This is an encyclopaedia of what you may possibly need to know going through a menstrual cycle. The following topics will be addressed in the order of:
- The Biology of Your Menstrual Cycle
- Pre-Menstrual Symptoms
- Signs of Bleeding
- Menstrual Products
- Exercising As A Woman
- Having Your Period On Valentine’s
The Biology of Your Menstrual Cycle
Not to be confused with menstruation or periods, the menstrual cycle refers to the pattern in which a woman’s body transitions from preparation for pregnancy to the degeneration of her uterus lining (in the absence of an implantation), before the whole cycle repeats again. To take greater care of your reproductive health and wellness in general, especially if you’re trying to conceive, it is vital that you understand your corporal functions well.
Before delving into the process, you should know the functions of two hormones. They are the main actors in the cycle, and will be a common recurrence in this section:
- Oestrogen (or estrogen): A primary female sex hormone, it is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system, as well as secondary sex characteristics such as larger breasts, wider hips
- Progesterone: A female sex hormone that plays an important role in maintaining pregnancies and regulating the menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle progresses through four phases, namely:
Menstruation i.e. the bleeding period (days 1 – 5)
Every cycle begins with an unfertilised ovum that causes oestrogen and progesterone levels to plunge. Thus the uterine lining can no longer be sustained, and it begins to deteriorate.
When progesterone levels fall, your kidneys (responsible for passing fluid) release less water, leading to greater water retention and thus bloating. Dwindling oestrogen levels cause you to be more fatigued and emotionally unstable.
You may also be subjected to heinous cramps as the uterus contracts to expel the lining. Higher prostaglandin levels force uterine blood vessels to constrict. This is the reason you experience a greater urge to use the loo during your period.
The follicular stage i.e. build-up of uterine lining (days 6 – 10)
The follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which also stimulates growth in egg cells, is released. This is the period where a woman would feel and look like her best, due to an increasing oestrogen level. It fosters positive sentiments and small bursts in energy.
Moreover, the role oestrogen plays as a natural pain-reliever enhances your physical performance, be it building muscles in the gym or pushing your pain tolerance. During this time, it is normal to witness clear discharge, heralding what is about to come next.
Ovulation i.e. release of a mature egg (days 11 – 18)
Day 14 is typically your most fertile window. The volume of clear mucus peaks, to lubricate sexual intercourse and help deliver sperms to the awaiting egg.
Simultaneously, a woman’s libido is elevated by rising testosterone levels. For couples trying to conceive, it is advisable to have intercourse only during this period, instead of the follicular stage, as sperms can only survive for at most 3 to 5 days.
The luteal phase i.e. end of cycle (days 15 – 28)
Following ovulation, there will be a spike in progesterone levels to further thicken the uterine lining ahead of implantation. However, if the egg remains unfertilised, progesterone and oestrogen levels will both plummet, bringing about menstruation – the shedding of the endometrium.
High levels of progesterone incite mood swings, a premenstrual symptom. Your breasts may start to feel sore; you may experience cravings and hunger strikes more frequently. Female bodies are conditioned as such to obtain sufficient fuel for a pregnancy. Fortunately, before menstruation, our metabolism can increase by a maximum of 30%, when the total amount of progesterone and oestrogen is the highest. On the other hand, sexual urges fade away.
Having mentioned a few premenstrual conditions, this section will cover more on how you can manage and prevent them.
It’s not just an old wives’ tale that temperature matters! Often, we neglect our bodies by indulging without a thought for the consequences. Your reproductive system is particularly fragile when the endometrium is being shed, and sensitive to foods that are too hot or too cold for your body (which is at 37 degrees celsius). Iced beverages should be avoided during one’s period, because it induces cramps, akin to how icing causes muscles to tense up. At most, you should be drinking water at room temperature.
If you’re having light to moderate cramps,
Get grooving! A Sweden study showed that training during the first half of your menstrual cycle, starting on the first day of your period, enhances your performance and is more effective than exercising in the later half.Working out releases endorphins, which serves as your body’s own morphine. They help to reduce prostaglandins, the chemicals guilty for menstrual cramps. It is therefore important that you get your heart rate up periodically.
Post-exercise, when your adrenaline returns to its normal level, your body temperature falls. This initiates drowsiness, relaxes muscles and lifts migraines – so you can look forward to a better sleep at night. We all know how difficult that can be when you’re on your period.
