Like most people with a uterus, I’ve had my fair share of general period suckyness and uncomfortable period moments. For example: the time long ago when I was on Nuva Ring and couldn’t get my cycle on a normal schedule…. and then ended up getting a surprise period explosion mid shopping trip (while trying on white short shorts.)
Really. You can’t make this stuff up. I’m pretty sure they play the cctv of me panic running out of the store at their Christmas parties.
Periods are inconvenient; let alone if you’re an individual with PCOS, PMDD, or other hormonal disruptions. I definitely can’t speak to that side of it, but over the years I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject and experimental testing on myself and I do want to pass along some handy tips on how the average period haver can make a period suck a little less when it rolls around. I’m going to split it up in to what to do before your period, during your period and after your period… are you ready?
BEFORE YOUR PERIOD
So prior to your period’s next appearance, you should grab a few items to get prepared. These are some things I absolutely swear by that make your period easier to deal with and more comfortable to exist with.
- First off- you NEED to get Thinx. Everyone with a period should own a pair (or three) of Thinx. Thinx are washable, period proof underwear that are worth every penny. I have a video review of me trying them for the first time which I’ve embedded below – and I’ve used them every cycle since. Typically I use Thinx as a back up collection method, instead of using a panty liner or pad- but do what works for YOUR flow. I find myself using only the Thinx undies on the first day or so when I’m spotting and then when my flow pics up, I add a period cup as my main collection method. The last few days when my flow is slow, I stop using my period cup and go back to only using the Thinx undies. They come in a variety of comfortable cuts and decent colours and accommodate the lightest to the heaviest flows- I feel they are perfect for peace of mind. Not only are they WAY more comfortable and work exponentially better than a pad or liner ever has, they are reusable so you cut down on so much waste you would have otherwise made with period products every month. After you wear them, you give them a quick initial rinse in the sink and then you toss them in the laundry with a load of darks. I’ve never had issue with anything else in the laundry staining or smelling because of them.
Thinx are seriously the best investment I’ve ever made in period self care. I wish they were around when I first got my period and I was struggling with my new womanly responsibilities. They are ideal for anyone- from a young teen to menopausal women who are spotting. I’ll continue to shout my love of Thinx from the rooftops- If you have a period, you should have Thinx.
- Consider swapping to a menstruation cup. Not only do they help cut down on the mass amounts of garbage created by period havers everywhere, they end up being a less expensive option over time, as you don’t need to be continuously buying tampons. It takes a period or two to get over the learning curve of using a cup, but once you do- you’ll never go back. The best part about the cup is you can leave it in for up to 12 hours. Yup. In all the years of using one, I’ve only needed to empty it in a public bathroom maybe two times, because I’m usually home within that 12 hour period. I find it easiest to empty it and rinse it while you’re in the shower, but regardless- it’s simple. You just empty it in the toilet, rinse it in the sink and pop it back in. DONE.
- The other item I’d suggest having handy before your period is a period tracking app called Clue. Clue describes itself as, “a menstrual tracking app, an encyclopedia, a resource for your health, and more”. I’ve used it for several years and it’s SUCH a great tool for you to stay on top off your period and self care. There is so many options to track different things, from the general options, to things like cramps, cravings, skin clarity, if you had sex, emotions, energy, your POOP – everything lol. It lets me know every month when to expect PMS – after inputting my info for a few months, it became scarily accurate and I now get a notification mere hours before I bleed. It’s wild. Having a tracking system allows me to start my period self care a few days before my period actually arrives which makes all the difference in the severity of PMS symptoms.
- I know many of you (like myself LOL) are gunna try and pretend this next one won’t help you… because you are the anomaly- blah blah blah. Talk to the hand. Having an existing exercise routine or making movement a habit in your daily life is known to help PMS. Seriously. Here’s the facts- Exercise prompts your body to release endorphins and as Elle Woods famously said, “Endorphins make you happy and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”
Now I’m not going as far as saying, “If you go for a run you won’t have PMS”- but with so much evidence pointing towards movement helping with menstration symptoms, it’s worth prying yourself off the couch and into an upright position. Try something low intensity like Yoga or going outside for a walk around the block. Exercise can also help combat depression, difficulty concentrating and fatigue symptoms.
