That Time of the Month: Dealing with Your Period

It’s a plague brought unto us at the most awkward of times and lasts throughout most of our adult lives (or at least the arguably attractive portion). For many women, they just started bleeding one day and have continued to do so every month since. So, let’s clear up some confusion about what is happening, why, and how to best deal with it.

Most of us learned about our baby-making machines in adolescent schooling, but here’s just a quick refresher: Every 28 days or so (every woman is different) your uterus will shed the lining (called “endometrium“) that was meant to create a hospitable environment for a fertilized egg. Since the guest of honor didn’t show, it doesn’t need all those party decorations. Your body will go back to homeostasis, and in doing so your hormones will get all out of whack, leading to the oh-so-pleasant changes in water retention (bloating) and mood (PMS). The cramping that you might feel is your uterus contracting in order to expel the endometrium. This whole process can last anywhere from 2 to 7 days, although for most women it’s about 3 to 5.

To prepare yourself beforehand, the most important thing you can to increase your comfort is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Before and during. A healthy amount of water in your blood works to promote viscous blood flow and hydrates your muscles helping to cut down on breakouts, painful cramps, fatigue, headaches, bloating, and loose bowel movements. Easier and cheaper than any over-the-counter medicine, right?

And, if you’re the type to get mood swings, exercise and a change of scenery will do wonders for your mood. Sadly, milk chocolate won’t help, but dark chocolate might! It contains small amounts of anandamides, which will give you a natural mood enhancement.

In actually dealing with the bloody mess, we have some options:

Pads

The easiest option. They’re easy to insert: just peel and attach. By simply having it down there, you know it’s doing its job. You don’t need to question when it’s time to change, your eyes will tell you all you need to know. There’s also that peace of mind that comes with knowing that there’s nothing foreign in your lady-crevices.

But they definitely come with their share of problems. While you can feel pretty secure with one on, it may lead to itchiness or, if left on too long, a certain smell that might alert others to the state of your vagina. Their comfort factor is reliant on bathroom accessibility, which kind of sucks. And, unless you’re catatonic, these pillows of cotton tend to shift, which can lead to a bit of a mess if you’re not careful. In addition to all that, they’re may not be the best at secrecy: not only does it feel like you’re wearing a diaper, you may look like it too.

If throwing away three pads a day is economically alarming, there’s an eco-friendly option to pads as well! You can either purchase or make your own re-usable cloth pads. I haven’t personally tried this, but I think it sounds like a fantastic option. It’s basically the same idea as reusable diapers, but with menstrual blood instead of feces. That’s about a hundred times less gross! Or about two times less gross—my gross tolerance may be a bit higher than most.

Tampons

My old go-to. They have many benefits over pads: they’re discreet, don’t show through your pants, and when inserted correctly, you can’t feel them. Plus, you can go swimming without fear of leaving a red trail and you can enjoy an active lifestyle without getting a rash! When dealing with your period, they’re the first road to freedom.

We have two options for tampon usage, those with applicators and those without. They’re both very simple, and easy to get the hang of. Insert the fatter end of the applicator into your vagina, grip the neck with your thumb and middle finger, and then press down on the skinny end with your index finger to push the tampon in and then remove the applicator.  Without a pre-packaged applicator, your fingers will act as the applicator. Same idea, except you grip the body of the tampon, and push directly on the string side of it. A little messier, but it has the benefit of more control over how it sits in your body. If you are able to feel the tampon inside of you, then it needs to be pushed deeper. Once you feel comfortable with the position, lightly tug on the string to ensure that it stays in place. If it doesn’t move, congratsyou’re good to go!

However, there are a few downsides: Tampons definitely have a time limit. Depending on your body, or the day of your cycle, this can range from one to eight hours. If you leave it in for too long, you can run the risk of overflow, unpleasant odor, and the most serious of all risks—Toxic Shock Syndrome (cue ominous music). Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) can result in death if it’s not caught early enough, and I think we’d all choose shedding uterine lining over death any day, amiright?

I once read a story about a women who forgot that she had a tampon in, then later had sex. The tampon didn’t come out for a few days. That might be something to keep in mind. Sorry for the nightmares.

Menstrual cups

I am in love with menstrual cups. These silicone vesicles of perfection have changed my life. Not only are the health benefits enormous, but they’re good for the environment too! They cost about $40 and one will last you up to ten years, so you’re no longer spending 10 dollars every month to protect your underthings and your dignity. They have the benefits of freedom that tampons provide, but with a menstrual cup you don’t have the risk of TSS. That’s because you’re not inserting cotton, which can harbor bacteria. The best thing about cups is that you’ll never leak with them and you can safely sleep all night in them! You probably shouldn’t keep them in longer than 16 hours on heavy days before you empty them, though, because that’s a pretty heavy load of blood to be keeping inside your vagina.

However, there’s a learning curve to them. First, make sure it’s right side up. The whole point is that it’s a cup to “catch” your blood. There are two ways to insert it depending on which is more comfortable for you. You can either pinch one side in so that the opening now forms a “C,” or you can punch down one side into the cup itself. Once inside your vagina, let go of the bowl of the cup to let it unfold, and then twist the base of the cup in a full rotation to form a seal of suction. If you hear a kind of popping noise as you twist, you know you’ve done it right. I usually like to pull down on it slightly and check if there’s any resistance. After this, wash your hands and you’re good to go! If you’re like me though, the first few times you use it, you might check yourself every ten minutes out of paranoia.

As for removing it, place your fingers around the bottom of the cup, and gently squeeze while twisting to loosen the suction. If you don’t loosen the suction, it’ll feel weird and you’ll know to stop, I promise. Hold it upright and then dump the contents into the toilet (or if you’re taking a shower, you can dump it down the drain). Rinse the menstrual cup (or wipe it down with toilet paper) before reinserting it to ensure a clean suction. It’s not actually that messy unless you purposefully fling it around or if you’re a complete klutz.

When you’re done with your week of menstruation, wash the cup and then soak it in boiling water for a few minutes. That will sterilize it, and you can then store it until your next period. Warning—you probably should not use if you have an IUD. Upon removal, the suction might pull your IUD strings out and—yikes—that would hurt.

So if you’ve been curious, or your period has been making your life hell, I hope I’ve helped shed some light on some solutions. Happy flowing!

Photo by Sara Slattery

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