If there’s anyone familiar with change, it’s women. Their bodies go through several in a lifetime—beginning from the time zits appear on one’s nose until the time wrinkles appear on the face. In each decade, women’s bodies develop with the fertility cycle. Knowing the reason for these changes can help women of all ages accept why their bodies change and give them the perspective to embrace all aspects of womanhood.
Changes in Women’s Bodies
There are the first signs of puberty as there are the first signs of menopause. Girls start noticing changes in their bodies as early as age 8. During puberty, female sex hormones are activated, resulting in body changes. Girls become noticeably taller; breasts begin to develop, body hair grows in several areas, and fat begins to accumulate in the hips and thighs.
Menstrual periods begin two or three years after breasts develop, typically around 10-16. This monthly cycle begins with the ovaries producing an egg awaiting fertilization. If fertilization doesn’t occur, the uterus sheds its lining, and bleeding occurs for 3-7 days. The menstrual cycle lasts from 25 to 36 days, though, some women may have shorter or longer periods or may even have irregular periods.
Pregnancy And Breastfeeding:
The most significant changes in women’s bodies occur during pregnancy. Progesterone and other hormones become activated at this time. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in urine tests confirm pregnancy. At the onset of fertilization, progesterone protects the uterus from sperm and bacteria. It also works alongside hPL (human placental lactogen) to produce breastmilk. The hormone relaxin works to prevent premature contractions then relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis during delivery.
The most obvious sign of pregnancy is, of course, an increasingly larger belly. Some women may even develop stretchmarks and a dark line called linea negra that runs down the abdomen. This dark line tends to fade away in a few months or a year after delivery.
Hormone levels drastically go down after childbirth, which can cause postpartum depression. While some women overcome this on their own, others may require family and friends’ support or even professional intervention.
In the years after childbirth, women’s bodies continue to change. The excess pounds from pregnancy can continue to linger and may even increase as women’s metabolism slow down by age 40. Body mass and bone density also gradually decrease.
Gray hair and laugh lines start to appear as early as 30. By age 40, hair becomes thinner, and some may even experience baldness, where hair thins at the center or top part of the crown. Women can experiment with various hairstyles to address age-related hair problems.
Not everything goes downhill when you reach the age of 30. A 2010 study showed that women ages 27 to 45 have higher sex drives and more sexual fantasies compared with women in their 20s. This surprising discovery can imply two things: one, increased sex drive is due to a woman’s acceptance of her sexuality along with lesser inhibitions gained from experience, and two, it’s a biological response to declining fertility as she nears the end of her childbearing years.
Perimenopause refers to the months or years before menopause. Women may start noticing changes as early as their mid-30s until their 50s. At this time, estrogen levels gradually decline and may manifest as a change in the menstrual cycle. Some may experience heavy flows with short intervals, while others may encounter irregular periods or longer cycles. Aside from this, women may also experience body temperature changes (hot flashes and chills), sleep problems, mood swings, thinning skin and hair, and vaginal dryness.
Some of these body changes can cause discomfort in women and have an impact on their well-being and their relationships. Mood changes can result to greater irritability or even depression. Hot flashes can lead to insomnia and may result in problems concentrating or memory loss. Vaginal dryness and loss of libido can interfere with sexual relations. Urinary incontinence can also undermine self-control. Women who experience these symptoms may have decreased feelings of self-worth and can even withdraw from their partners and families.
As such, it’s crucial to manage these symptoms at the onset. A healthy diet and adequate amounts of water can help moderate emotions and decrease hot flashes. Regular exercise can strengthen pelvic floor muscles to prevent incontinence. Massage, lubricants, and therapy can revive sexual desire. Yoga, crossword puzzles, and sudoku can sharpen memory. Refraining from alcohol and drinking tea rather than caffeinated beverages can also help regulate sleep. Incorporating a healthy and active lifestyle can help alleviate the discomforts of perimenopause.
Menopause signals the end of monthly periods and childbearing. This often occurs at age 51 or 52. The first signs of menopause are a disruption in the menstrual cycle and accompanying body changes. Regular visits to the doctor can help women understand and manage symptoms of menopause.
Physicians can prescribe estrogen therapy, Clonidine, and Gabapentin, as various treatments for hot flashes. They can also advise the use of estrogen-infused vaginal cream to treat urinary symptoms, vaginal dryness, and relieve pain during intercourse. Women can also take low-dose antidepressants to manage mood disorders and anxiety. For women to maintain their bone density despite age, doctors can prescribe certain medications and Vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis.
Menopause is a crucial stage for women as it may pose several health risks. Thus, it’s vital to undergo several health tests to determine possible health risks such as heart disease, breast cancer, and thyroid diseases. Professional consultation allows menopausal women to adjust to these changes and to undergo medication to alleviate symptoms of menopause and other diseases.
Women’s bodies undergo several changes in a lifetime. These changes are often the result of hormone levels that dictate the reproductive system’s development. Women need to understand that all these changes are necessary to enable pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
However, not all body changes are reasonable. Perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms are quite unpleasant. These may cause women not to feel good about themselves and affect their self-worth and relations with others. Women need to accept these changes as part of aging and maturity. Such acceptance allows women to cope positively with all the changes their bodies undergo. Knowing about these changes also compels women to adopt lifestyle modifications to prevent illness now and in the future. An optimistic mindset can help women accept and embrace change as it occurs throughout their lifetime.