When it comes to reproductive health, there's lots of advice and recommendations out there. Whether it's from peers, friends, family, ads, or Instagram, it's hard to know what's "best." In addition to speaking to your doctor about any specific concerns, we spoke with Lindsey Bliss, Birth Doula & Co-Director of Carriage House Birth for her expert insight into the world of reproductive health. And just in case the word "doula" is new to you, DONA (Doulas of North America) defines it as: "A trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible."
How to Handle PMS
PMS is never fun, but there are ways to make it more tolerable. For Bliss, her number one recommendation is to avoid inflammatory foods. "Cutting out refined sugar and increasing leafy greens made my PMS symptoms very minimal and completely manageable," she recalls from personal experience. She also suggests limiting caffeine and alcohol since "diet is the basis of health. Eating real, whole foods will best support hormonal health."
In addition to eating healthfully and mindfully, she also recommends magnesium during PMS and menstruation. "Magnesium can help with cramping and getting a better night's sleep. Getting more sleep definitely helps with PMS and the symptoms associated with menstruation," she says.
Red raspberry leaf tea, commonly used during pregnancy, can also be used to help as it's a uterine tonic, while lavender oil can help to reduce tension. For painful menstrual cramps, Bliss adds that she loves the cramp balm from Holy Sponge, which includes ingredients like motherwort, ginger, crampbark, roses, rose hips, hibiscus, arnica, shea, and organic essential oils.
Suggested Menstrual Products
Being smart about the products you use during your period can also impact your experience. Bliss suggests using menstrual cups, cloth pads by Holy Sponge, Thinkx panties, Naturacare organic pads, or The Honest Co. maxi pads, depending on your personal preference.
She recommends avoiding tampons, as they often are made with chemicals that can cause reactions. "Your vaginal canal is super absorbent and mine doesn't tolerate chemicals well, even in organic cotton tampons," she shares, adding that the cost is way more than using the suggested alternatives.
Sleep is essential always, but especially during your cycle. Why? It can help improve PMS symptoms, and leave you feeling less fatigued. Additionally, Bliss explains: "Your hormones fluctuate and can affect the quality of your sleep cycle. Trying to get to bed a bit earlier than you usually do can ensure you get enough sleep." She also recommends using a hot water bottle when you crawl into bed as it can help to manage any discomfort from cramps.
While sleep is essential during your cycle, it's actually the most important a few weeks before you get your period. Why? "Your progesterone rises after ovulation and makes you extra sleepy," Bliss explains.
Considering the powerful mind/body connection, Bliss says: "It's no wonder that stress can greatly impact your menstrual cycle." In fact, she explains, "Stress affects the part of the brain that produces hormones. Stress can disrupt the hormone levels and then cause changes in the frequency and length of your period." You might even end up missing a period.
So, stress reduction is obviously ideal. But how?
Bliss recommends the importance of rest, and also a daily meditation practice. "Meditation can relax the mind and the body," she explains. Committing to a regular practice at the same time every day, and perhaps incorporating positive affirmations can do wonders in terms of stress management, and overall wellbeing.
Additionally, Bliss calls warm Epsom salt baths her "sanity saver" and her go-to for stress reduction.
Sex While Menstruating
Contrary to popular belief, sex while on your period is perfectly fine, as Bliss stresses period blood is not unhygienic. Although, it's important to know that you can get pregnant when you have your period, regardless of what you might have heard. She explains, "The chances are low, but not impossible. The closer you are to the end of your period, the more likely you can get pregnant." In fact, it happened to her.
While menstruation remains a somewhat taboo, and not frequently discussed topic, Bliss adds, "Periods are not gross. It's a bodily function. It's not something that we should hide or be embarrassed by. We can create life. It's actually magical."