If you’re having severe cramps,
You tend to be at a loss with what you should do with your body. Neither can you sit still without doubling over, nor does curving into a ball work. Try resting your mind and relaxing your muscles with some light yoga. Here are 3 moves that will help alleviate the misery:
- Head-To-Knee: Sit cross-legged, then extend one leg ahead of you, and bend down to stretch your torso along that leg. Do so for 1 minute before switching sides.
- Wide-Angle Forward Bend: Sit with legs spread as wide as possible, and bend over with your palms stretched ahead of you on the ground. Hold for 1 minute.
- Reclined Bound Angle: Lie on your back with your legs imitating a pair of hands in a praying position for 5 to 10 minutes.
Acupressure has been proven to dampen menstrual pain. If your cramps are impeding your daily activities, it’s time to visit a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner!
Breathing directly affects your blood circulation, and doing so in a controlled manner can help relax your muscles, diminishing the painful contractions of your uterus. Here are a few exercises you can carry out:
- Centering Breath: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Exhale in a similar manner, before reverting to normal breathing for a few rounds. Complete 10 cycles.
- Ujjayi Pranayama: Inhale normally, then try to expel all the gas in your lungs. Complete 15 cycles. Next, reverse the order so that you’re inhaling deeply and exhaling normally for another 15 cycles. Finally, inhale and exhale deeply for 20 cycles.
- Viloma Pranayama: when you inhale, hold for 2 seconds before exhaling fully. Repeat for 7 to 10 minutes, or until you feel out of breath. Try to inhale more deeply each time you take a breath. Rest with 3 minutes of normal breathing.
- Viloma 2 Pranayama: inhale normally, but after exhaling, hold for 2 seconds before inhaling again. Repeat up to 5 times.
Diet is utterly important during the pre-menstruation and menstruation periods, when your body is the most sensitive. So regardless of the severity of your cramps (or the lack thereof), you should be more mindful of your meals.
Foods you should cut down on:
- Caffeine may be a necessity in our everyday lives, but it dehydrates your body, leaving you bloated, and constricts blood vessels to instigate cramps.
- Sodium is another pervasive ingredient that is terrific in increasing water retention. While you should not eliminate salt entirely from your diet, try opting for natural, wholesome ingredients in lieu of processed foods.
- Dairy and red meat are a dangerous duo too; saturated with a fatty substance called arachidonic acid, they increase the production of prostaglandin, thereby intensifying cramps. This makes ice cream your greatest enemy; meanwhile, tofu and cold-water fish would be great substitutes for protein.
- Alcohol is one of the vices of man, but especially so during menstruation. It not only intensifies bloating, but also provokes your uterine muscles. It depletes magnesium, our body’s defense against cramps, while increasing prostaglandins, the hormone that induces menstrual pains.
- Sugar is everyone’s guilty pleasure. However, a woman’s blood sugar level fluctuates drastically when she’s on her period. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar will only aggravate the chaotic imbalances in the body, and exacerbate cramps.
Foods you can take to reduce bloating:
- Papaya: Papayas help to break down protein and aid in digestion. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and fibres for a healthy digestive system.
- Banana: Fruits high in potassium like kiwi, avocados, oranges, and even nuts like pistachios help regulate sodium levels in your body. Bananas are also high in soluble fibre, which eases bowel movements.
- Cucumber: It reduces swelling. You can eat it raw, cooked, or even have it in your drinks!
- Yogurt with probiotics: good bacteria helps accelerate digestion and improve gut health. Greek yogurt is one of the healthiest due to lower sugar levels and more live ingredients, but do look out for any added sugar before purchasing! If you prefer it to be sweeter, you can add natural sweeteners like honey and stevia, or have it with fruits.
- Ginger tea: Ginger soothes the digestive system and relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract, which can relieve bloating.
Releasing gas while working out in the gym is anybody’s worst nightmare. So here are a few movements that you can perform in the comfort of your room:
- Glute bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms to your sides. Lift your butt and slowly lower it back down to the ground. Complete 10-15 reps for 3 sets.
- Bicycle kicks: Lie on your butt, with your back propped up and knees raised. Extend one leg forward, then retract it until it’s perpendicular, and repeat for the other leg.
- Wall sits: Ensure that your spin is completely aligned with the wall, and you are sitting perpendicularly. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Russian Twists: Sit down and make a “V” shape with your body. Clasp your hands together and twist your body from side to side. Repeat 15 – 20 times for 3 sets. For beginners, you can put your feet on the ground.
