have a healthy, normal way of speaking to her about these things. I don't want the next generation of women growing up uninformed. And I started to think about what I can do now to continue educating myself — and how I can help fill the gap for women in some of these areas. (More on this later!)
A Few Things I Wish I Learned In Health Classes
1. You have four phases that make a complete cycle each month — your period is just one of those four.
2. You can eat foods and perform different types of exercise in each phase of your cycle that support your body, instead of depleting it.
3. PMS is not normal — even if it is common.
4. You have three types of estrogen in your body — good, bad and the ugly. These need to be balanced through methylation in order to get pregnant.
5. You have a complex set of hormones, but can eat, exercise, and rest to keep them functioning optimally — and working for you and not against you.
6. The type of menstrual "tool" you use (tampons, cups, pads, etc.) during your period can affect the length, cramping, and other PMS symptoms.
7. Massaging your breasts can feel great, and promote breast health. Check this out for more about that.
8. The color of your blood during menstruation, and flow heaviness can tell you a lot about the health of your body.
10. You can track your cycle to gauge your overall health, as a way for non-hormonal birth control, and as a way to get pregnant more easily.
11. You don't need to be miserable before, or during your period.
12. Calcium/Magnesium supplements, along with essential oils can help reduce achiness and feelings of overwhelm/stress during your period — and can help you sleep.
13. You can workout too hard, and cause major stress and fatigue on your system.
14. Kegels can harm, rather than help your pelvic floor if both sides aren't balanced — and if you do them incorrectly.
15. Your pelvic floor health is far more connected to your core, and overall health than you think.
16. A lot of woman have painful sex — and there are noninvasive stretches you can do to make it enjoyable.
17. Pregnancy weight does not just "fall off".
18. Some women lose weight while breastfeeding, but some gain weight while breastfeeding, and keep it on until they stop.
19. You need to perform smart, gentle, but effective movements when you begin exercising after pregnancy — and especially need to focus on rebuilding your core and pelvic floor.
20. Stretch marks are not marks on the surface of your skin — they are caused by the breaking of the interconnected fibers in the middle layer of skin. Depending on your genetics, and how fast you skin stretches it doesn't matter how much skin cream you use, you could still end up with tons of stretch marks — or none at all.
21. You can work out your core safely to keep it engaged throughout pregnancy, aiding in better muscle control during birth, and an easier postpartum period.
22. Postpartum is not only physically taxing, but exhausting mentally, emotionally and hormonally as your body reconfigures itself after baby. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, age, and an unstable support system can make healing longer and more difficult.
23. 30-50% of women struggle with postpartum depression for a year — and beyond. Don't be afraid to seek help from professional counselors.
24. Although it is common, it is not normal to have prolapse or urinary incontinence after having a baby.
25. Relaxin can stay in your body up to 6 months after you have a baby — which changes the way your joints function in high impact exercise.
26. You hair falls out during postpartum. Mine stopped at about 6 months.
27. Doing planks, burpees and sit-ups can be dangerous for a woman in postpartum until they have closed the gap in their core muscles and rebuilt the core and pelvic floor.
28. The type of beauty products you use can effect your hormonal health. Look for products without fragrance and chemicals.
This list could go on, but I'll stop for now. In short, women's bodies ARE truly amazing, but instead of honoring and supporting our bodies, we often spend our lives fighting against them. And I think it's high time we start being educated about the frames, bones, tissues, vessels, and skins we live in.
Some of My Go-To Resources
The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried, MD
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Women to Women founded by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP
Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing by Christiane Northrup
PERIFIT: Improve bladder control and core strength founded by Artem Rodionov