Working with women and their health

Why do we say women’s health? From my early days of lecturing health studies, we always said it seems right that we separate the person from the illness or topic. Another example of this might be saying ‘a disabled person’. Using the term ‘a person with a disability’ seems to fit better… so let’s talk in terms of ‘Women and their Health’. 

As women (and men) our lives are a constant cycle of change and development. Studying Lifespan development I found that there are actual names for all the ages and stages we live through. Separated into sections for ease this equates to: conception, birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood (parenting), middle-age (menopause), aging, older age, and end of life. Thinking of life in these terms gives some structure to understanding the challenges your mind and body might go through at each stage and the types of interventions that might be needed from a health and wellbeing perspective; and of course the specialists who deliver this. 

Let’s start at the beginning. 

Conception and Pregnancy

The food choices and habits that are made by a mother at conception and during pregnancy can have an impact on a person’s health at birth and later in childhood. For example, we are advised not to eat certain soft cheeses during pregnancy or other foods with raw ingredients like fresh mayonnaise with egg, because they might carry bacteria such as salmonella. Another food to avoid is shellfish and tuna which can have an impact on the unborn foetus if mercury is present. These foods if contaminated can cause cerebral palsy and other birth defects, through nerve damage for example. Also, if a woman cleans cat litter when pregnant the toxocara (eggs) in the cat faeces can cause blindness in the unborn baby; if the mother ingests this in some way, rubbing eyes or not washing hands afterward for example. 

The next stage is birth where maternal behaviours can once again cause the baby harm. Likewise, if the STD Chlamydia or Herpes virus is evident during the birth of a baby, this can cause eye infections, visual impairment, and even pneumonia. Sometimes when the birth is imminent and if a mother discloses Genital herpes, a caesarean section might be carried out to limit transmission. 

Next onto Childhood with its own ‘right of passage’ illnesses such as chickenpox and also a potential diagnosis of developmental delays as children grow. Growth and Development are two separate subjects because as we grow this can be measured pretty accurately with a tape measure, but development is a little looser with ‘milestones’ as the guide. Not all children have the same opportunities in life and if we look at physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social development (PILES), we are asking quite a lot of our children to hit the milestones all at the same time as each other. Development is therefore shown over a few months. 

So who looks after women at these challenging times of their lives?

Midwives tend to look after the expectant mums, specialist Health Visitors work with very young children. Nursery and early years workers and primary school teachers come next to help support the development of our children and when things are out of shape we tend to call on the Paediatric team of specialists to help. Additionally, there are Occupational Therapists who are trained in a variety of disciplines who will carry out diagnostic tests on children to identify conditions and delays or behaviour difficulties. 

Next we have the Speech and Language therapists who identify speech difficulties or support families who have a child with a disability, encouraging them to implement programmes to develop speech, or if a severe disability, such as with swallowing difficulties. Children who are displaying educational challenges may be referred to a Special Educational Needs teacher at school or for further diagnosis and programme planning they might be referred to an Educational Psychologist. There are at least 6 careers in this part of life, not just associated with women, with the exception of the Midwife. Midwifery is a competitive role to access with many applications every year through UCAS.

Adolescence comes next with all the physical, hormonal and emotional changes this brings. Sometimes specialist services are required such as CAMHS (children, adolescent mental health services) where trained youth Social Workers and support workers provide help and support. It has been reported recently that there can be a two-year wait for these specialist services. Between the ages of 9-16 young people face challenges with social and friendship groups, they start to be influenced by others, rather than their carers, and parents and the media play a part of course. 

By looking at life stages, even to adolescence, there are a number of careers available, including those mentioned above. Have you considered a Family Support Worker, a Social Worker, Sexual Health Worker, a Gynaecologist, a Urologist, a Menopause specialist, Breast Feeding specialist? The list is endless and over the coming months, we will consider more of these roles.

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