- Squats: Try to keep your chest up as much as possible, so as to engage your core. You don’t have to go all the way down; stop when your legs have become parallel to the ground. Work your way up from 15 – 20 reps.
- Opposite oblique crunch: Get into a crawling position, with your hands and knees on the ground. Lift one arm and an opposite leg until they’re parallel. Repeat for the other side. Complete 15 – 20 reps, for 3 sets.
Breast tenderness is a consequence of hormonal changes; in the first two weeks of your menstruation cycle, estrogen levels rise, causing your breasts to swell. In the later half of your cycle, an increasing concentration of progesterone in your body causes an expansion of milk ducts, resulting in sore breasts. During pregnancy, although your period is MIA, high progesterone levels will also cause breast tenderness.
Wearing a bra that fits is important – this means that the bra shouldn’t be too tight nor too loose (for more information, refer to the article, ‘Everything About Back Pain’)! You can also press a warm compress against your breasts to relieve muscle tension.
Many mistake bloating as a sign of fullness, and thereby dismiss the need to eat. Others struggle with differentiating hunger from urges. To manage your eating habits, it is necessary to learn how to recognise the signals sent by your body. Here are a few tips:
If you just had breakfast two hours ago,
Yet you’re salivating while thinking of savoury food, chances are, you’re not hungry. This is especially so if you have a specific food you want to eat despite having some light snacks within reach. Your next meal should be at least 3 hours later, so hold your craving, it’ll pass in 15 minutes. Drink more water in the meantime; thirst can often be misinterpreted as hunger.
If you have a tendency to get hungry or you’ll have to miss a meal,
Keep some snacks around you. Don’t make it too convenient for yourself to eat, or you’d be inhaling your food. Have some shelled pistachios, or unpeeled mandarin oranges. Noting down the amount of shells/ skin there are will also help you to track the amount you’ve consumed.
If you’ve missed your lunch break and are feeling ravenous,
You’d be tempted to get quick fixes, but there’s a 7 second gap between making a decision and becoming conscious of it. Stop yourself from eating the first item you set your sights on. Buy something hot, so that you don’t wolf down all your food before realising that you’re full. Chew thoroughly to give your body time to send satiety cues to you (about 20 minutes after you’ve started eating, or 5 minutes after you’ve finished your meal).
Lastly, you should know that it is never too late to put down the cutlery, even when you have already exceeded your threshold. Get up and walk. Resist that temptation to lie down or nap.
The increase of progesterone before menstruation stimulates the production of sebum. As bacteria thrives in sebum accumulated underneath the skin, pimples emerge. Here a few ways you can practise good skin hygiene:
- Avoid touching your face as your hands carry dirt and bacteria
- Wash your face with a mild facial cleanser twice a day (once in the morning and once at night).
- But avoid excessive exfoliation as it strips away your skin’s natural barrier, making it more susceptible to irritation, and causing it to produce more oils. You should rely on the right cleansing techniques to remove grime and dirt from your face. Exfoliate at most once a week.
Cleansing may seem like a no-brainer procedure, but minute details make a difference in the long run. You can significantly improve the texture and complexion of your skin through the right methods. Here are a few things to note:
- Makeup removal: The importance of this step cannot be undermined – if there were still some makeup residue left over, it would be difficult for you to eliminate it by cleansing alone. Face washes are milder, intended for removing grime and dirt, and not stubborn substances like chemicals. Having said that, one should rely on techniques instead of force to remove makeup: leave the cotton pad on your skin for just a few seconds to allow the remover to react with your makeup before gently swiping it away, and switch to cotton swabs in areas you can’t reach.
- Cleansing: Divide your face into multiple sections. This allows you to cleanse all parts of your face thoroughly. Use your middle and ring fingers to massage gently in circular motions, taking care not to touch your under-eye areas. Use warm water to open up your pores, then lather the cleanser on your fingers before applying it to your skin as this produces less friction than lathering on your skin directly.
- Drying off: Don’t leave water dripping off your face – it may strip away moisture from your skin as the water evaporates. So remember to pat your face dry with a towel!
Activities to Keep You Preoccupied (Emotionally)
Sometimes, it’s not necessarily the major events in our lives that spark joy; it’s often the little things that we overlook. The following are some ideas on how to pull yourself up when the gloomy waves hit you.
