For some women, period cramps can be completely debilitating. They can cause nausea, migraines, diarrhea, and interfere with everyday life activities such as work or relationships. According to Alisa Vitti, the author of WomanCode and creator of FloLiving, period cramps cause the US Workplace to lose $2 billion annually; they are nothin' to play around with.
Prior to September of last year, I had been on birth control for almost ten years. I got on birth control in hopes of controlling my cramps because they were so terrible when I was first experiencing my period in middle school. I remember having sharp, shooting pains in my abdomen that felt like someone was stabbing me - no thanks. This, coupled with other symptoms such as nausea, hormonal acne, and overall fatigue, made getting on the pill an easy decision for me. That little pill had been chemically controlling my hormones for me and I never once experienced a period cramp while on it. I even chose to skip my period for a whole year while I was traveling abroad; crazy, I know. Not having to deal with a period interfering with my life seemed awesome at the time until I started getting more into holistic living last year. I quickly realized that I had been using birth control as a bandaid for almost ten years to cover up these symptoms and fears. Fast forward to September of last year when I made the conscious decision to get off of birth control and the cramps flooded in with full force.
After I stopped taking birth control, I lost my period for almost five months. I had spotting here and there, but my full, regularly scheduled periods were long gone. However, I was still getting cramps. My body wanted to bleed, but my hormones were so confused it didn't know how. This was so incredibly frustrating for me and I had many moments where the thought of getting back on birth control seemed like the best idea. Why am I doing this to myself? I'd think. But I wouldn't allow myself to go back down that path. I had already read the book WomanCode (two times), which was my reason for getting off of birth control in the first place, and had been cycle syncing for a month. I was dedicated to healing my body the natural way.
My periods these days are still a bit late, but are pretty normal otherwise. I do still get cramps for about the first 24-36 hours of my period, but they are nowhere near as painful or excruciating as before. Since I'm all about those natural remedies these days, I have an arsenal of tips and tricks I use when Aunt Flo is visiting for the week that make my period less painful and more enjoyable.
WHAT ARE CRAMPS?
An elevated level of Prostaglandin E2 trigger menstrual cramps while the uterus is contracting and expelling during the menstrual cycle. Prostaglandins are a group of fatty acid compounds with different hormone-varying effects, the most notable being period cramps.
I find that my cramps vary depending on my levels of self care and overall lifestyle balance. When I am on top of my diet (eliminating sugars/gluten/soy/dairy/eggs/meat), managing my stress and anxiety consciously, exercising regularly and according to my cycle, and regularly practicing self-care routines, my cramps are significantly less than if I were to throw that all out the window. Basically, the strength of my cramps depends on how I treated myself that month. I've observed that if I steer from those lifestyle choices, my period cramps are significantly worse, I get more hormonal acne, and I experience traditional PMS symptoms such as mood swings, night sweats, breast tenderness, etc... To keep myself in check, I track my symptoms and cycles on the MyFLO app to get in better touch with what I need and how I feel. It's the coolest thing to experience your body healing first-hand.
NATURAL CRAMP REMEDIES
I use essential oils for different aspects of my lifestyle (anxiety, abhyanga, etc...), but giving myself a belly massage while having period cramps may be the greatest use I've found thus far. Clary Sage is antispasmodic, meaning is naturally treats spasms and muscle related issues, such as period cramps, by relaxing the nerve impulses that we can't control. Rub a few drops of clary sage with a carrier oil (coconut, jojoba, almond, etc...) between your palms and then gently massage your lower abdomen/upper pelvic region in a counter clockwise motion with light to medium pressure. It works wonders! I've also applied this on my inner thighs, hips, and lower back when cramps are really intense.
By now, you probably know that I'm a huge proponent of having a healthy, well-balanced diet full of whole foods. This has made a huge difference in my overall lifestyle and allowed me to get my period back after it was lost. Western medicine can be quick to cover up symptoms with a pill or a shot, but that's simply a bandaid and doesn't address the true, underlying hormonal imbalance. After reading the book WomanCode cover to cover many, many times, I learned that there are certain foods that you should enjoy during the different cycles your body goes through. During menstruation, Alisa Vitti recommends foods higher in fatty acids to get more PGE 1 and PGE 3 into your diet since our levels of PGE 2 (as mentioned above), are already elevated. I also find that eating warmer meals such as roasted veggies, soups, overnight bircha, or kitchari during my period makes me feel my best.
FOODS HIGH IN ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
- olive oil
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- nuts (walnuts, almonds)
- pumpkin seeds
- hemp seeds
FOODS TO ADD INTO YOUR DIET
- seaweed (dulse, wakame)
- mushrooms (all kinds)
- reishi mushrooms (I like Sun Potion)
FOODS TO AVOID
These foods can cause excess inflammation and I've found that avoiding them causes less painful cramps. For many of us, we immediately reach for sweets or junk foods while on our period. But, I've actually noticed that the deeper I get into cycle syncing, the less I crave these foods.
- processed sugars
- raw vegetables in excess
HYDRATE HYDRATE HYDRATE!
H2O is the healer of all healers. During menstruation, us ladies lose a lot of liquids from our uterine lining and it's crucial to constantly be replenishing them. Dehydration during your period can actually worsen symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and brain fog. Avoid drinking sugary beverages and opt for big glasses of water, it's a quick fix.
During menstruation, your body is working overtime and your energy levels are low. Forcing yourself to do high intense cardio or cycling is not what your body needs during this time. Incorporating gentle yoga poses into your daily routine is beneficial, especially when you're on your period. I would not recommend doing any inversions while you're bleeding, as your uterine lining will travel back into your body. But some gentle yoga poses such as child's pose, supine twists, happy baby, supine butterfly, and camel pose can all help with pelvic discomfort. If you want more gentle yoga sequences, YouTube is full of free tutorials.
Know when you need to rest. Honor this time during your menstrual cycle and allow your body to release. It can be hard to relax and unwind in a fast-paced world. We tend to feel like we need to always be doing something or always stay busy but we rarely give ourselves time to just chill out. By tracking your cycles on the MyFLO App, you can plan ahead in preparation for your menstrual cycle. Get the hard, time consuming tasks out of the way, avoid planning a lot of social events around this time, buy yourself a bath bomb, and get the Netflix ready. Instead of scheduling gym time, schedule journaling time, meditation time, bath time, and nap time. Giving your body a chance to rest actually relieves a lot of the inflammation we can experience during menstruation. Low stress = low inflammation = less cramps. Science.
I'm a huge proponent of self-care every single day, but take a little extra time for yourself during your period. Simply recognizing and honoring the process of menstruation is a beautiful act of self-care.
How do you treat your period symptoms?
With love and light xx