I was 13 when I got my first period. It rudely arrived about an hour before I was leaving for a week long camping trip with a friend's family. This is probably why, for years, I saw menstruation as a supreme fun-ruiner and utter inconvenience.
I hated how pads made me feel like I was wearing a diaper and a big sign over my head that said THIS GIRL IS BLEEDING. I began to think that life as a woman was a bit of a joke when 1/4 of each month was spent mortified and in pain.
Over the years, however, I began to realize that it wasn't the end of the world and that there were other options besides hiding out and suffering each month.
I also started to find more coping strategies that didn't involve taking Midol by the fistfull and screaming obscenaties at my uterus.
After my daughter was born, I felt like I had a whole new relationship with my entire reproductive system.
When my period came back, just before Gretchen turned one, I looked into more comfort measures and coping techniques so that I wouldn't always feel completely frustrated during those days each month. I learned to pay better attention to my body throughout the month and I started to recognize patterns in a way I hadn't before... like discovering that I become incredibly clumsy right before my period, which gives me a bit of heads up.
You know, like a tornado siren. Duck and cover.
Everyone's body is different...
...but I wanted to share some of the things that have helped me to make my period less miserable and I hope you'll find something in my list that you can try the next time you feel like your uterus is seeking some sort of revenge. I should add that I also don't see having your period as something that's bad, that's not what this is about. It's about sharing ideas that might help you or someone you know.
Periods are great. But like all great things, they aren't always easy.
Hot water bottles and rice bags.
This is one of the very first things I reach for. Heat = happy belly. Cozying up with a hot water bottle (these are pretty cute) or laying a warm rice bag across your abdomen is heaven when cramps strike. I like to lay beside a hot water bottle because I find it a little too heavy to have sitting right on my belly, but the rice bag (which you can make yourself in a jiffy, or you can literally just fill a sock with rice, tie it up, and go to town) lays nice and flat and is more comfortable.
You can also add some essential oils, like lavender or clary sage, after you get it nice and warm. If you have a microwave, zap it for about a minute (but be careful because the rice will burn if it's too hot, so just watch it).
If you don't have a microwave, you can heat it in a casserole dish in your oven, or you can lay it flat on a cookie sheet at 350-ish degrees. But please stand there and watch it so you don't start a fire. That would be the opposite of relaxing.
Also, if you've accidentally made it too hot and you can't have it right on your skin, wrap it up in a towel or sweater first and snuggle up.
Water, water, everywhere.
In, on, and all around you. Water is such a healing element. For cramps, drinking a lot of water can definitely make a difference. You have to stay hydrated (all the time, not just during these times) to keep your body working. If you suck at remembering to drink water through the day, try wearing a little bracelet that'll make you think of it (like a little blue bit of yarn), setting an alert on your phone or using an app like Waterlogged, or using a funky water bottle that you can carry around with you.
You can also add frozen fruit or something to make it a little less boring, especially if water doesn't thrill you. Some people love it, some people are kinda blah about water. You just do what you gotta do to get it into you.
I'm also all about showers and baths to help with cramps and stress during my period. Submerging yourself in water can relieve the pressure in you abdomen and you deserve some time away from life, so just sink into the tub and enjoy. Bonus points for adding your favourite bath products like a badass bomb or something... and you should rub yourself up with some lotion when you get out.
Showers are perfect too, especially if you have cramps with a side of headache. I always find that water pouring over my head and body is super helpful. If you go for super hot water, end your shower with slightly cooler water, and lotion up when you're dry.
You can add essential oils to your shower too. Again, lavender is great for feeling nice and mellow, and clary sage helps to balance out all those delightful hormones.
And hey, if you live somewhere where it wouldn't suck to stand out in the rain, do that. I bet it would feel awesome. And then you could take a nap.
I had heard friends rave about menstrual cups for years before I finally tried them out for myself and when I did, I was so annoyed that I hadn't hopped on the bandwagon soon. Like, wayyyy sooner. They changed my entire period.
In a nutshell, cups are more comfortable (I barely feel it at all), they are obviously environmentally friendly, cost-effective, I have less cramping, and I don't have to empty it as often as I'd have to change a tampon.
Over the last 7ish years, I've tried a few different cups, mostly recently the Ruby Cup. They sent me a cup to try out and I'm thinking about making the switch permanently. It sits nice and high, so I never feel like it's shifting, and the side walls are nice and thin for easy insertion.
If you're intimidated to try a cup, check out Put A Cup In It and watch their video on how to use a cup. It might take a bit of practice when you first try it out, but so did pads and tampons when you were a teen, right? I will 100% never go back to using anything but cups. I once had to use a tampon in an airport emergency (yeah, not fun) and I was in agony. Never. Going. Back.
Even if you just started using a menstrual cup to save some cash, do it. The Ruby Cup is around $40 CAD and can last up to 10 years. If we figure an average of 13 periods for a woman who cycles at 28 days, and $10 for a box a tampons... even if you only used one box per cycle, that's still $130 a year. Many women use 1-2 boxes of tampons, plus a box of pads maybe, if you're worried about leakage.