- Grocery shopping: There’s just something so therapeutic about browsing through rows after rows of neatly arranged goods. Not just that, having the autonomy to select your food helps in practising mindful eating, which is essential to recharge.
- Journal: Journalling invites introspection, and a closer examination of why you’re feeling the way you do. It creates a space for you to identify the issue and tidy up the clutter in your brain.
- Prepare a meal: Mindful eating can be more easily carried out in your own kitchen than ordering convenient take-outs; treat the occasion as a me-time for yourself.
- Gardening: Having a few pots of miniature plants in the corner of your apartment works too. Looking at nature-esque things will help to boost your mood. Tend to your garden, concentrate on what your plants need, and appreciate the little bit of life.
- Colouring: Adult colouring books are still very much in now. Colouring is also a form of meditation that enables better focus, so you can disconnect from the external world.
- Listen to a song: Not just listen-listen, but sift through its lyrics and taste the words on the tip of your tongue. Because some of the best lyrics are authored during the most turbulent times, they offer solace to the listener. A panacea for a broken soul, that’s what music is.
Podcasts You Can Listen To
Sometimes our friends and co-workers are not the best in offering solace. Nor do we want to laden them with our emotional baggage. Or maybe it’s one of those days when you just want to isolate yourself. Here are some podcasts you can listen to when you’re downcast, so that you know you’re not alone in your struggles:
- On Being: Delve into the lives of well-known thinkers, leaders and artists as Krista Tippett converses with them to explore the art of living. Be inspired, and prepared to renew your life with introspection and imagination.
- Dear Sugars: Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond provides listeners with advice on their questions about relationships and life. In their empathetic and encouraging manner, Cheryl and Steve speak words for the soul.
- Terrible, Thanks For Asking: The default answer to “how are you” is always “I’m fine” – but not in this podcast. Laugh and cry along with author and “notable widow” Nora Mclerny, as she addresses the predicaments that we encounter and the tragedies in our lives with a refreshing, amusing candour.
- The Hilarious World of Depression: To sum it up – a blend of comedians and depression. Certainly not the most organic, but definitely authentic. Follow John Moe as he opens up the dialogue on depression with top comedians who have suffered from it.
You should seriously consider making digital detox a regular habit. Our devices can be so incredibly useful but distractive at the same time, especially when we feel flustered and irritated. As such, below are a to-do list you can refer to when you want to tame your fiery temperament:
- Stretch: Set aside 5 to 10 minutes of your time in the morning to stretch and breathe deeply, to get rid of the toxins in the body accumulated over the night and to fully wake up. You tend to be less wound up and ready to spring on someone for the rest of the day, as opposed to diving straight into your inbox or social media upon opening your eyes.
- Show gratitude: Mentally jot down things you’re thankful for, such as small actions of kindness or courtesy from strangers, the weather forecast reminding you to bring an umbrella before you leave etc. Research has proved that this simple exercise helps to improve our moods.
- Mindful observation: Focus on any single object, notice its colour, texture etc. What does it feel like? Does it mean anything to you? This is a form of meditation where you tune out the external world and focus on the very present.
- Turn off your devices: When you’re crossed, it’s easy to be ticked off by seemingly insignificant matters. Chances are, your devices are a major source of your distress. Try to disengage, by powering off for just 10 minutes, and experience true boredom.
- Aromatherapy: It has been scientifically proven to relax the brain by lowering cortisol and improve your mood, rather than producing only a placebo effect. Lavender, peppermint and bergamot are scents to look out for if you’re seeking to unwind. Inhale deeply, and allow the fragrance to diffuse.
- Shower: Rinse the imaginary dirt off of you, and clear your mind in the bathroom. If you want to relax, take a warm shower. To rejuvenate, a cold shower would be more helpful. Both have healing properties, differing only in the way they work.
The Truth About Positive Thinking
Lastly, you should know this: positive thinking doesn’t mean forcing a smile on your face when your life is crumbling into pieces, when you feel all depressed and withered up inside. Masking your emotions will only drive you further to the edge; the harder you push your bundle of stress down, the more easily it surfaces. The fastest way to heal is to face the vices and insecurities in your life straight on. You don’t need to put on a perfect facade for others; you’re entitled to your bad days.
