I’ve suffered from intense period pain since I was twelve years old.
I still remember the first time I had it…I was on vacation and had to leave a family lunch early because I was overcome by an unknown, intense pain that made my thighs ache, and made me feel like I was going to vomit. I remember my Dad asking me in the car on the way home, “do you need pads…or anything?”. He meant well, but it was an awkward situation to say the least.
Ever since, period pain has affected many areas of my life, and I’ve tried everything to eradicate it. Initially, I tried going on ‘The Pill’, which I remained on for two years. While The Pill was very convenient at this point in my life, as it eliminated my period altogether and therefore the pain, I noticed clear side effects.
I noticed a flat mood, lack of libido, and symptoms of anxiety creeping in, and decided that The Pill wasn’t right for me.
After giving up The Pill, I decided to embrace the benefits of being in sync with my natural cycle, and searched for some natural remedies to help me manage my period pain. This search led me to learn so much more about my own body in general, which has resulted in me being able to reduce my period pain down to nil.
All bodies are unique and these tips may not work for everybody; however, I hope at the very least they can help some people live more harmoniously with their menstrual cycle.
- Make sure you’re not Coeliac/gluten sensitive
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) leads to some of the worst period pain because of inflammation. You’re already slightly inflamed by the time your period comes around naturally , so if you’ve got a condition adding to this, it can make your cramps worse. I had IBS growing up, and it took me a really long time to figure out it was because I had Coeliac Disease (an immune reaction to eating gluten). When I started to address this, my cramps reduced drastically.
Speak to your Doctor about getting your blood tested for Coeliac Disease or, if you can’t be bothered, cut gluten out of your diet for a month and see if it affects your IBS or your period. If it does, you may be gluten sensitive or Coeliac. Your gut and your period are very closely connected, and improvements in one will most likely lead to improvements in the other.
- Give up caffeine – completely!
Caffeine affects your stress hormones (i.e. cortisol), which affect your sex hormones (i.e. oestrogen), which then affect your menstrual cycle. Circle of Life, right? Everything is connected.
It’s proven that larger caffeine intakes are associated with more severe PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) symptoms . Caffeine also affects your gut’s ability to absorb food, potentially leading to inadequate iron intake , which is then also linked to having heavier period pain .
As soon as I cut caffeine from my diet, my period pain was reduced by about 75% (I was previously drinking one regular latte a day – R.I.P. my beautiful latte). When I first did this, I was amazed at how drastic this result was, which is why it’s my strongest recommendation for anyone who suffers from severe cramps.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, cutting out caffeine will be hard at first; you will likely get headaches and coffee withdrawals. However, if you can ride out these first couple of days, you may see that your cramps become less severe over the months. (Side note: caffeine is hidden in a lot of different things, such as teas, dark and milk chocolate, and soft drinks. So, keep a watchful eye out for these!)
- Take Naprogesics instead of Paracetamol
Panadol (paracetamol) wasn’t strong enough to manage my cramps when they were as severe as they were. So instead, I started to use Naprogesics (which contain Naproxen Sodium). Naprogesics work by stopping the production of Prostaglandins , which are the things that make your uterus contract and cause pain.
Don’t take more than two at once, as they might hurt your stomach. Take them with food and have no more than five tablets over a 24-hour period. Also, I take one a day a couple of days before my period, which has worked for me.
Of course, always speak to your healthcare professional before taking pain medication and use only as directed.
- Do your own research before heading to the doctors
It is useful to do your own research before heading to the doctors. I recommend reading “Period Power” by Maisie Hill, which helped me a lot. This is a great book that teaches you about your period, hormones, diet, and cycle tracking.
Doing some independent research is really important (as mundane as it seems), as your body is unique, and you likely need a tailored remedy for your period pain. You may be surprised at how vast an influence your menstrual cycle has on your life, and it’s really useful to know that changes in mood, diet, and energy, are often attributed to it.
It’s also helpful to download a cycle tracking app like Clue, so that you can see when your menstruation period, PMS symptoms, and ovulation phases are about to begin. For me, I know that my PMS symptoms flare up around Day 25 of my cycle, and I usually plan to do less around that day because of it.
- Hassle your doctor when you go
If you head to the doctors, they will likely tell you that heavy period pain will be cured by going on The Pill. Don’t get me wrong – the pill is one of the greatest advancements in modern medicine, but it’s not for everybody.
It’s more like a ‘bandaid solution’ to heavy period pain: a ‘one size fits all’ job, rather than something that gets to the root cause of the issue. You may need to be firm with them in telling them that The Pill is not right for you, and this is okay!
When you go to the doctors, ask to be tested for Endometriosis and Ovarian Cysts (this may include getting an ultrasound), which are both known to cause menstrual complications. Also, get blood tests that check for both low iron and Coeliac Disease.
These tests are more likely to help you get to the specific cause of your heavy periods and menstrual pain.
- When your period is coming, do all the usual healthy stuff like exercising and eating right
It’s boring, but it’s true – be prepared. When I know my period is coming, I do some gentle exercise, try not to binge on unhealthy foods, avoid alcohol and excessive sugar, and make sure my stress levels are low.
However, I’m not perfect, and often my period pain will persist in spite of all this effort. If you’re like me, and your cramps are still bad even though you maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle, then it might be because of a more specific issue.
Remember, severe period pain isn’t normal! Don’t let people tell you that it is.
- Lastly, don’t believe people when they tell you that period pain will go away when you have kids
Saying that period pain goes away after you have children is an old wive’s tale — I’ve met several people who still experience it, even after childbirth. There are many myths out there about periods and it’s not surprising, as even modern science is still catching up in understanding how menstruation affects each individual.
It’s best if you base your understanding on your own personal experience, and the specific remedies that work for you.
As a final note, if you’ve tried all these tips and are still experiencing period pain, don’t be discouraged. This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are likely many other things that you can try before going back on The Pill. It’s a matter of listening to your body, seeing what things work, and putting in the research into understanding your body as the unique, wonderful being that it is.
If you are really struggling, there are many healthcare professionals out there to help you on your journey towards living more harmoniously with your menstrual cycle, and it’s always helpful to speak with others about your experience if you feel comfortable doing so.
Tess Bury would like to thank WebMD for many sleepless nights.
Words by Tess Bury
Image courtesy of Pixabay.