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Prior to getting pregnant for the first time, I used to buy and use regular tampons. And I had the “normal” cramps and pain and irritability and bloating and all the fun stuff that goes along with that time of the month. So fun, right?
Post- pregnancy I couldn’t quite bring myself to use tampons anymore (I have no idea why), so I used regular disposable pads. It wasn’t really better. After my second pregnancy, I switched to cloth. This was better. And a few weeks ago after getting my cycle back postpartum this time, I noticed something new: absolutely no pain, whatsoever. Nothing. Other than the obvious “messy” factor, I wouldn’t have even known I had it. (It’s been better in other ways, too, which I’ll talk about below.) And this is possible for others, too.
So many women struggle with pain around their cycle. Some are basically incapacitated for a few days each month. How terrible is that, that what is a normal biological function can completely knock women out so frequently? And how inconvenient, too — what if you have a job, or children? How are you going to deal with your normal responsibilities? Not to mention having to cope with the pain.
It isn’t normal. And it doesn’t have to stay that way.
The reasons for this pain (also known, in some cases, as PMDD — Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) are related to health. Diet, environmental factors, hormonal imbalances. A lot of people do not realize that there is something “wrong” when they are suffering this way. We are told it’s par for the course, and that you will just have to take OTC drugs, or possibly prescription drugs, in order to manage the pain. Women are even told that they should take hormonal birth control in order to “balance” their bodies — which is a terrible idea! This introduces synthetic hormones, masking the problems (in some cases), but certainly not solving them.
Women struggle with painful periods for the following reasons (this is not an exhaustive list):
- Thyroid disorders
- Other endocrine/hormonal issues
This leads to signs and symptoms like:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling too cold or hot
- Mood swings
- Appetite changes, food cravings
- Weight gain
It’s rough to feel this way. Especially when it feels unpredictable (for women with longer or irregular cycles). However, these symptoms are there for a reason. They’re there to clue you in to what’s going on with your hormones, and if you can solve the puzzle, you can find relief!
Hormonal Shifts are Normal
Women have natural hormonal shifts throughout their menstrual cycle. It’s normal. What’s not normal is the wild swings or imbalances that some women experience. Subtle, yet obvious shifts are expected.
You can read more about what’s normal in my post on tracking your fertility signs. This is something that is a good idea for all women to do, so that they can get a clear picture of what’s going on with their bodies. I’m beginning to track this myself now since I have gotten mine back postpartum (on cycle #2 now…and so far I’m pretty sure I’m not ovulating, but otherwise it’s perfectly regular and normal! More on that in a minute).
Tracking your cycle variables — temperature, cervical position, and any symptoms you’re having (like above) will give you a clue to what is happening, and help you to balance your hormones.
Try using Fertility Flower to help you keep track of all of these variables. It’s the perfect place because it already has everything you want to track on the forms.
Naturally Balancing Your Hormones
When I got my period back after Daniel was born, he was around 9 months old. I knew I wasn’t ovulating yet because my “symptoms” weren’t right. Also, for the first time in my life, my period was sort of irregular. My second one showed up 9 days “late” (at 37 days instead of 28). At the time, I weighed only around 118 lbs. — I am 5’3″. I was so happy to weigh so little — but I don’t think it was healthy for my body. As my weight slowly rose, settling around 130, my cycle got closer and closer to regular, and then I finally ovulated about 15 months postpartum (and immediately got pregnant with Jacob).
This time, I got my period back at about 6.5 months. I am heavier, weighing around 140. But this time it’s been exactly regular so far, and I haven’t had the pain or fatigue that I did before. Everything has been much easier and more normal. So despite being not entirely pleased to be a bit heavier, my body seems “healthier” for it (this is still within the “normal” range for my height, just on the high side of it — and I have a medium bone structure and a lot of curves too).
So this brings us to the first point: what is a healthy weight for women?
I believe it is both more than we’re told, and less than it often is.
