Hesperian Health Guides

More Ways to Prevent Illness

In this chapter:

Rest and Exercise

Work with your community to lower women’s workload. Stoves that use less fuel and village water sources improve everyone’s lives.


Most women work very hard cooking, carrying water, and collecting fuel to help their families survive. If a woman also works outside her home, she has a double burden. She may work all day at a factory, in an office, or in the fields, and then return home to a second job—caring for her family. All this hard work can lead to exhaustion, malnutrition, and sickness, because she does not have enough time to rest or enough food to give her energy to fulfill her tasks.

a man and a woman carrying tools; the man carries a baby on his back

To reduce a woman’s workload, family members can share the burden of work at home. Cooking, cleaning, and gathering fuel and water with other women (together or in turns) can also make a woman’s burden lighter. Whether working for pay or not, she might need help caring for her children. Some families organize childcare cooperatives, where one person cares for young children so that others can work. Each family pays something to the person caring for the children or they each take a turn.

Even more rest is needed during pregnancy. Everyone needs extra help from family members and friends to lighten their workload during pregnancy

a woman thinking while she works at a sewing machine
I am so tired of sitting! I need to get more exercise. Maybe I should walk home...


Most people get plenty of exercise doing their daily tasks. But if someone does not move much while they work—for example, if they sit or stand all day in a factory or office—they should try to walk and stretch every day. This will help keep their heart, lungs, and bones strong. Regular exercise also supports mental health and helps prevent depression.

Regular health exams

a woman holding a baby while standing outside a health center

Many STIs and cancers do not show signs until the illness is very serious. By then it may be too late to treat the problem.

You should see a trained health worker to check your reproductive system every 3 to 5 years, even if you feel fine. This exam should include a pelvic exam (explained below), a breast exam, a test for anemia, and an exam for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It may also include a test for cancer of the cervix (the opening of the womb). This is especially important for people who are 35 and older, as risk of cervical cancer increases with age.

Safer sex

Practicing safer sex protects you from STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

You can protect yourself from STIs and unwanted pregnancies while enjoying a healthy sex life. The main way to do this is by using a condom every time you have sex. Condoms are affordable, easy to use, and widely available.

Family planning

People are healthier when they can decide for themselves if and when to have children. Access to family planning enables you to make those decisions. If you want to have children, it is safest to delay your first pregnancy until your body is fully grown. Then, waiting 2 or more years between pregnancies lets your body regain strength and gives your baby time to finish breastfeeding. When you have the number of children you want, family planning lets you choose not to have more.

Good care during pregnancy and birth

Everyone should get care during pregnancy and birth to make sure that they and their babies are healthy. If you are pregnant, get regular check-ups from a midwife or a trained health worker. They can check for problems during pregnancy or birth that do not show signs you can see or feel yourself, such as high blood pressure or the baby in the wrong position. Good prenatal care can prevent problems from becoming dangerous.

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giving birth
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squeezing exercise
Family planning and good care during pregnancy and birth can prevent:

Fallen womb (prolapse). If someone has been pregnant often, had long labors, or pushed too early during labor, the muscles and ligaments that hold up the womb may have become weak. When this happens, the womb can fall part or all of the way into the vagina. This is called a prolapse.

the opening of a woman's vagina, with the womb and cervix showing
  • leaking urine
  • in severe cases, the cervix can be seen at the opening of the vagina
  • Space children at least 2 years apart.
  • During labor, push only when the cervix is fully open and there is a strong need to push. Never let anyone push down on your womb to get the baby out quickly.

Urine leaking from the vagina (fistula). If a baby’s head presses too long against the wall of the vagina during labor, the vaginal tissue may be injured. Urine or stool may leak out of the vagina.

  • Wait to get pregnant until your body is fully grown.
  • Get medical help if labor goes on too long.
  • Space babies at least 2 years apart so that your muscles can get strong again in between pregnancies.

Examine your breasts every month, even after your menstrual bleeding has stopped forever.

Regular breast exams

If you have a disability that makes examining your breasts difficult, you can ask someone you trust to do it for you.

It is common to have some small lumps in your breasts. These lumps often change in size and shape during your menstrual cycle. They can become very tender just before your menstrual period. Although it is rare, a breast lump that does not go away can be a sign of breast cancer.

You can learn how to examine your breasts for lumps yourself. If you do this once a month, you will become familiar with how your breasts feel, and will be more likely to know when something is wrong.

How to examine your breasts

a woman looking at her uncovered breasts in a mirror
Stand or sit in front of a mirror and look at your breasts. Raise your arms over your head. Look for any change in the shape of your breasts, or any swelling or changes in the skin or nipple. Then put your arms at your sides and check your breasts again

a woman on her back, feeling her left breast with her right arm while her head rests on her bent left arm; a folded cloth supports her left shoulder
Lie down with your left arm behind your head. Keeping your fingers flat, use your right hand to press your left breast and feel for any lumps.
a dotted line showing the back-and-forth pattern of a woman's hand examining her breast
Be sure to touch every part of your breast. It helps to use the same pattern every month. When you finish with your left breast, check your right breast the same way but using your left hand.

What to do if you find a lump

If the lump is smooth or rubbery, and moves under the skin when you push it with your fingers, do not worry about it. But if it is hard, has an uneven shape, and is painless, keep watching it—especially if the lump is in only one breast and does not move even when you push it. See a health worker if the lump is still there after your next menstrual period. This may be a sign of cancer. You should also get medical help if there is a discharge coming out of either nipple.

This page was updated:22 Jan 2024