Updated: Apr 30, 2019
I used to have so heavy cramps that I dreaded my menstruation. My monthly bleed meant two days of being bed-bound, in cold-sweating agony - as long as I did not eat several double doses of ibuprofen. Throughout my youth I heard several versions of the statement "That's just how it's like to be a woman". And haven't we all? Isn't it interesting that it is so imprinted in our culture that something most women will go through monthly would be inherently painful? And that the only way of "getting rid of the problem" would be to take the pill? I never really believed in this statement - it just didn't seem logical for me that a natural part of being a fertile woman would have to be painful. It was my quest to understand these heavy cramps that drove me into really working with my menstrual cycle and study menstrual health, in order to find answers to these questions.
And what did I come to realize? Well, I realized that strong cramps and heavy bleedings were symptoms of something that was out of balance in my body - not at all a natural part of being a woman. Through my work as a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner I am also getting this confirmed time upon time.
Believe it or not: nowadays, I do not suffer any painful cramps. Menstruation has even become a period of the month that I look forward to, since I've made it into a time of deepening my relationship to myself and give myself permission to slow down. So how do we transform our period from horrible to nice?
Here's my recipe:
1. Deal with the underlying causes to menstrual pain
The most common cause of menstrual pain is a situation of chronic inflammation in the body, since inflammation cause an excess production of prostaglandins in the uterus. Simplified, prostaglandins are hormone-like substances which cause muscle contractions. They help the uterine muscle contract, so that it can push out the endometrium (uterine lining) and blood during menstruation. Though when they are produced in excess, it creates painful cramps. Chronic inflammation can appear due to many causes, some example being; exposure to allergens, an inflammatory diet, and unbalanced gut health. Likewise, the solution for healing chronic inflammation will be individual for every women (although, more often than not it will start with adapting an anti-inflammatory diet).
Other causes to menstrual cramps can be magnesium deficiency, stress, muscle tension caused by emotional trauma, uterine fibroids, and/or endometriosis.
All of these situations can usually be resolved by natural strategies, or with conventional medicine in combination with natural strategies. Sometimes it is easy to find the solution and deal with the situation by ourselves. Other times the situation is more complex, and we will benefit from the help of a skilled holistic practitioner (preferably one specialized in women's health).
2. Deal with underlying causes to heavy bleeding
In the same way as menstrual pain is a sign of unbalance, very heavy bleeding (which is defined as more than 80 ml during a menstruation) is also telling us that something is slightly out of hand.
A heavy menstruation is often created when the uterine lining has grown excessively thick (creating more material to "bleed out") - which can happen in a situation of too much unopposed estrogen. This can be caused for example by a thyroid problem, nutritional deficiencies, and/or stress. Additionally, the loss of iron caused by the heavy bleeding can worsen the situation, creating a vicious spiral. Other causes to heavy bleeding could be uterine fibroids, uterine polyps, endometriosis, or problems with blood clotting.
Just as with painful menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding can be resolved by finding the root cause of the problem and treat it with diet, lifestyle, nutrition, and other natural remedies - preferably with the help of a holistic reproductive health practitioner.
3. Make space for your menstruation
In many traditions menstruation has been (and is) regarded as a time when women can open up to an even deeper contact with themselves, and because of that they are regard as sacred. This is quite a difference to the menstrual taboos practiced in many modern religions, where women are regarded as "impure" and kept away from spiritual practice during their bleed.
In cultures who operate with a positive menstrual taboo, women often seek seclusion during their bleeding not because they are regarded "impure", but because they want to make space for this deeper contact with their inner world through seclusion and stillness.
When I have the possibility, I like creating this kind of menstrual ritual for myself. My favorite ways of caring for myself during menstruation includes minimizing my workload, turning off my phone, lighting candles, curling up in the bed with my cat, relaxing herbal teas, raw chocolate, light reading, journaling, yin yoga, and meditating.
4. Chart your menstrual cycle
To be able to plan for these kind of rituals, and in order to be able to time preventive actions to avoid pain during menstruation, it is of course crucial that we know when our menstruation is going to come! Now, this is one of my favorite benefits with charting my cycles with Fertility Awareness. When we learn to correctly chart our cycle using fertile mucus and temperature observations, we will most often know very accurately when our menstruation is going to come. No more surprise visits from auntie flow, in other words!
I usually mark in my calendar the days I expect to bleed, and try to keep the two first days as free from obligations as possible. This creates space for me to really relax and use this period as the sacred pause it has the potential to be.
The first time I had a completely pain-free menstruation, I was so amazed - it truly was possible! For every cycle that pass this new way of experiencing my menstruation becomes more and more of the normal. And if I do experience pain, I can look back at the past month and easily identify the cause of it (so that next month, I can chose to take even better care of my body).
I deeply hope (and chose to believe) that our mainstream medical services and our culture overall will soon adapt this new paradigm of menstruation. A time when women are appreciated and honored in all their natural reproductive functions, and where having pain "just because we are women" is no longer regarded as normal.