Vomiting. Nausea. Diarrhea. Back pain. Cramping that feels like you’re being stabbed in the abdomen. Sound familiar to anyone?
When I was about 16 I spent about 10 of my 14 days of Christmas holidays lying in bed writhing in pain, barely able to eat, and running to the bathroom every two hours to change a pad and a tampon.Shortly after that my then doctor put me on birth control to “manage my cycles.” They still were bad, but at least they never lasted more than a few days and the flow was much lighter.
When I came off the pill at 25 in order to start thinking about starting a family, the situation wasn’t much better. I remember a particular day at work when I was so desperate for a toilet I ran to the washroom that was supposed to be used for the therapy patients on my floor of the hospital. I felt so sick I wasn’t sure which end of my body to stick in the toilet. I couldn't leave the bathroom for over half an hour. People kept knocking on the bathroom wondering what was going on. It was humiliating. And it didn’t stop there. When I finally managed to come out I threw up in the parking lot on my way home. Gross.
Fortunately the picture today is a much better one. Thanks to the advice I received when learning to chart my cycles for natural birth control, and to the oodles of reading and studying I had to do for my certification as a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, many of my clients and I have been able to enjoy a whole new experience of our periods.
Here’s how to do it:
- Minimize or eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet as these leach essential nutrients from your body that help with pain-free muscle contractions of the uterus. A few years ago Kim and I got in the habit of drinking 2 or 3 cups of black tea per day and both of our cramps came back with a vengeance. You’ve got to cut that sh*t out.
- Eat vegetarian and preferably vegan for the few days right before your period. Animal fats are actually essential for reproductive health, but an overabundance of them can increase your levels of Omega 6 and 9 prostaglandins – hormone-like messengers that can cause inflammation in your uterus and lead to swelling and pain.
- Figure out what your vitamin and mineral deficiencies are and supplement appropriately. For example, low iron levels can cause heavy bleeding, low magnesium levels can cause painful cramps, and not enough omega 3s in your diet can cause inflammation and discomfort. My clients track their symptoms and we work together to figure out the right combination of supplements. Speak to a trained health professional to help you figure out the best combination for you. Be sure to track your symptoms so you can figure out what is helping you.
- Get yourself some cute period panties. Kim and I used to wear wornout, stained underwear when we were menstruating which doesn’t exactly make you feel super sexy. When we opened our store we discovered Lunapads and fell in love with their lunapanties – underwear that can be worn instead of a pad, or as a backup for a divacup or tampon. The cheerful designs totally shifted our association with getting our period. On the note of menstrual products, if you’re not happy with your current choice, try experimenting with different options to find something that fits your values, and your body. Some women adore the DivaCup, while others find it aggravates cramps. Some love reusable pads, while others find them bulky and uncomfortable. Some women like tampons with applicators while others prefer applicator-free versions. Like many things, it’s all about personal preference.
- Give yourself permission to chill out. It’s no coincidence we named our store Red Tent Sisters. We’re big advocates for reclaiming the red tent concept and helping women to honour their cycles. While it may not be practical in our society to hang out in a tent for several days a month, we can certainly implement some of the elements of that ritual. When you’re menstruating, do your best to scratch off any unnecessary to-dos on your list and schedule some self-care, whatever that means to you (I buy magazines and look at pretty pictures, Kim watches light tv shows like Glee and Friends).
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.