Direct your focus to finding a solution instead of the matter itself. Embrace the grievances, the anxiety, the despondence of it all. They are a part of who we are, on our journey to bettering ourselves.
As your period arrives, your body undergoes physical changes and are subjected to drastic fluctuations in hormone levels. As such, fatigue during the onset of your period is one of the most common PMSs.
Sugar cravings are a natural instinct to counter lethargy. However, think twice before reaching for those artificially-sweet snacks or drinks. Once the sugar rush wears off, you’ll be robbed of energy. Try having small frequent meals that are high in protein throughout the day instead.
If you feel deprived of sweets, it may be due to a lack of chromium and magnesium in your body. Stay away from chocolate and candies, because they will intensify your cravings. Head for bananas, a serving of dark chocolate (more than 60% – check the packaging), nuts, spinach, broccoli and barley instead.
It is no mystery that women are more prone to lethargy during their periods due to iron deficiency. Work on having more eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and whole grains in your diet! Take care not to increase your intake of fibre too drastically as it can lead to bloating. You can also replenish iron with red meat, oysters, mussels, leafy greens, and seaweed. Vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption, so it’ll help to have plenty of citrus, guava, capsicum, broccoli and cabbage along with your iron-rich foods.
Last but not least, you should limit your daily caffeine consumption. This may seem counter-intuitive, but caffeine overdose results in a hyperactive brain and therefore insomnia. Look out for caffeine in tea, cola and dark chocolate (with more than 60% cocoa). You shouldn’t be having more than 6 drinks per day.
You should consider increasing your physical activity especially if you work a nine-to-five desk job. Start by making simple switches, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or moving around during regular intervals while you’re at work. Staying active helps to reduce blood pressure and boosts your mood. It enables you to sleep better at night as well.
Of course, try to get as much sleep as possible – this goes without saying. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, lower the temperature in your room, and consider placing a warm water bottle at your feet. Researchers at the Sleep Laboratory in Basel have found that this dilates your blood vessels in your extremities, which encourages your body to sleep.
Learning to relax and not do anything is a skill that should be mustered in order to stay afloat in a hectic world. During the scarce pockets of time we have to ourselves, there is a tendency to reach for our phones, such as while on public transport, when we’re eating, walking, and right before bed. This overtaxing on our eyes and our brain, especially after a long day of work. Practise mindfulness and meditate; put your mind to rest so that you can have a better quality rest.
Female bodies are built to do great things, one of which is to weather PMS. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself through misery! Rejuvenate yourself with minor few lifestyle changes that will make a substantial impact on you in the long run. However, do note that extreme tiredness may indicate an underlying medical condition, such as anaemia and hypothyroidism. Consult a doctor as soon as you can if you feel that the fatigue is not normal.
High Sex Drive
It makes sense for sexual libido to be at its highest during ovulation, when fertility is highest and procreation is most plausible. High levels of estrogen correlates to sexual desire.
Energy burning exercises such as dancing, running and physical labor can help to control your wandering mind! There are also certain foods that arouse sexual desire – consume them at your own cost. However, if you were to perform the deed, aphrodisiacs can help dim down performance anxiety, and reduce bloating to pump up your confidence.
- Dark Chocolate: It is packed with phenylethylamine (PEA), an endorphin that triggers romantic feelings. It also elevates dopamine levels, the chemical behind our cravings and lusts, thereby increasing pleasure in the bedroom.
- Avocados: These are a good source of fuel as they’re saturated with folic acid, which aids in breaking down protein.
- Oysters and certain seafoods: Oysters are high in zinc, which boosts testerone levels, a hormone that actually enhances both women and men’s libido. Fishes like salmon and cod are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for your heart and for higher dopamine levels to raise your orgasm potential.
- Fig: These are great sources of fibre, are more satiating and are less likely to make you bloat than other foods do.
- Strawberries: These are extremely high in antioxidants, which improves blood circulation, so that you get a more sensational time. However, be sure to eat them at least two hours after a meal, to prevent bloating as they’re easily digested.
As you approach your period, however, increasing progesterone levels will suppress your sex drive.
Most period underwear are made from a bamboo mix, which, other than feeling soft and smooth, is also naturally anti-microbial and eliminates odours. With it on, you wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting to bring an extra pad/ tampon out, nor about leaking. There are many types of period underwear out there with different absorbances, some of which can last for an entire day.
