Women's bodies constantly change as they age, give birth and move through life. These changes aren't necessarily bad, but they can shake a woman's confidence in her appearance and make her wonder if everything she experiences is normal. The key is knowing what to expect. Here are four surprises you might run into along the way.
1. Urinary incontinence
Women have more trouble controlling their bladders than men do throughout their lives. This stems from a number of causes, including giving birth, menopause and the natural weakening of bladder muscles over time. Talk to your doctor to come up with a treatment plan right for you. Your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam and may use diagnostic tools such as urodynamic testing, a urinalysis or a bladder stress test to confirm urinary incontinence.
Depending on the source of your incontinence, treatment may include lifestyle changes like avoiding drinking liquids before bedtime or limiting caffeinated and carbonated drinks. Eating a healthy diet and, if necessary, losing weight help prevent obesity and diabetes, both of which are associated with a risk of urinary incontinence, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
2. Becoming more prone to gingivitis
Birth control and pregnancy hormones lead to a higher risk of developing gingivitis, according to research from the Women’s and Children’s Health Policy Center. The severity of gingivitis can increase throughout pregnancy and, if left untreated, women will likely have the gum disease after giving birth.
The solution is to fit in dentist visits during pregnancy, as “… ensuring that women maintain optimal oral health during pregnancy may have a beneficial impact on their personal health, as well as that of their offspring,” the researchers write.
3. Changes in body shape
Even if you've had a pear-shaped body your whole life (more weight concentrated in your hips and thighs than belly), don't be surprised if you see your body shape change post baby and starting in your 40s. Pregnancy can cause you to pack on a few pounds that linger long after the baby has been born. In your 40s, 50s and 60s, you burn fat more slowly than before. This can lead to what WebMD calls "meno-pot," the apple shape women tend toward post menopause.
The solution is likely what you'd expect: eat healthy, exercise and avoid stress.
4. Loss of height
After about age 30, people start shrinking, and women shrink at a faster rate than men, according to a National Institute on Aging study. The loss of height can come from worsening posture and the onset of osteoporosis, which leads to rounding of the shoulders and upper spine. Women are thought to lose about 1 to 3 inches in their lifetimes, the study found.
To prevent height loss, make a conscious effort to improve your posture with exercises like yoga, and speak with a health care provider to find out if a calcium supplement is right for you.