Let’s face it: every woman can recall the day she experienced her first period. Whether we were sitting in class, at a swimming tournament, or maybe on a roller-coaster, it served as an initial reminder that Aunt Flo will make her inconvenient appearance anywhere, at any time.
Not to mention the inconvenience of the local fight for Texas to repeal its tax on menstrual products in an effort to put an end to period poverty — the ongoing struggle for women to pay for feminine hygiene products, which is only half the battle. (We wish rescinding the tampon tax would get rid of our cramps, too!)
With Menstrual Hygiene Day coming up on Friday, May 27, gynecologist Dr. Dipika Ambani of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital tells us how to navigate the dreadful week during that time of the month.
First, the basic facts: During a woman’s menstrual cycle, bleeding will occur to discard the buildup in the uterus to prepare it for ovulation, which brings a new egg to the reproductive organs if no sperm has been detected. According to Ambani, women can experience a range of symptoms from menstruation. “They usually know when their cycle is approaching from bloating,” Ambani tells Houstonia. “From there, it can lead to migraine headaches, breast tenderness, and nausea as the days go on.”
Periods can bring a world of discomfort and anxiety about bleeding through your clothes. While there are many ways to care for your cycle that are fit for different women, the two main products, tampons and pads, have been under a microscope in recent years. During testing in 2018, both products were shown to contain pesticide residue, parabens, and phthalates linked to hormone disruption, as well as antibacterial chemicals. Likewise, vaginal wellness brand Honey Pot went viral on social media earlier this month after a change in manufacturing that added chemicals such as lactic acid, phenoxyethanol, and propylene glycol to its various feminine products, making shoppers question their organic validity. Although other brands like L Organic and Rael market themselves as clean feminine products, Ambani advises women to look for hypoallergenic labels.
“Products generally shouldn’t have a lot of ingredients in them or a lot of artificial stuff in them,” says Ambani. “I would recommend my patients to look for hypoallergenic products. Using products that are scented or contain a lot of different components could cause a reaction.”
Women may also consider emerging alternatives to pads and tampons, including more sustainable options like period panties or reusable cups that are inserted inside the vaginal shaft.
According to Healthline, using a menstrual cup from brands like Intimina and Saalt is safer than using a tampon, holds more blood, and is actually better for the environment. “It’s not a bad idea. A lot of people have found them very convenient and very economical, so I wouldn’t say don’t use them,” says Ambani. “However, patients need to know how to sterilize it and notice changes when it’s time to replace it.”
Arguably, the worst part of a cycle is the cramp pain or dysmenorrhea, which is triggered by the uterus as it contracts to discard the lining. While eating junk food and lying in bed might be your go-to during a period, doing a light workout, eating healthy, and taking ibuprofen are better alleviators. Ambani recommends consuming lots of veggies, unsalted or raw almonds, fruits, and anything natural. Drinking caffeine or eating chocolate and salty snacks, on the other hand, can increase the swelling and pain of menstruation.
“Having pain during the period is absolutely normal,” Ambani says. “Watch your diet, decrease your salt, and drink more water. If it’s that painful, you can always take ibuprofen that’s 400 to at least 600 milligrams.”
It’s safe to say periods are here to stay. As we await the day periods and their pain will become nonexistent, by listening to their bodies, practicing good self-care, and seeking out healthy products (and fighting to keep them affordable!), women can enhance menstruation hygiene for themselves and for generations to follow.