- Another thing to do pre period (and maybe be aware of in general) is to avoid food and drinks that can negatively effect your body. I know it’s hard, we all crave exactly what we shouldn’t be having- but it creates a vicious cycle of unpleasant symptoms. Your gut bacteria changes along with your cycle, since it’s affected by your fluctuating hormone levels and that is why it’s extra important; regardless of how much you’re craving junk- think of the greater good. Things such as lots of salt or sugar or having caffeine multiple times a day effect your PMS symptoms. Caffeine causes your blood vessels to constrict and decrease the blood flow to your uterus, which can increase cramping. Salty foods increase water retention and cause further bloating- so put down the packaged food. Sugar causes fluctuating blood glucose levels and triggers cortisol production (known as the stress hormone) – it leads to higher levels of inflammation. Bad trans-fatty acids increase your prostaglandin production, which causes the uterus to contract- more uterus contractions means more period cramps.
Be aware of what you’re fueling your body with EVERY SINGLE DAY! Food can heal or food can harm. Choose foods high in antioxidants, micronutrients & minerals. Studies have shown foods such as Ginger positively effect PMS symptoms and Cinnamon can also have a significant effect on pain and menstruation bleeding!
It makes it so much easier to choose healthier options when you educate yourself on what certain foods are doing for your body.
- Plant medicines/ vitamins are beneficial (if taken consecutively) a few days before you get your period and have been found to help ease the severity of PMS symptoms along with promoting better general health. I found a really comprehensive article on herbs like Evening Primrose, Chasteberry and Dang Gui being beneficial for women’s health. Definitely worth the read. Also vitamins such as Magnesium or Zinc could be helpful for your cramps- They work by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus.
- Something else that will help your body in general is try and also lower your stress load and make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. Sleep deprivation leads to more stress, which then leads to cortisol production. Out of whack hormones can lead to heavier, more difficult periods. OUCH!
DURING YOUR PERIOD
I’m all about integrative medicine. I don’t think it has to replace western medicine but it can absolutely complement it. If you’re like me and aren’t comfortable taking pharmaceuticals every time you have your period for the next 35(ish) years, look to natural ways to alleviate cramps, moodiness and pain. Whatever you choose for your period pain relief- one thing seems to be suggested all around by health professionals- START EARLY. If you know you’re about to get your period, start your self care and pain prevention asap to make your cramps significantly less painful throughout the duration of your cycle.
Here’s a few ideas you could try:
- The classic hot water bottle or heating pad- the heat works by relaxing your muscles and increasing blood flow to your uterus. Amp it up by applying a Castor Pack with the heating source on top of that. Castor oil is thought to help aid circulation and stimulate your lymphatic system. You could also try taking a warm bath afterwards (try adding Magnesium to the water– it also helps muscle cramping, along with being great for your skin)
- You could try using Cannabis to alleviate pain, cramping or address the moodiness that comes with your period. Cannabis has been used to alleviate health discomforts for centuries because it’s very effective at treating inflammation and in some cases, helps manage pain. It does so by working with your endocannabinoid system.
All vertebrate species (hey that’s YOU) has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) and it’s one of the body’s largest neurotransmitter networks that is responsible for homeostasis. AKA keeping your biological functions in balance (such as your immune system, appetite, fertility, sleep & pain etc.) Very simply put, the endocannabinoid system communicates via messengers and receptors– the messengers (endocannabinoids and cannabinoids) tell your body to feel a certain way and do certain things.
We naturally produce our own endocannabinoids that help keep everything in a balanced ‘ok’ zone, but we are also able to supplement our body with the cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. You still with me? OK- so how cannabis comes into play, is the cannabis cannabinoids can bond to your receptors and they mimic your body’s own natural endocannabinoids (without disrupting your body’s own natural production of endocannabinoids). Cool huh?
Along with the essential oils that are found in the cannabis plant (called terpenes) the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes and work together to provide a wide variety of therapeutic effect and benefits to the human body.
Now if you’re vaguely familiar with cannabis, you’ve likely come across the terminology of the two main cannabinoids out of 100+ that have been discovered.
- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) – which is what makes you feel ‘high’ or inebriated when you consume Cannabis
- CBD (Cannabidiol) which is socially considered ‘more therapeutic / medical’ because it’s non inebriating
Though both are undoubtedly helpful and have their places- lets chat about why. As a stand-alone molecule, CBD has an impressive resumé. It’s known to help ease anxiety and as a natural anti-inflammatory, CBD can limit the degree of inflammation and swelling, without the gastrointestinal side effects of a NSAID (like Ibuprofen). YAY!
