Having a positive menstrual experience may seem impossible, but what if I told you the secret to having a stress-free period just requires some patience, knowledge and practice?
With many forward thinking brands challenging the inadequacies of conventional menstrual products and modern attitudes busting out-dated and misogynistic taboos, we are lucky to live in a time when menstruation no longer threatens to hold us back from being our best, most empowered selves.
Navigating our periods can still be challenging without a little extra support. With an almost overwhelming bounty of information available to us on the internet, and dozens of menstrual products readily available, knowing what to buy, eat and do for yourself can be overly complicated.
That is why, in celebration of National Women’s Health Week, I want to provide you with a simple, comprehensive one-stop resource for all things Self-Care for that time of the month. Having both mental and physical practices can make or break a menstrual experience so I hope these tips will help you in ways that can positively impact your quality of life for the rest of your time as a beautiful bleeding human.
Tip #1: Choose PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) over PMS
Do not underestimate the Power of Positive Mental Attitude. Society has taught us that our period is gross and pain is inevitable. So why not just curl up in fetal position and suffer through it? We have been made to feel powerless, ashamed and scared, but we can stop letting our periods take over our lives. Actively changing your relationship with your period can be hard work. However, adding a little more compassion for your self and for your body is first step to a more positive period experience.
It can be extra frustrating when you feel like your body is betraying you. “Why does my period have to come NOW? Can’t it come later? I have stuff to do.”
By rejecting shame and anger, and instead approaching your period with compassion and understanding, you overcome your first major obstacle. An empowered bleeder is one that has a dialogue with their body. Help your period help you. Take a moment to remember, despite what you have been told, your period is not a punishment. It is natural. Your ancestors bled and your ancestor’s ancestor’s bled. You are a bad-ass bleeding warrior and it’s time to think like one.
- Allow yourself to slow down, if your busy schedule allows. Your menstruating body deserves extra attention. Your reproductive organ is completely shedding itself, to be fair. It IS a big deal. Pain is natural, and you are so strong for being able to push through it.* Be kind to yourself; you’re doing great. If you need to cancel plans with friends because you’d rather rest at home, that’s more than ok. They’ll understand.
- Here’s a quick exercise: On the first day of your next period, find time to take a minute to just breathe. Actively force yourself to only think loving thoughts about your body. Even if it is only for 60 seconds, and even if you’re faking it, take the time. It’s a practice that will get easier.
* The pain I refer to here is describing moderate period pain that accompanies an average, healthy menstrual cycle. If you experience severe period pain, you may have PCOS or other more serious conditions. If you experience severe period pain, you should consult a medical professional immediately.
Tip # 2: Eat mindfully and uterus-fully.
The old adage goes, “You are what you eat.” Hopefully what you are not, is bloated and sad.
Your bleeding body functions better when you mindfully choose what food you eat. Though it seems more obvious to change our diets depending on the time of year, it’s less obvious that our bodies need different sustenance depending on the time of the month.
If you want to eat a whole tub of ice cream, I certainly will not stop you. However, if you often feel bloated and lethargic and you feel like it’s cramping your style (no pun intended) here are some dietary tips including foods, drinks and supplements! :
- Avoid really salty foods right before your period. In preparation for menstruation, the body retains more water than usual. A salty diet can exaggerate our body’s water retention making us feel extra puffy and bloated.
- Avoid too many carbohydrates, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages the day before, and on your heavier days of bleeding.. The sugars in carbohydrates can contribute to bloating, and your already lower-blood pressure is not best paired with alcoholic or caffeinated drinks.
- Instead, go for juices, teas, lean proteins and hydrating foods like light soups, salads or smoothies with vitamin rich fruits and vegetables. Always think hydration; the more water the better.
- During your menstrual cycle, it’s not uncommon to become temporarily deficient in a few crucial vitamins and minerals. Specifically, B vitamins can be lost through the process of bleeding. A deficiency in B vitamins can cause extreme fatigue and moodiness, which are both menstrual symptoms we’re all too familiar with. It can even cause your hair to shed more than normal as B vitamins are needed for hair health. This is why it’s essential to include vitamin B rich foods in your diet or through a multivitamin containing B vitamins. Foods such as macadamia nuts, eggs, tuna, and fish are all great sources of B vitamins!
- Additional iron rich foods such as kale, broccoli and spinach, or taking iron supplements can be helpful in supplementing the iron loss from bleeding. Make an extra effort to supplement iron intake if you are an extra heavy bleeder or have been diagnosed with Anemia (a fancy word for iron deficiency)
- Magnesium is another important mineral that can have a huge effect on menstrual symptoms, like mood swings, cramps, headaches. Magnesium helps the muscles relax, which as a result, helps calm these fluctuations. Spinach, brown rice, and fish are all great ways to naturally get your daily requirement of magnesium and should be eaten consistently.
- You may be surprised to find out that zinc is involved in the production of female hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. Since zinc is involved in the process of women getting their period, it also can be a solution to the symptoms that come along with it. Since zinc has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help relieve severe menstrual cramps. Foods such as beef, cashews, and pumpkin seeds are just a few zinc-rich foods you can use to help it all feel just a little more manageable.
Tip 3: Move dat Body.
Exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing when you feel crampy, bloated and tired. However, even getting a minimum amount of movement into your body can make a HUGE difference in relieving tension and getting better rest.
