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How to Deal With Menstruation

Updated on July 23, 2014
The female reproductive system.
The female reproductive system. | Source

The Curse. Aunt Flo. My personal favorite: Shark Week. What do these all have in common? Most women can tell you these terms are code for their periods.

Beyond the physical discomforts, women subjected to constant societal pressure to hide this basic biological function when it happens to them. This, in combination with fluctuating hormones, makes this time of the month especially difficult mentally and emotionally.

When a girl gets her first period, it can either be a time of terror or of joy. The direction the experience takes stems directly to how her family views menstruation and how well she’s educated.

I’ve heard many stories from girls who had no idea what was going on when they first experienced pain and bleeding because it simply wasn’t talked about. There have been fewer stories of the transition from girlhood into womanhood as a positive event, but they’re out there.

However, whether you view the period as a positive or negative, the best way to start addressing it is to learn about its role in our health, the best ways to treat discomfort and the mechanisms behind the daily shaming we receive.

A drawing of a dogfish shark's brain. It looks a lot like a woman's reproductive system, doesn't it? This is why I like calling my period "Shark Week".
A drawing of a dogfish shark's brain. It looks a lot like a woman's reproductive system, doesn't it? This is why I like calling my period "Shark Week". | Source

Reflection on Health

What we most often associate with menstruation is the monthly bleeding. This messy part of the processes lasts between three to seven days for most healthy women, but the whole cycle is repeated throughout the entire month.

It actually starts out in the little gland at the base of the brain, the pituitary. That gland sends out FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), which gets ovulation started. While the egg is being prepared to leave the ovary, estrogen is produced, which feeds back to the pituitary and cuts off the FSH production, so only one egg is released.

Progesterone, the other well known female hormone, is produced at the same time. This is what’s responsible for thickening the lining of the inner uterus walls. This hormone stays present throughout pregnancy, but if pregnancy doesn’t happen, it will drop, and the uterus sheds its unused lining after the unfertilized egg passes. This is where the bleeding comes in.

Banned Disney Cartoon Explaining Menstruation

The regularity of the period, how long it lasts and severity of symptoms are all indicators of a woman’s overall health. The bleeding should happen roughly every 28 days and symptoms should stay pretty consistent from month to month.

If she bleeds profusely or not as much as usual or if cramping is painful to the point of debilitation, then there’s probably some sort of problem. Because the process is a complex one, many things can throw it off. Stress can delay a period, illness or medications can make it worse, as can certain foods.

Problems like endometriosis, where uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, need to be addressed by a medical professional. This condition makes the period exceedingly painful, and if left unchecked, can be deadly.

Most issues, however, can be resolved through changes in lifestyle or diet. Many women turn to birth control, which has risks just like all medications, but it makes life far easier for people all over the world.

Symptom Management

Most women suffer from multiple symptoms when they menstruate. Some deal only with the bleeding, but most also suffer from symptoms like fatigue, cramping and bloating.

Bleeding

Because bleeding the universal symptom women experience, there are quite a few different options out there. Of course, there are the disposable menstrual pads and tampons, but these are not only bad for the environment, but they can cause more discomfort in some women.

In fact, in the ‘70s, many women grew ill from what’s known as “Toxic Shock Syndrome” (TSS). This epidemic prompted an investigation into feminine hygiene products, due to the volume of menstruating women sickened. With time, it was found that the syndrome was linked to higher absorbency tampons, especially when they were left in for too long. By late 1980, the incidence of this syndrome had reduced dramatically, thanks to greater public knowledge of the risks of tampon usage.

Two more environmentally friendly options are reusable cloth pads and cups, like the Luna Cup or the Keeper, which are inserted like a tampon and can be emptied whenever you use the bathroom. These come with instructions for care and safety in the package.

I’ve never used the cup option, but I’ve known several women who absolutely love it. I can understand why, because they seem very convenient to use.

I have, however, had success with cloth pads. Using them seems to shorten bleeding time and ease cramping for me. They’re also far more comfortable than the disposable products, in my opinion.

There are varieties available with extra lining to prevent bleed-through, and they’re very easy to take care of. When out and about during heavier days, they can be changed, if needed. Rinse the used one out with cold water and stow it in a plastic baggie until you can get it into the laundry.

These reusable options save a lot of money, although they do require more care than disposable options. However, it’s up to each woman to decide what works best for her, depending on her individual tastes and periods.

Cramping

Over the counter medications like Aleve, Tylenol and Aspirin are very convenient ways to take the edge off of menstrual cramps, but they can also trigger things like migraines, irritate sensitive stomachs or cause liver damage in some cases.

Yoga For Menstruation

Yoga’s a great option to treat this problem. The postures stretch out stiff muscles and take pressure off of the uterus. Because you’re focusing on the stretch and your breathing, this is also a great option to calm frazzled nerves and a touchy temper.