On the other hand, THC is known to help with nausea, pain, muscle spasms, appetite and more. It can also be a hell of a lot of fun 🙂
Research shows that cannabinoids are more effective when together – it’s known as the entourage effect. This is why it’s beneficial to use a product that is considered ‘Full Spectrum’ (meaning it contains a wide profile of cannabinoids & Terpenes that give the plant it’s unique attributes)
If you’ve ever tried cannabis recreationally, you’ve likely experienced that each strain of cannabis is different. Some turn you into a giggling couch potato, while other strains you could enjoy during an energetic activity like hiking or going to the gym.
Both strains would have THC present, but since every strain has a different terpene and cannabinoid profile, the affect you feel is very different. ALSO the dose that you consume will greatly influence how the compounds affects you, AND the ingestion method will effect how you feel (smoking a joint vs taking a tincture vs applying topical vs vaping vs edible etc.)
Cannabis is not a one size fits all. Play around & find the right thc/cbd content and terpene profile for your PMS needs and you’re in business my friend.
If you’re considering treating your menstrual woes with cannabis for the first time, “start low, and go slow”. Keep adjusting and keep track of what you’ve tried until you find what works best for you. I usually find a combination of tincture, topical and vaping works best for my needs.
If you’re not wanting to consume cannabis (or can’t because your job does drug testing) consider looking in to a topical cannabis product. Massage it into your skin over any aching or cramping spots.
- ON A SIMILAR TOPIC- Essential Oils are also known to help alleviate PMS symptoms. Many plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs or flowers contain compounds called terpenes and terpenes are present in most essential oils. Terpenes (along with giving a plant it’s smell) can positively influence your body (like we discussed above regarding cannabis). Some beneficial oils for menstruation include Clary Sage, Lavender Oil, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cyprus Oil, Peppermint Oil or Fennel. Give em a try! Remember to dilute slightly with a carrier oil if you’re applying topically. Want to read a little more about Essential Oils? I did an entire post on them- check it out HERE.
- People also swear by TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine’s like Livia. Basically the little machine attaches to your body with stickers and uses a low voltage electric current (a tingling or buzzing sensation) that in theory helps to block or suppress pain messages to your brain. I haven’t specifically tried the Livia device, but I have tried a TENS machine before when I was playing Hockey and it did work well for me. Using electro therapies is quite common in sports- TENS help facilitate movement in sore spots by easing the pain and enabling you to move more freely- hence why it also works well for period pain relief. It’s also a good mobile option for people on the go.
- Try Acupuncture – It is known to have a very high success rate for alleviating premenstrual symptoms. It’s a rather incredible alternative treatment, and works well for many people.
- Grab a Vibrator and go to town. Seriously. Orgasms release dopamine, oxytocin and other feel good endorphins into your system. These super-strong hormones can do exactly what painkillers do — reduce your menstrual cramps. It also makes you feel mentally good…. sooooo win win? 🙂 I like the brand Lelo and when I went to link them I realized they have an affiliate program so you bet I signed up LOL – Check out their vibrators by clicking HERE.
Remember: there is no pharmaceutical medication that combats specifically period pain regardless of the advertising on the box – so don’t fall for a marketing gimmick. ‘Period’ Tylenol or Nurofen ‘for cramps’ is purely pink washing a product- trying to take advantage of the fact that most people are after specific pain relief. Over the counter pain meds have the same active ingredient (usually ibuprofen)- so meds for a headache would act in the same way as meds for period pain or a sprained ankle etc. Please don’t get suckered in to over paying for the exact same thing in the box.
If you gotta reach for meds, you do you. That’s what they are there for. But I hope the above gave some alternate natural ideas to try first 🙂
AFTER YOUR PERIOD
- Remember to update your period tracking app with relevant information. Listen to your body and keep track of it.
- Eat lots of dark leafy greens or kelp/nori to replenish your iron. You just bled for days! Many period haver’s are anemic or low in minerals and don’t know it- keep up to date on blood tests and your levels.
- Examine your birth control method. Are you happy? Could you be happier with it? If you could make a change what would it be? Do you have an IUD and have a wicked heavy, painful period or you’re super lethargic? Maybe IUD isn’t the best option for you.
Learn more about birth control and your different options; Check out Dr Jolene Brighten– a leading expert in women’s health & reproductive health. She’s written a fantastic book called, ‘Beyond The Pill‘ you could check out.
If you feel your PMS is something that fully prevents you from living your day to day life- speak to a healthcare professional in order to rule out other health problems! Stay on top of your wellbeing- it is so important to listen to your body.
I hope you found this post helpful and bookmark it for future shark weeks 😛
Do you have period hacks? Leave a comment and help your fellow womynnn