Besides, from a health standpoint, period underwear are better as it allows for free bleeding. This enhances natural secretions which in turn prevents vaginal dryness. Pads and tampons contain toxic chemicals as they were bleached to achieve a white facade.
Furthermore, period underwear are certainly more eco-friendly! An average woman exhausts 5000 – 14000 menstrual products in her lifetime, contributing 140kg of waste to the landfill. This is detrimental to the environment because pads can take up to 500 years to fully decompose. On the other hand, period underwear can last for 2-3 years if cared for properly, significantly reducing the waste you generate.
Most importantly, period underwear are more affordable in the long run. Three pairs of period underwear cost about $90 and last for three years. For the same duration, one has to fork out almost $215 on sanitary napkins.
The pslove team tested out various period underwear. Check out our reviews!
Tampons may be a better alternative to pads when you’re engaged in a physical activity, as there are lower risks of chafing from friction. Furthermore, the myth that tampons are uncomfortable applies only to beginners, since the inserting process can be inconvenient and a foreign one. Once wearers are used to tampons, the latter is ostensibly so natural that it can easily be forgotten about.
However, tampons present new risks, such as Toxic Shock Syndrome, because tampons absorb the lubricants that the vagina secretes to keep itself warm and moist, and barricade it from infections. Also, tampons are bleached, and may introduce harmful chemicals to your intimate parts. A better alternative would be menstrual cups, which are similar to tampons, only more environmentally-friendly, and treats your vagina better.
Our team was feeling adventurous, and experimented with different brands of tampons.
Washable cloth pads are made of absorbent flannel cotton and each cloth pad can last approximately 5 years, or 75 washes. They function like disposable sanitary pads, except for the fact that they’re secured to your underwear by fastening a button. Advantages:
- Compared to disposable pads, cloth pads may be more comfortable as they enable greater ventilation.
- They’re not bleached, and so has a lower toxicity than disposable pads
- Although they are more expensive upfront, in the long run they are actually cheaper as they can last for many years!
- You can cut down on the amount of waste you produce. One cloth pad is equivalent to 120 disposable menstrual products being burned or thrown away over a 5-year period.
Pads With Overnight Functions
Sleeping can often be a hassle for those with heavy menstrual flow. More often than we’d like, some of us wake up the next morning with a stained underwear, or even worse, bedsheets. Been there, done that? Maybe it’s time you try other products.
Cheapest Places to Buy Pads
If you tabulate the amount of money expended on sanitary pads, you’d be astonished by the sum you’ve forked out thus far. Inevitable as it may be, could one still minimise the costs? To address this, the pslove team gathered a list of the places which sells disposable pads at the lowest prices possible.
Let’s list a quick summary of its pros and cons!
- Akin to cloth pads, these buddies are sustainable as they can last for over a few years under proper care and maintenance. This means that it’s budget and environmentally friendly.
- It’s rather convenient. One can still use the loo without removing the cup.
- It prevents your private part from emitting an odour or from itching, both of which can occur when you use sanitary pads.
- Unlike tampons, cups are not linked to the Toxic Shock Syndrome at all. However, you need to be careful not to cause any abrasion while inserting the cup so that no staph bacteria gets into the bloodstream.
- Additionally, menstrual cups make swimming on your period possible, because the cup has a tight suction, much like that of a plunger.
- It is completely safe for exercising; you can perform vigorous movements with no fear of it falling out or shifting. Neither do you need to suffer chafes from sanitary pads.
- There is a steep learning curve, and cups can take a few months to get accustomed to, as the insertion and removal are tedious for beginners.
- You need to be able to stomach the sight of a cup of blood
- Trimming: if the initial length of the cup is more than 1 cm, be sure to cut it short. A long protrusion will make wearing uncomfortable, but if the stem was trimmed too short, it will be difficult to remove the cup later on.
- Before wearing, disinfect the cup by soaking it in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes.
Punch-down fold: This method is one of the best as it minimises surface area at the top and makes it easier to wedge the cup into your vagina. Squatting down and doing it in the shower would help the process as well. Alternatively, you can prop a leg up on the toilet seat and rest the other foot on the ground.
