Like most womxn my age, I've gone most of life dealing with painful periods. Unfortunately, instead of getting to the root of the problem, most healthcare professionals prescribe hormonal birth control to mask menstrual cramps.
Spoiler alert: this is not normal.
It's frustrating to me that humans are so prone to taking the easy way out. Just take the pill and your problems will go away. Or maybe new problems will surface, but don't worry, there's another drug for that.
What if I told you that there are much healthier alternatives that don't cause depression, anxiety, etc, etc, etc?
I know what you might be thinking... but, Airy, I'm taking hormonal birth control to prevent getting pregnant! Well, my friend, I highly recommend that you reconsider and opt for a safer contraceptive. But that's not why we're here today. Today, we're talking about menstrual wellness (however, if you'd like to hear more about hormonal birth control and why I suggest you stop taking it then let me know!)
If you a menstruating human that suffers from monthly discomfort, I'm here to help. Here's what you can do to begin to get your cycle under control and get out of the fetal position every month.
Take Care of Your Body
Hopefully you are taking care of your body everyday, but it is especially important during PMS and the beginning of your cycle. It took me a long time to learn that the doughnut, coffee, or alcohol isn't worth it while I'm menstruating - sometimes I still forget.
Take a good multivitamin, I recommend this one from Sapling (use code chasingdharma for 10% off! Yes, I will earn a small commission) - not only do they use adaptogens in their products, but they are also certified plastic neutral and they plant a tree for every bottle purchased. On top of taking a multivitamin, I recommend you add maca, cacao, and adaptogens to your diet, and look for herbs that support the menstrual cycle. I found a locally made "Goddess Blend" tincture at a zero-waste shop that I take on the first day of my cycle and whenever I'm experiencing cramps or back pain.
My husband found an amazing herb blend called Stomach Chi at a health food store when I had altitude sickness, the bottle lasts forever and I've found that it works wonders for menstrual cramps! Not sponsored, I just truly love that product. I highly recommend Stomach Chi and a multivitamin if you aren't going to add anything else.
I'm only briefly going to push a plant-based lifestyle on you today. Removing dairy and meat from your diet will help you immensely when it comes to your cycle and fertility. Baby cows only drink their mother's milk for about as long as baby humans drink their mother's milk - I think we can all make this connection. I don't think I have to tell you about all the hormones and antibiotics in meat, either; please at least buy organic and make sure that you know what's going into your body if you don't plan on giving it up completely.
I think the most important decision I can make for my body every month is to avoid fried food, coffee, and alcohol. I used to be a coffee addict, so this was hard for me at first. Oftentimes I would honestly forget that I got my period and I'd have my morning coffee, those days were the worst. Try to cut out coffee for the first two days of your period, and if you can, a day or two before it comes, and see if it makes a difference for you! Alcohol can have the same effect, but it was always easier for me to avoid. I no longer drink coffee or alcohol (cacao milk and kombucha have taken center stage), so it isn't a problem for me anymore; fried food is a different story.
Not only are PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) terrible for your hormones, but when they oxidize, it triggers terrible cramps. I don't know the science behind it - all I know is that if I don't avoid them while on my period, I have hell to pay for it. I try to avoid PUFAs regularly, but especially when I'm menstruating. I recommend avocado oil and coconut oil instead. However, I still don't advise eating fried food when you're on your period, regardless of your oil of choice.
Additionally, try to reduce the amount of refined carbohydrates you eat while on your period. I, personally, don't get cramps from eating a bit of bread or a few pastries while I'm bleeding, but everybody is different, so I can't speak for you! If you decide to go for pancakes in the morning, a sandwich at lunch, and pasta with garlic bread for dinner on day one of your cycle, you may regret it - for more than one reason.
Get Adequate Rest
I've learned that I have to do nothing on the first day of my period. Your body is cleansing itself, and that takes a lot of energy. If I work, go for a hike, exercise, or do basically anything on the first day of my cycle, I notice a huge difference in how I feel - and not in a good way. I'm giving you permission to lay in bed all day, pick up a good book or binge watch Netflix. I'm very lucky that I have that choice nowadays, but in the days of running a food truck full-time, you could find me in the fetal position in the corner while Kyle danced around me trying to fulfill orders on his own. If I had it my way, all menstruating people would have time off on the first and second day of their cycle. I know that doesn't make sense in many professions, but let me fantasize for a moment. "Sorry, I can't come in today, my uterus is attacking me," I think most womxn would understand, and most men wouldn't want any more information. So anyway, where was I?
Coping With Cramps
Sometimes cramps are inevitable, we can't be perfect all the time. Last month, I ate a doughnut (or three) on the first day of my period. Okay, hear me out. We went to Voodoo Donuts the night before and got a half dozen of vegan fried goodness... and then my period came early. Like, a whole week early. What was I supposed to do? I obviously had to finish my half of the doughnuts, right? Let me just say, I totally regretted it afterwards.
So, you've taken my advice, and you're laying in bed doing nothing. Unfortunately, the cramps have surfaced and you want to cut your foot off to distract yourself. First thing is first, continue to do nothing, I mean it. Make sure you have all of your tools ready: hot water bottle locked and loaded, peppermint essential oil, Stomach Chi, magnesium oil, CBD, lavender in the diffuser, comfy clothes, fuzzy socks, book/remote in hand, maybe a hot cup of tea; now you're set. I can promise you that your cramps will pass much quicker than they would if you weren't following my advice. If you're lucky, you might even have the energy to go for a walk later.
Pro Tip: Make a list of everything you need to do to relieve your pain to refer to when your brain isn't working properly.
Did you know that when you're craving chocolate, what you're actually craving is magnesium? And that the vast majority of people are magnesium deficient? And that the best way to absorb magnesium is through the skin instead of orally? Well, now you do. If you haven't subscribed to my email list, you're missing out on a super simple magnesium oil recipe. I use magnesium oil daily, but I go hard when my period comes around. I like to blend my magnesium oil with shea butter, peppermint oil, and CBD into a lotion and apply it to my lower abdomen and back.
Peppermint is awesome for digestion, it's also awesome for menstrual cramps (just like Stomach Chi). Rub a few drops of peppermint oil on your lower abdomen and back, and either hold your hand or hot water bottle (maybe a cloth bag of rice) there until the cramps settle down. This helps me every single time, but I often forget to use the peppermint until my husband reminds me. Another option is to drink a hot cup of peppermint tea!
Flow Through It
Even if you don't do yoga, few postures that help with cramps are forward folds, child's pose, puppy pose, knees to chest, and any sort of spinal twists. I like to lay on my back and hug my knees to my chest for a few moments before twisting my knees to each side. Try looking up supine twist for some examples of this.
Honor Your Cycle
Many of us view this time of the month as a nuisance (myself included, some days). Your cycle is sacred, you are in sync with the moon and the tides. It's a sign of life and fertility, that's a beautiful and special thing. Try to honor your cycle by journaling or starting a little ritual for yourself. I like to make a list of all the things that I want to let go of (shed) and all of the things that I want to manifest.
Your menstrual cycle is a great time to reevaluate the things that are important to you, what you are grateful for, and the things that you want to release & receive. It can act as a reminder to take care of yourself and to reach your goals, but only if you let it.
I wish you all peaceful and painless periods!
Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to drop a comment below or send me a message if you have any questions or anything you'd like to add.