Uterine Fibroids: What are they? And how might they impact your birth experience?

Uterine fibroids are a condition that many Black women face in their lifetime. Many of our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and cousins have been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, and there is a statistically higher chance that we might also. 

What Are Uterine Fibroids? 

Uterine fibroids are a form of noncancerous growth on the uterus that often appears during a woman’s childbearing years. They are the most common form of pelvic tumors in women.

Fibroids can range in size from very small and not visible to the human eye to very large masses that can change the shape of the uterus, making it larger. It’s also possible to have a single fibroid or multiple. According to the Mayo Clinic, in extreme cases, multiple fibroids can expand the uterus so much that it reaches the rib cage and can add weight.

Many women have uterine fibroids at some point during their lives. However, what’s important to note is that uterine fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer.

Uterine Fibroids and Black Women

Uterine fibroids appear to affect Black women at a higher rate than other groups of women. In fact, according to OB/GYN Dr. Monica Ploetzke, Black women suffer from fibroids 2 to 3 times more than white women. Ploetzke also highlights that Black women tend to experience uterine fibroids at a younger age and often more severely than white counterparts.

While no cause has been identified, researchers have found a number of possible links as to why Black women are experiencing uterine fibroids at a higher rate, including genetics and family history, overall stress levels, having a diet higher in red meat, and lower in green vegetables, fruit, and dairy, and potentially, a lack of vitamin D due to the higher levels of melanin in Black skin. 

Uterine Fibroids and Pregnancy 

The good news is that while uterine fibroids can make the risk of complications during pregnancy higher, most women with fibroids have completely healthy pregnancies. Their effect depends greatly on their location in a woman’s body. 

The Mayo Clinic highlights in its research that most uterine fibroids don’t grow while you’re pregnant. However, if they do, they will usually grow in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In addition, most fibroids don’t cause symptoms during pregnancy. If they do, signs and symptoms usually include pain, pelvic pressure, and vaginal bleeding.

While the odds of having a completely normal pregnancy are high, when it comes to the birthing journey it is important to note that if you do have uterine fibroids, you’re more likely than women without fibroids to deliver preterm, or before 37 weeks. 

Also, keep in mind that having fibroids means that your chance of delivering via C-section is higher as well. According to WebMD, women who have fibroids are six times more likely than women without fibroids to need a C-section. 

What can you do? 

It’s important that you’re aware of these potential impacts on birth while keeping a pulse on how you’re feeling. If you do have uterine fibroids, here are three tips to in mind throughout your pregnancy: 

Mindful watching 

As always, it’s important to listen to your body. This is especially important if you are pregnant and have fibroids. If you feel any new or different feelings than you’ve felt before, make sure to keep your OB/GYN in the loop. Many women with uterine fibroids who do experience symptoms typically only experience mild symptoms. Keep in mind that generally, uterine fibroids grow slowly over time— if at all — and tend to shrink after menopause when hormone levels drop.

Healthy eating 

While there is little scientific evidence on preventing uterine fibroids, doctors agree that a well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables is always a good choice. During the nine-month cycle in which a child is developing, they are dependant on mom’s diet for the nutrients needed to grow. So, if possible, try to incorporate more fruits and veggies than you typically would during this important time. A great way to increase your fruit and veggie intake is starting the day off with fresh-pressed green juice. 

Less stress 

We could all stand to be a bit less stressed, but reducing stress levels is even more important for expecting mothers. While the human body is designed to experience and react to stress, continuously elevated stress levels can affect the body long term. So be sure to prioritize self-care in your pregnancy journey. 

Remember, uterine fibroids are usually harmless throughout pregnancy, but it is important to monitor them over time. If you do experience uterine fibroid symptoms throughout your pregnancy – abnormal uterine bleeding and pelvic pain – see your gynecologist as soon as possible.