It doesn’t go in the first time for virtually every amateur. Take a deep breath and relax. Figure out where your vagina is located by using your fingers to feel around (make sure your nails are short and blunt). It’s normal to feel some resistance, so you’d have to push the cup up with some force. Direct it towards your tailbone before re-angling it upwards – think of a scooping motion, or an exponential curve:
A properly-inserted cup should not be obstructing your movements, and you shouldn’t really feel it if you relax your pelvic floor muscles. However, when that is not the case, there are several underlying reasons:
- Your cup may be sitting too low in your vagina, or its stem may be jutting out too much – trim it! Don’t worry about not being able to locate your cup, nothing can get lost in there! You can squeeze your pelvic floor muscles (or Kegel muscles) to feel the base.
- You inserted the menstrual cup at an incorrect angle, hence it might not be sitting where it should be, i.e. just below your cervix. If you can distinctly feel the cup, you might want to try removing it and inserting it again.
- The cup did not fully open up. When this happens, blood isn’t collected within the cup and it’ll flow down the sides of the cup instead. You may also get cramps. It would help by doing some squats, jumping or walking around. If none of these work, you can try to expand the cup during insertion while it’s still low in your vagina and push it upwards after it has opened.
If you have tried all the above recommendations, and the menstrual cup is still giving you cramps, the length of the cup may not complement your physique well. Every woman’s body is structured differently – some may have a low cervix, which may rob the menstrual cup of sufficient space. Fortunately, there are many different cups you can try:
During your cycle, you are required to wash your menstrual cup after every 12 hours of use. Use warm water and a mild, unscented water-based (oil-free) soap to prevent degradation of the silicone cup.
If you are caught in a situation where you are unable to wash your cup, you may empty the contents of your cup in the toilet bowl and clean it with some wet wipes (baby wipes would be good) or damp tissue, making sure that there are no traces of tissue left in the cup before inserting it. As soon as you can, remember to wash your cup.
After your cycle, wash your cup as directed above and if you want to, you may boil the cup for 5 to 10 minutes. Dry it thoroughly before storing it in a breathable pouch. For more specific instructions on caring for your cup, click here.
If you’re still skeptical about menstrual cups, you may read up more on our very own experience of wearing it here!
Signs of Bleeding
Spotting refers to any light vaginal bleeding outside of your normal monthly period. If your spotting is light pink or red in colour, it’s likely an indication of ovulation. The light pink/ red colour is a result of blood mixed with cervical fluid. Women typically produce more cervical fluid during ovulation. Ovulation spotting is caused by the surfacing of ovarian follicles. When a follicle matures and bursts, it can cause light bleeding and some discomfort. An increase in estrogen levels (during ovulation) can also cause spotting.
However, if you’ve just started, stopped, or switched birth control medications, you could experience spotting. It is often a side effect of using hormonal contraceptives, such as oral contraceptive pills, progesterone injections, implantations, or an IUDs.
There’s also a possibility of spotting due to a fertilised egg implanting itself in your uterus, causing eruptions of tiny blood vessels. This would take place about 5 -10 days after conception, and lasts less than 2 days. Implantation bleeding has been reported to be a different colour and texture as compared to normal menstrual bleeding. Talk to your gynae if there is a chance that you are pregnant!
Other reasons include: stress, a decrease in estrogen, delayed ovulation, cervical bleeding from penetration
Menstrual blood clots are gel-like globs of coagulated blood and tissue expelled from the uterus when you have a heavy blood flow, usually in the first few days of your period. The body produces coagulants to stem blood flow. However, when blood is discharged too quickly, blood flow outpaces the production of coagulants, resulting in the formation of menstrual clots. These clots are normally smaller than a coin, and should only be sighted from time to time. However, if you spot blood clots that are larger than the size of a quarter on a monthly basis, you should be concerned.
To manage blood clots, menstrual cups would be a better alternative to pads or tampons, as the latter is unable to absorb thick substances. And if you’re forced to change your menstrual product every hour, or if you pass multiple large blood clots every month, your period flow may be abnormally heavy. Consider seeking medical advice!
Exercising as a Woman
Syncing Your Workout With Your Cycle
Day 1 – 7: Period
This is where most of the dilemma occurs. You may already be aware that exercising helps with cramps and bloating, among other PMS symptoms, but you’re not really feeling your best.
Don’t indulge in your indolence. Your period itself is a great reason why you should work out – chances are, you have binged on your favourite comfort (junk) foods and experienced a slight weight gain. Moreover, experts said that exercising in the first half of your menstrual cycle is more efficient than doing so in the later half. Thus, while you may be less stringent with your workout regime, you should still maintain some activity. Swimming, for instance, is a great low-impact, full-body exercise.