- If you’re not the athletic type or getting a full throttle work out feels like too much, take a brisk 30 minute walk to help get your circulation going in a way that will ease cramping and stiffness .
- Throughout your day, find time to do some basic stretches. Deep lunges, low squats or some deep breathes in child’s pose can be easy but really grounding. Your hips, lower back and abdomen are doing a TON of work to support your uterus, and its normal for them to feel a lot tighter than usual. Stretching into those areas can do a world of good towards easing your discomfort.
- Be sure to reward your body with a hot bath or shower. Adding calming aromatic epsom salts to help ease tense muscles, or a few drops of essential oils can encourage deep relaxation. Lavender and Lemongrass are personal favorites.
Tip # 4 Not all Menstrual Products Are Created Equally
Now that you’ve cultivated a deeper awareness of your body’s needs during your period, you may begin to notice that certain menstrual products just aren’t doing it for you anymore.
It’s very common to stick with what you know. Depending on what you were brought up with, you may continue using the same exact product, heck, the same exact BRAND, for decades without changing.
Menstruation is such a personal experience, and if you feel fully taken care of and supported by your menstrual product, then by all means, go with with you know and love. That being said, if you feel that the conventional menstrual products you grew up with consistently let you down, join the club. Conventional products like name brand pads and tampons can be inefficient at catching flow, terrible at offering us more comfort at an already uncomfortable time of our lives, and generate a lot of waste in our garbage cans and landfills.
The good news is, there are plenty of alternatives! We are in a golden era of eco-friendly, cost-efficient, body positive menstrual products, but there are many factors that go into choosing the best option for us. At the end of the day, you’ll know what is best for your body and for your bank account. Need a place to start? Ask yourself these few pivotal questions:
Do I prefer methods that catch flow outside of my body? Or do I prefer insertable techniques? Which technique makes me feel more comfortable?
Do I mind needing to restock my shelves every month? Or would I prefer a reusable product that won’t leave me hanging if I unexpectedly run out?
Answering these basic questions will be of great help in figuring out what method to try.
- If you don’t mind restocking your supply regularly, check out brands like Organic Initiative or Natracare pads and tampons. Both of these companies are careful to avoid using any chemicals or bleaches in their cotton material, unlike the traditional brands you would typically find in the pharmacy. This is important because your vagina is absorbent. Whatever is going into your tampon, goes into you. It’s also definitely worth mentioning that both Natracare and Organic Initiative’s tampons refuse to package in plastic. Consider that 17,000 plastic tampon applicators are found on the eastern coastline of America every year. By choosing a brand that avoids plastic, you are actively helping protect marine wildlife and coastlines Go you!
If environment is a high-priority but you don’t want the extra work of restocking your shelf every month, reusable products are the best route to go. Though they cost more up-front, reusable products like menstrual cups reusable pads and period-underwear can be used for years, rendering them much more cost-effective over time.
- There are plenty of reusable pad and period-underwear companies out there, creating cute and comfortable designs with sustainable materials. Reusable pads work by clipping around your underwear. When it’s time to change them out, simply wash them by hand or in the washing machine. If you’re in or around the Americas, LunaPads and GladRags have a great variety of sizes to choose from.
- If you’re keen to avoid a bulkier sensation in your pants, period underwear is an item of clothing that allows you to bleed directly on them. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, you’d probably already heard of the uber successful underwear brand Thinx. However, notable period-underwear brands are on the rise in the Southern Hemisphere as well, such as the New Zealand based and Māori-owned company IamEva (www.iameva.co) and Australian based ModiBodi.
If you have a heavier flow, (special shout out to fellow copper IUD owners), pads and menstrual underwears are sometimes not enough coverage on their own. The other reusable period product making huge strides in popularity in recent years has been the menstrual cup.
As for recommendations on cups, there’s really no other cup like the FemmyCycle menstrual cup. Out of the ever increasing number of companies putting out cups, FemmyCycle stands out for some significant reasons.
- Firstly, FemmyCycle is unbelievably soft. FemmyCycle is so soft, in fact, customers have often commented that they can’t feel their cup at all.
- Secondly, there is the unparalleled efficacy of FemmyCycle. When inserted correctly, FemmyCycle cup can be entirely leak-proof and kept in place for 8-12 straight, allowing you a perfectly uninterrupted shift at work or good night’s sleep. Not even organic tampons can eliminate the stress of those urgent 3 AM bathroom trips we are all too familiar with. For some, that stress-relief alone is a flat-out life changer.
- Thirdly, no other cup is sized like the FemmyCycle. Based on cervix level and body build, FemmyCycle is one of the rare cups that factor in anatomical variation. That is the kind of attention to detail you get with a menstrual product that was designed by a doctor.
Want some even more protection? There’s no harm in doubling up on any of the above methods, (except of course, from using two insertable methods at the same time! Only ever use one insertable method at at time!)
Phew! You made it to the end, and hopefully you are inspired to approach your period with a more confident, empowered attitude. You got this! You should be incredibly proud of embarking on this journey of alternative period self-care. Your curiosity and dedication to having a comfortable period will reap immense benefits to your over-all quality of life and for the lives of your fellow bleeders.
May your period be stress-free, my friends! You deserve it!
Julia Barrett-Mitchell is an award winning filmmaker, writer and performer from Brooklyn, New York. She is currently acts as Head of Media for FemCap Inc. and FemmyCycle.