In a nutshell, menstrual products cost a fortune and then they end up in landfills, but you can rock your cup for YEARS. (Woop!)
Note: If you're still worry about leakage, pick up a few washable pads because they are SO MUCH cozier against your vag than their plasticky, papery counterparts. Promise. (Also, no sticky side that'll just end up giving you a free Brazillian when you accidentally catch your pubes in it. Just sayin'.)
One last thing I want to mention about Ruby Cup in particular, is that for each cup purchased, they donate a cup to a girl in East Africa. So awesome.
The right underwear.
This is one of the simplest things you can do to give your uterus a break. Just like I try to stay away from tight fitting clothes, or jeans that dig into my stomach when I sit, I opt for comfortable cotton undies when I'm feeling crampy. Anything that lessens the outside pressure on your lower belly is going to help. Go for the granny panties and own it. Sometimes I will buy my favourite underwear (the boy shorts from Joe Fresh) in a larger size (in black because staining, of course) to wear during my cycle. It's a small thing that makes a BIG difference.
Cozy undies + soft black leggings = the basis for my period style. You can start basically any outfit like this, whether you're working from home, or in an office. There's a good chance you can layer whatever you need to over these basics. Cotton undies are also better for your vag anyhow.
Basically, your uterus is nice and relaxed before an orgasm, but when you climax, that rush of blood helps to kick your cramps to the curb. Also, the contraction of your uterus brings on some awesome chemicals like oxytocin that act as natural pain relief.
If you're not comfortable with doing a duet at cramp o'clock, a little self-love goes a long way. You can also combine this with bath or shower time if you want to keep your laundry-doing to a minimum.
When I asked for some crowdsourced period coping techniques from my Facebook pals, this was one of the top answers:
"The all mighty O."
"All. The. Orgasms."
"Wanking followed by chocolate. Chocolate followed by wanking."
"If we're being totally honest (if possible) a little of the more bedroom-centric 'self-care'."
Live it up, ladies.
Ok, it's tempting to eat all the cookies and ice cream and chips, but I always feel better if I stick to the healthier foods. However, I'll admit to caving into cravings for the sake of my psyche at that very moment. Chocolate = happy for a little bit, even if I might pay for it later. Catch 22, baby. But you deserve a treat. And then a nap. And then an apology-to-your-guts salad or apple.
I know we shouldn't use food as an emotional crutch, but sometimes that's what you want in the moment and rational thought just ain't gonna cut it. So moderation is your BFF.
Just remember that the salty stuff can lead to bloating. (Boo hiss.)
Also, let's be serious. If you know for sure that all the treats are going to make you suffer even more, opt for the healthier side of comfort food-land. Oatmeal, chicken soup, pie. (Ok, maybe not that last one, but I'm hungry, so it's going on the list.)
Track all the things.
If you're not already doing this, you might want to start using a period tracking app on your phone if you're not already. I use Period Plus, which has a paid and free version. It's super handy to have all your cycle info in one place, especially if you need it for medical reasons.
You can even add in other info like what your flow and cramps are like, if you had sex (handy for when you're trying to conceive), your body temp, weight, and a bunch of other stuff. It's pretty much always a good idea to know what your body is up to.
Here are some more ideas from women who have tried a lot of things to make their periods less miserable.
I asked my good friends of Facebook land to tell me what works for them and they had some seriously awesome tips. A few I've tried and a few I haven't. Here we go.
Exercise. (Yeah, I know. But actually.)
"Exercise. It's so hard to get going, but I always feel better after!"
"Moving my body. Even though it's the opposite of what I want to do a dance class, some yoga, or even walking the dog help ease the pain."
"Yoga. There are lots of stretches specifically to do throughout your cycle. I find poses that open the hips and massage and stretch the lower back to be really helpful."
"I tend to fight myself right up until I turn the yoga DVD on but I feel SO much better after."
Tea. All the tea. MORE TEA.
"Red Tent Blend tea (or any combo of ginger, chamomile, red raspberry leaf)."
"Cherry Hibiscus tea all month long usually helps during that time."
"Real chopped up hot Ginger tea."
"Chamomile/lavender tea with honey or peppermint tea."
"Catnip tea!!! I can usually forgo meds if I drink this."
A few more ideas:
- bananas (the potassium is supposed to help)
- ibuprofen by the boatload
- "eating everything in sight" (yeah, I'm with you on that one... insatiable!)
- curling up with a good book
- endometrial ablation (this was the right choice for my friend Michelle and you can read about her experience here)
- a menstruation hut (ok, not actually, but Jill's post will crack you up)
- staying away from caffeine (grrr...)
- getting a hysterectomy (joking, of course)
- menopause (one day!)
Alright, uterus. I'm ready for the next round.
I hope some of these tips will help make your next period a little less crummy. I definitely dread it less now than I did when I was a teen. Coping methods ftw.
Do I love having my period? Not exactly.
But I do appreciate it and what it means aka that my body is pretty much doing what it needs to do. And that's pretty badass.