There are quite a few teas available to help with cramping, too. Thyme and peppermint are both very good options, because they’re both natural antispasmodics. Chamomile also works beautifully. Resting a heating pad on your belly while sipping a warm mug of tea is a very relaxing, cleansing way to ease the pain.

Although the thought of taking a bath while you’re bleeding may repulse some people, it’s another good option to relax away the cramps and calm the mind down. Bath salts and one or two drops essential oils like peppermint further supplement the therapeutic effects of the warm water.

Bloating and Fatigue
I group these two together, because they often go hand in hand. The two easiest treatments for these symptoms are to get lots of rest and drink a lot of water.

However, if you’re prone to bloating and your liver is healthy, drink a mug or two of dandelion tea one to two weeks before you start bleeding. Dandelion detoxifies the liver, which will also prevent water retention.

For all of these symptoms, you need to stay on top of taking good care of yourself. Monitor what you eat, and make sure it’s as nutritious and pure as possible. Also, minimize caffeine, processed sugar and alcohol. Keeping yourself active and practicing regular stress management techniques will go a long way to making your period easier to handle.

A menstrual pad advertizement from the 1920s. There's more pressure to hide your period in modern day ads, but the bolded "To Be Burnt After Use" is worrying, unless, used wound dressings weren't burned after they were used in those days.
A menstrual pad advertizement from the 1920s. There's more pressure to hide your period in modern day ads, but the bolded "To Be Burnt After Use" is worrying, unless, used wound dressings weren't burned after they were used in those days. | Source

Countering Negative Cultural Messages

Although most of us aren’t told outright that we’re dirty and terrible creatures for bleeding once a month, the message still comes through on a subliminal level all around us.

Every time we see a commercial for pads or tampons, we’re told that we need to hide the products for fear of someone finding out that we’re bleeding. The implication is that there’s something fundamentally wrong with menstruating.

Every time women’s health is glossed over in health classes instead of at least teaching young women the correct names for their body parts and how they work, they’re being told their reproductive health isn’t important.

Proper sex ed goes beyond the act itself, the consequences of early parenthood and contraception. It should also include how both the male and female body works, and that it’s okay to have either one.

Of course, overhauling the educational system and cultural views on a broad basis isn’t something that can be done overnight. What we can do is learn about women’s history, the history of medicine itself and work on changing our views of our own bodies.

It’s been a long time since male doctors were forbidden from looking at naked female skin, after all.

Once women are able to regard their unique biological processes as normal, menstruation won’t be the monster society in general thinks it is.

Chella Quint talks about messages from advertising, how she countered them and other cultural issues.

The Keeper Inc Moon Cup, Size B
The Keeper Inc Moon Cup, Size B

Menstrual cups come in different sizes to accommodate women of all sizes. There are reviews available for each option available on youtube and elsewhere on the internet.

 
Domino Pads Variety Pack -Regular- Assorted Colors
Domino Pads Variety Pack -Regular- Assorted Colors

High quality cloth pads may cost more than the disposable version in stores, but they more than pay for themselves over time. They're also much more comfortable, easy to care for and will cut down on your garbage output.

 

Comments

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  • ESPeck1919 profile imageAUTHOR

    ESPeck1919 

    5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

    Thanks!

    I love the idea of offering blood to the earth in that way! I've always thought it was a beautiful tradition. It honors a natural process which is shamed in entirely too many cultures and helps tighten the human/earth bond on quite a few levels.

    I've also heard that menstrual blood makes excellent plant food. I believe that when some people soak their reusable pads before washing them, they use that water to give their house plants or some of their outdoor plants some extra nutrients. I'm sure something similar can be done when using a cup.

    I haven't tried that myself, since all I'm not all that great at keeping house plants alive in the first place.

  • kalinin1158 profile image

    Lana Adler 

    5 years ago from California

    Great hub ESPeck! I've been considering using the reusable pads or cups lately, after reading this I definitely want to try. I've also read something about offering the blood to the earth instead of throwing it out in the trash - as a way of re-connecting, honoring etc.

  • ESPeck1919 profile imageAUTHOR

    ESPeck1919 

    5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

    Thank you so much! I personally never cared who knew I was menstruating, either. Shark Week is just entertaining to me because sharks are cool and so are women. ;)

    But anyway, yes, I agree change is happening, but I still see a lot of ignorance and so many who are actually afraid of their own bodies because of what they've been taught. I hope we can keep going with the positive trend.

  • eHealer profile image

    Deborah 

    5 years ago from Las Vegas

    Hi ESP, this hub is wonderful and I don't hide my tampons. It's just ridiculous and hopefully people understand that women need them from time to time. I don't know why menstruation has become a walk of shame for women, but things are changing, commercials and young women discussing their bodies in the open has really changed a lot. Your hub has also contributed to the decrease in the stigmatization of women's biology and kudos to you Girl! Write on and well done!

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