Parenting And Aging: Do Women Age Faster After Having Kids?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

The connection between parenting and agingNothing is going to make you change your mind about having a baby, even if it means you may age faster. That is, if you accept the results of a few studies about the reduced life expectancy of women and premature aging after they become mothers. Certain studies on parenting and aging conclude that women age faster after having kids. While this may not alter your decision about becoming a mother, you may want to know how accurate the verdict may be. Just like many others, you may have your reasons to doubt these results as your mother is still going strong and looking young in her 70s after delivering more than one baby.

Parenting and Aging – What’s the Connection?

It is not without valid reasons that researchers have come to the conclusion that parenting and aging are related. The body undergoes certain changes after childbirth. While some changes in the body during pregnancy are temporary, other changes come to stay, though not all mothers experience them. Hormonal imbalance is common in mothers after childbirth. Estrogen and progesterone levels, which are balanced during pregnancy, can sometimes develop imbalances after the baby is born. Progesterone level goes down after delivery, and estrogen becomes dominant. Estrogen dominance can cause certain health conditions such as hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue.

Apart from hormonal imbalance, giving birth to a child influences the mental makeup of mothers. The focus shifts from self to the little one. Your exercise schedule, diet, and sleep take a back seat as the baby’s needs come first. Often the attention only returns to yourself when your child is old enough to be more independent. By this time, you may be experiencing more of the symptoms associated with aging.

Women are vulnerable to depression and mood swings after childbirth, which can cause chronic stress. Stress can advance aging symptoms, and this may be why parenting is considered to cause premature aging in mothers after delivery.

Holding your child on your hip for long periods can compromise your spine health, while lack of sleep affects your health and immune system. All of these factors can trigger signs of early aging.

Does Parenting Really Advance Aging?

It was Thomas Kirkwood who suggested that giving birth can shorten the life of the mother. His theory was that some of the limited energy reserves of the mother are spent reproducing, thereby advancing aging.

However, just as some research indicates that parenting and aging are related, there have also been conclusions that mothers who give birth to their last child later in life live longer. Research from Israel’s Hebrew University shows that the rejuvenating effects of pregnancy in women at a later age may support longevity.

Various studies have found that women with children live longer. The fact that mothers receive social support boosts their moral strength. Social support also helps them focus on their health thereby supporting longevity.

Parenting and Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue, parenting and agingAdrenal Fatigue Syndrome (ASF) is a health condition that is often wrongly diagnosed as the symptoms are commonly found in various other health conditions. The non-specific symptoms of AFS include fatigue, lethargy, allergies, depression, and difficulty in getting up in the morning. Parenting and aging are also associated with AFS.

Apart from postpartum adrenal fatigue, new mothers also experience drastic changes in hormone levels after delivery and chronic stress which can also cause AFS. Studies show that mothers working full or part time reported better health than mothers who were not employed. The reason assigned for this is the level of stress that they experience.

While working in an office can be stressful, the emotional depth involved in the stress at work and stress at home is not the same. You can afford to remain free of emotions in the workplace, whereas at home dealing with the needs of others 24/7 can tax you deeply. Nothing can be more stressful than when you are unsure why your child is uncomfortable.

Apart from health concerns, you can choose to quit the job that is stressing you, but you can’t quit your family. The level of responsibility at home can be overwhelming, causing chronic stress. This is also one of the main reasons why women experience adrenal fatigue after having kids, making parenting and aging seem like a natural process.

NEM Stress Response System and Premature Aging

NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response is a collective effort by your internal organs and biological processes to react to stress. A healthy NEM can handle many different stressors in a day, but it needs rest to rejuvenate, and the chronic stress of parenting can keep this from happening, leading to AFS.

When stress builds up, your cellular development is affected, causing accelerated aging. Women tend to be more stressed after having kids as they are constantly multitasking. Such chronic stress and anxiety can cause your telomere lengths to shorten. Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes, allowing your cells to replicate healthy copies of themselves. However, as they shorten, replication mistakes become more common, leading to aging. This is precisely why stress is associated with parenting and aging.

How to Reduce the Effects of Stress While Parenting

In spite of all the biological changes you undergo after becoming a parent, you can still stay young, postpone symptoms of aging, and live a long and healthy life.

Here is what you can do to reduce stress and prevent health conditions like AFS.

A balanced diet, parenting and aging

  • Stimulate oxytocin. This powerful hormone is stimulated when you breastfeed and hug your loved ones. Oxytocin is effective in relieving stress, which can cause AFS.
  • Have a balanced diet. In particular the adrenal fatigue diet, in which caffeine, processed foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners have no place. Have your food on time. Avoid junk foods.
  • Supplement your diet with herbs. Herbal remedies work for adrenal fatigue and also are effective in postponing signs of aging.
  • Exercise regularly. Practicing yoga not only strengthens your inner organs and regulates biological functions but also relieves stress and promotes peace within.
  • Get good quality sleep. Avoid using electronic devices for at least two hours before you go to bed. Sleep when your children sleep, and make getting at least seven hours every night a priority.

By making lifestyle changes, you can avoid the physical stresses that connect parenting and aging. You can be a good parent and maintain your health.

The Mind Play

No two individuals are the same, and no two mothers experience the same effects on health after pregnancy. Apart from the physical aspect, the psychological effects play a big role in health. There are many changes you go through as a new parent, and many difficulties to manage, but what ultimately matters is the way your mind handles everything. Accept things as they are, practice gratitude for these special moments with your children, and learn to breathe and go with the flow. Your attitude and perspective on life have a huge role in making you younger or older than your age. In the end, it is up to you to make parenting and aging two different things.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The fact that women who become mothers in their 30s live longer does not necessarily suggest that it is best to become a mom at a later age. It has risks too. Thus, it is best simply to focus on living a healthy lifestyle to avoid premature aging.

Parenting and aging