I’m struggling with how to even describe the “average” woman’s weight right now. Clothing sizes are not standardized and are terrible (recently, I rejected a 10 in one brand as ‘too small’ and ended up buying a 6 in another brand that fit perfectly…). BMI isn’t accurate for women, especially shorter women.
I’ll try to go with appearance. It’s normal to have fat deposits on your hips, in your breasts, and in your thighs. It’s even normal to have some — but not too much — in your abdomen. (High amounts of abdominal fat are associated with increased risk of heart disease. It’s better to have it in your hips and thighs.) It’s not normal (for most women) to have extremely thin bodies with little fatty tissue. Women need to have 15 – 20% body fat to be healthy (and some women may be up to 24% and be perfectly healthy). Significantly more or less is associated with hormonal imbalances. (BMI, again, is not a good measure of this. Find a professional to actually measure you.) In some cases, though, a woman has gained weight because of hormonal imbalance, rather than the imbalance causing the weight gain.
Don’t forget that a healthy diet will help to maintain or reach a healthy weight!
These days, many women see their cycles as an annoyance. There are birth control methods that suppress your period for months at a time. This is truly a terrible idea.
Your cycle isn’t just shedding the lining of your uterus (which is important). It’s also cleaning out old hormones, skin cells, and anything else that needs to go. It’s a time of detoxification for your body. I have found that I have less of an appetite and that I crave lots of fruits and vegetables, lighter food. I especially love my FCLO and my herbal multivitamin. I drink lots of water.
Rather than fighting this natural process, we need to embrace it. Allow it to happen and support your body. Treat it as a natural form of detox, as it is.
Here are some ways to support your body:
- Get extra rest
- Take Epsom salt baths
- Take extra FCLO
- Take an herbal multivitamin, and/or an herbal infusion (details below)
- Go easy on grains or heavy foods; focus on light, fresh foods
- Drink plenty of water or electrolyte drink
I’m trying to do all of these things now.
An herbal infusion that may assist you is: equal parts dandelion, red clover, red raspberry leaf and spearmint. These are high in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and a number of other vitamins and minerals. Dandelion is nourishing and also helps to gently detoxify. Red raspberry and red clover help to balance hormones and can relieve cramping and pain. Spearmint is good for taste, and it’s also really high in folate.
Many women have experienced relief from severe menstrual symptoms with red clover and red raspberry. This is a great place to start, if you’re needing relief and aren’t sure what is going on.
The Role of Cloth
Using disposable menstrual supplies (pads and tampons) can negatively affect your health. These products are usually bleached and deodorized and contain chemicals which can be absorbed into your very sensitive skin. This, in turn, can cause additional pain and cramping.
Many women find that when they switch to cloth pads or reusable menstrual cups, they experience less pain. For women who are struggling, it is definitely worth a try. Of course, any reduction in exposure to chemicals is a good idea!
I’ve been reading a little bit at 180degreehealth.com recently, because I’ve discovered my body temperature is really low — it was only 96.8! Ideally it should be over 98. I have a tendency to skip meals, which drops my metabolism down, which can lead to gaining weight or hanging onto extra weight (not being able to lose).
I’m going to try to stop skipping meals and see if I can get my temperatures to rise. I have been in the habit for so many years now of skipping meals (at first, years ago, because I thought it would make me thinner and healthier — which is a lie — and now because I’m just so busy being mommy and everything else that I take care of myself last!) that it’s hard to even eat enough. I actually physically don’t want to eat very much, even when I know I need to.
So my goal is going to be to eat a little more than what I feel comfortable with. Never to stuff myself, but to make sure I’m eating to satisfaction at all meals and having snacks in between too. Today I’m going to go through my pantry and see what I can make with what I have. (I’ll post on that later — who wants to join me with that?)
Get Healthy, Manage Your Cycle
Balancing your body and aiding the natural detoxification that occurs will help to solve some of the problems listed above. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a great place to start to ease the symptoms and start getting your body back in balance. It will help you to feel stronger and healthier all the time, and — if you’re in this place in your life — prepare your body to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy. I’m not there right now, so I’m looking at this just to be a healthier person.
**This post has been entered in Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist.**