Day 8 – 14: Post-menstruation
Your period is over; you’re no longer bloated, cranky, and experiencing abdominal pains, which means that you can ramp up the intensity of your workout sessions!
Day 14, which is commonly when women ovulate, and marks the peak of your performance. With your body is in prime condition, it is the ideal opportunity to break your limits.
Day 15 – 28: PMS
PMS is tricky to deal with, because everybody’s situation differs. Some may have higher body temperatures, increased water retention, fatigue, headaches, indigestion, etc. The list is non-exhaustive! All these symptoms affect your stamina and performance, and it is only natural that your performance declines.
When you’re overwhelmed by your PMS, switch to low-impact workouts instead, like yoga and jogging. Don’t neglect regular stretching too!
Swimming During Period
Is swimming unhygienic when you’re bleeding? Will it pollute the waters? Is it possible to catch an infection from swimming? Many concerns arise when it comes to the topic, which is a pity since swimming can be therapeutic and a fantastic form of exercise.
In reality, water pressure impedes or slows down your menstrual flow, thus you can possible to swim even when you’re menstruating. However, a sneeze or cough is all that it may take to create a visible leak. So how do female swimmers cope?
Before the advent of menstrual cups, women would use tampons before hopping into a pool. Tampons soak up the menstrual flow before it is discharged out of your body, and unlike pads, a negligent amount of water is collected. Just be sure to tuck the string into your bottoms, or simply opt for swim shorts instead.
These days, menstrual cups are increasingly popular. It may be uncomfortable and difficult to navigate initially, but with practice, cups are easily a better substitute for tampons (read the section on menstrual cups for more information).
The Struggles of Female Athletes
Female Athlete Triad
The Female Athlete Triad is a menstrual condition that affects nearly 60% of all female athletes, in particular those practising endurance sports (e.g. long distance running) or sports that put great emphasis on physique or weight (e.g. gymnastics). The symptoms are as follows:
The most common indication is missed periods for a prolonged period of time. The technical term is Amenorrhea, which is an abnormal absence of menstruation for at least 6 months. This is usually accompanied by weight loss, disordered eating and a daily lifestyle of intense training and exercise. Periods stop when the body weight drops to unhealthy levels and doesn’t get enough nutrients, and a tell-tale sign of insufficient nutrients is when a woman experiences very light periods, or only gets her period every 2-3 months. A healthy weight is also important to maintain healthy levels of estrogen to absorb calcium for healthy bones.
Low Bone Mass
This leads to the second symptom, low bone mass. Because the body is unable to absorb calcium efficiently, the bones become weaker. Exercising helps to strengthen bones, but anything in immoderate amounts is unhealthy. Intensive workouts can be detrimental when compounded with insufficient nutrients, low levels of estrogen, low body weight and low calcium intake. A ramification of low bone mass is stress fractures – minute cracks in the bone. These are caused by repeated exertion from an activity. For example, a runner may get a stress fracture anywhere along the foot to hips.
If you missed your period for more than 2 months, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor for countermeasures. Keep track of your periods so you know when you’ve missed a few cycles, especially when you’re too caught up with training!
Guide To Having Your Period On Valentine’s
Pay Special Attention To Your Diet
Regardless of whether you usually get cramps, try to avoid foods that incite menstrual pains. It is safer not to take any chances that can potentially ruin your Valentine date. These foods include coffee, excessive sugar and salt, fatty meat, processed food, and cold beverages. The foods that you are sensitive to may differ from the woman next to you, so be aware of your body’s preferences.
Receive Sufficient Rest
Mood swing is a common PMS, and you have a higher tendency to feel lethargic during your period. This may lead to stress, and even muscle aches and appetite changes. Sleep is the best method to combat that.
Inform Your Date
If you have been seeing your partner for a while, or if you feel comfortable doing so, you should not have any qualms about being forthright with your date about this matter. You can even get your boyfriend or husband to download a period-tracking app (check out pslove in Appstore or GooglePlay) with your menstrual cycle information so that they will be notified when you are about to get your period!
However, don’t use your period as an excuse to boss him around. Men may not be able to empathise with the pain women have to go through on a regular basis, and it is only natural that women expect their partners to accommodate them during their periods. Nevertheless, that does not make the case for abusing your “power”. Don’t take it all out on him just because he makes a convenient target.