Preventive Care: A Necessity, Not a Luxury

Preventive Care: A Necessity, Not a Luxury

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Don’t let being a busy mom get in the way of being a healthy mom

If you’ve ever been on an airline flight, you are probably familiar with the in-flight safety announcement that encourages passengers to put on their own oxygen mask first before they help others. The reason? If you don’t take care of yourself first, you could lose consciousness and be unable to help those around you.

Most moms view taking care of themselves as a luxury, not a necessity, which makes it really easy to put our own health-care needs on the back burner while we care for our children and, subsequently, ignore our own health. And unlike an in-flight safety announcement, there are few—if any—urgent reminders that we are more effective caregivers when we make sure our basic needs are met.

One way we can start wearing our proverbial oxygen mask is to prioritize our own health by setting aside time for preventive care. Like a lot of women, you might not view preventive care as a key part of effective parenting and personal well-being. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few preventive-care guidelines that can help you live your healthiest life.

Cervical cancer and human papillomavirus, or HPV, screenings. Screenings for cervical cancer used to be recommended yearly. Now, it is recommended that women get screened every three years, unless your doctor advises you to get them more frequently based on your medical history. Cervical cancer is slow-growing, so more frequent monitoring is usually not necessary. Because cervical cancer is very treatable when it is caught early, screenings can save lives.

Mammograms. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women between the ages of 50 and 74 should get mammograms every two years, and women between the ages of 40 and 49 should talk to their health-care provider about the best time to start screenings. Be sure to tell your doctor about any family history of breast cancer so that he or she can suggest an appropriate screening schedule for you.

Annual gynecological checkups. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommends an annual well-woman checkup. Your doctor can monitor your body mass index (BMI) and do pelvic, abdominal, and breast exams. If you are sexually active, your doctor can check for sexually transmitted infections. This is also a time when your doctor can get information and provide guidance regarding your physical activity, reproductive health, mental health, diet, and other areas of concern in addition to working with you to set health goals.

Diabetes screening. The American Diabetes Association recommends people get screened for diabetes every three years starting at age 45 unless there is another risk factor, such as a high BMI or high blood pressure.

Cholesterol checks. If high cholesterol runs in your family, you might need regular cholesterol checks; otherwise, the American Heart Association recommends adults 20 years and older be tested every four to six years. Since high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, it is important to get your numbers checked so that you and your doctor can come up with a strategy to lower your cholesterol if your results are abnormal.

Dental exams. Dental visits are not just for keeping one’s teeth clean and spotting oral-health problems. Oftentimes dentists can see signs of more serious medical problems based on the symptoms they see in your mouth. Your dentist can check for gum disease, oral cancer, and jaw irregularities, in addition to making sure your teeth are clean and healthy.

Self-exams. Not all preventive care needs to happen in a doctor’s office. Regular breast and skin self-exams are a good way to detect irregularities that might develop over time, such as any lumps, which could be indicative of breast cancer, or changes in the shape or color of moles, which could be signs of skin cancer.

Immunizations. Immunizations aren’t just for kids. Your doctor can look at your vaccination record and determine which booster shots or other vaccines you may need to maintain your health and protect the health of those around you. The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, or Tdap, booster, for example, is recommended every 10 years.

What if you go to your appointment and get a clean bill of health? An uneventful appointment does not mean you should avoid a wellness checkup for the next five years. Yearly appointments can give us both peace of mind and help us establish a relationship with a medical professional who can help us make sure future appointments are uneventful as well. If a medical crisis does arise, your doctor will know you and your medical history and be able to provide you with the best possible care.

The good news is most health insurance plans cover preventive health care. If you do not have insurance, Planned Parenthood offers general health-care services under Title X at discounted fees for people who cannot afford it. Typically, Planned Parenthood requires proof of income (such as pay stubs or child support) or proof of public benefits for patients seeking reduced-rate appointments.

The best way to keep track of your preventive care is to find a doctor you trust and make appointments annually for your preventive checkups. Once you have a doctor whom you see regularly, he or she will be able to keep track of your screenings and recommend others based on your unique medical history and risk factors. Avoiding preventive care might be convenient in the short term but can lead to unnecessary health risks in the long term.

One way to make preventive care easier is to try to schedule multiple appointments in one day. This saves on time and energy. Do you have any other tips for making sure that you practice preventive care?

Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Wellness–Mental Health Resource Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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