The female body; oh so divine, yet oh so trying at times. Within a single lifetime, it is the harbinger of new life, but also one that necessarily sacrifices much to get there. For at an early juncture, the unutterable phenomenon of periods begins to set in—we see red before we’re even able to understand what they are. And with it comes a slew of other bodily pains we experience for the first time; symptoms which we grow accustomed to as the years pass and we continue to bleed on.
When the time of the month sets in, some of us barrel through an entire range of bodily pains: bloating, cramps, lower back pain, sore breasts, fatigue and the indescribable switch in mood. The worst part of it? It was never explained to us. Instead, we learnt along the way about how to manage the discomfort that afflicted us so; makeshift hot packs, avoiding cold water and the last resort of a pill pop were all ways we tried to ease the discomfort in our lower abdomen.
Yet according to Dr Lim Whui Whui, a consultant at the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology of Singapore General Hospital, period symptoms remain far from being fully understood: “It could be due to changes in the levels of female hormones (i.e. progesterone and oestrogen) during your menstrual cycle but changes in brain chemicals like serotonin may also play a role in contributing to these symptoms.” With all that said and done however, there are ways in which one can help to alleviate the pains and better prepare for the time of the month—instead of simply brushing it off and choosing to live through its various symptoms. From period-friendly foods to warm baths, Dr Lim weighs in with period care tips for looking after ourselves when we are faced with its inevitable onset.
Take a warm bath
Home remedies such as taking a warm bath or applying a heat pack to the lower abdomen and massage can help with managing painful cramps. It will also help ease the body aches experienced during menstruation.
Opt for period-friendly foods
You can try consuming certain period-friendly foods that may reduce period symptoms. Drinking more water and increasing intake of protein rich foods such as chicken, fish, as well as potassium rich food such as bananas and tomatoes can also help promote a good balance of fluids—which will aid bloating. Foods high in fibre can help reduced bloatedness—aim for at least two servings of fruits and vegetables and opt for wholegrain products.
Foods high in magnesium such as green leafy vegetables, avocado, chia seeds and almonds can help alleviate menstrual cramps. Calcium can also help reduce water-retention and this is found in dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. Omega-3 rich foods such as mackerel, salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts are also considered period-friendly foods.
Start a regular exercise routine
Having regular exercise can help release ‘happy’ hormones such as serotonin in our brain which may help reduce these symptoms. Some people find that relaxing activities such as yoga, a massage and meditation will also help in symptom control.
Control your diet
Limiting salty foods in your diet will help to reduce bloating. You should also stop smoking and try reducing caffeine and alcohol intake during the time of your month.
Get enough rest
Some women find that these lifestyle changes such as meditation, a healthy diet and regular exercise are beneficial in managing their cramps. But at the end of the day, one must ensure to get adequate sleep and rest during their period—to help reduce the constant fatigue commonly felt on one’s period.
Consider over-the-counter medications
Over the counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen can also help alleviate cramps. If these do not work and the pain is affecting your quality of life, it is advisable to seek medical advice from your gynaecologist to rule out any pathology.
Keep track of your monthly cycles
Keep track of your periods so you will know when to expect the next one. You can use in-phone applications and period trackers that will also help to track your common symptoms and ensure that you’re having regular period cycles.