Writing by Freya Bennett // Photograph by Leanne Surfleet
We have all felt this pain at some point in our life (Most women have at least, and it’s fair to say some men have felt our pain empathically).
Cramps can vary from mild to excruciating, and I think it’s fair to say most people don’t find them enjoyable.
Whilst I can easily handle a small amount of period pain, when it’s bad, it can be REALLY bad. I have even heard of girls throwing up from the pain and when it gets to this stage, it’s time to do something about it!
So here is my guide to period cramps. There is so much you can do before resorting to medical intervention.
My first piece of advice is prevention.
I can almost guarantee that what you eat and how you feel strongly affects your period. During months that I have eaten a lot of junk food, not slept enough, and been stressed out, I have had intense cramps, heavier bleeding, late periods, and grumpier moods.
On the flip side of that, during the months that I have decided to take care of myself more, my period has been a breeze!
The worst offender is sugar, one of my personal downfalls and one of the worst things for your health and hormones. Sugar is known to aggravate period cramps and lead to longer and harsher PMS in general. Try to cut down on refined sugar such as white bread, lollies, and soft drinks.
The second thing to cut back on is caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that helps you feel sharper… but only for the short-term. You may temporarily feel more awake, more energized, and happier, but once you come down from that high, you’re worse off than before. It leaves you dehydrated, grumpy, tired, and feeling like your adrenals have had a good work out. It increases anxiety and nervous tension. Of course, these things won’t make you feel good on a regular day, let alone when you have your period! So try to cut down on your intake. Caffeine is in chocolate, energy drinks and coffee.
I know it’s boring and tedious to hear, but eat healthy! Here are some foods known to help with PMS: broccolli, eggs, aspargus, yoghurt, banana, salmon, pumkin seeds and chamomile tea. It’s important to look after yourself and your body; remember, your body is your temple and you control how it works.
Excercise. Exercise pretty much keeps everything in your body working well, and even helps your mental state too. The release of endorphones are amazing for body and mind. So choose your favourite excersize (yoga, running, walking, swimming, etc.) and see if you can do it at least four times a week. Make sure you have a rest day once or twice a week, though, as too much excercise is also not good.
And next, vitamins:
You’ve probably heard of Evening Primrose Oil. It is a great supplement that you can buy in any chemist or supermarket to help relieve symptoms of PMS. It’s fairly cheap and very effective. To be taken on a regular basis, not just when you have you period, read instructions on the jar carefully .
Vitamin B6 is a great one to take if you get sore breasts during PMS and your period. You can also buy this at any chemist and supermarket, and although it is slightly more expensive, it can be worth it for the relief. It also helps boost energy and mood. Again, make sure you follow the instructions on the jar.
Now that I have covered prevention, here is my advice for what to do in the moment you have cramps. It can be intense and often you don’t feel like doing anything, but give these tips a go, I promise they can help!
Hot water bottle – this always is a go to fix for me. It eases the pain almost instantly! Great for when you are dealing with the pain at home.
Walk – sometimes simply moving helps get rid of cramps. Try a gentle walk around the block to see if it eases pain, but don’t push yourself.
Stretches – A good stomach stretch can do a world of good. Try the cobra, or the sphinx. (Google these yoga poses if you are unsure of them)
Acupressure Points – Acupressure is derived from the ancient Chinese healing method of acupuncture. Pressure points are clusters of nerves located at various points on the body, which help regulate blood circulation. An amazing acupressure point is seen below in this image. Use your fingers to find the point. (three fingers from your wrist bone) You can also do this from your ankle bone and your knee.
Paracetamol — Paracetamol is good for a last resort. It’s pretty mild and an anti-inflammetary. It’s always good to try other options first, but never feel bad about needing to take some as cramps can be intense.
If you’ve exhausted these options and your cramps are just as intense as ever, it’s time to go to your naturopath, nutritionist or chinese medicine practitioner and see if you have a hormone imbalance.
The reason I say naturopath and not doctor is because often, a doctor’s first port of call is to put you on the contraceptive pill.
Which isn’t actually fixing the problem.
If you are having intense cramps and periods, there is a real imbalance that needs fixing. The pill is just a mask that puts your body into a false sense of early pregnancy, thus STOPPING your natural cycle (the bleeding you have whilst on the pill is not your period, it’s actually a ‘withdrawal bleed’ caused by coming off the hormones you’ve been taking).
Once you come off the pill, your problems will come back, and if they haven’t been dealt with properly, they may be worse. (Not to mention other side effects of being on the pill in general)
A (good) naturopath, nutritionist or chinese medicine practioner will want to get to the root of the problem, so they will have you take blood tests (among other things) and will work out what is actually going on. Often, it’s going to be as simple as taking some vitamins that may have been low in your blood.