Your time of the month... Aunt Flo is visiting - there are a lot of phrases that women use to avoid saying the word "menstruation."
Even though it's something most women experience at some point in their life, periods are a topic that lots of people would rather not discuss openly. With this self-imposed silence, it's no wonder there are a lot of myths surrounding this monthly process.
You've probably heard myths about period products, hormones, and pregnancy since you first learned about menstruation in middle school. Here's what true - and what's not - about periods.
MYTH #1: You can't get pregnant during your period.
Fact: Don't ditch the condoms just because you're on your period - your chances of getting pregnant while on your period are slim, but they're still there.
Your menstrual cycle happens because your body is preparing for pregnancy by releasing an egg and thickening the lining of your uterus. Many people think that once your body sheds this lining, you can't get pregnant.
While it's technically true that you can't get pregnant while this is happening, sperm can live in your body for up to 5 days. That means that any sperm that enters your body can stay alive throughout your period as well as after - at which point it's completely possible for you to get pregnant. If you're having sex and don't want to get pregnant, use protection - whether you're on your period or not.
MYTH #2: You should avoid activities like exercise and sex when you're on your period.
Fact: Stop using your period as an excuse to skip your run or lay on the couch all day.
"Exercise helps relieve symptoms associated with your period. It can make you feel better, concentrate more easily, and feel energized. It can also ease pain such as cramps, back pain, and headaches," said Pamela Kurey, MD
, an obstetrician-gynecologist on the medical staff at Chester County Hospital.
You also don't need to avoid having sex. In fact, sex can actually make you feel good by releasing dopamine and oxytocin - pleasurable hormones that make sex a natural mood elevator.
MYTH #3: Your period should last exactly one week each month.
Fact: Even if you're always on time, that doesn't mean your period will be. Your body is unique, and so is your monthly cycle.
For most women, periods last about 5 days and happen every 4 to 5 weeks. But periods can be shorter or longer and more or less frequent - and they can change each month. So, think twice if you want to plan your vacation around your period or clear your purse of those extra tampons. Your period might come when you're not expecting it, and it's helpful to be prepared.
MYTH #4: Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is all in your head.
Fact: If you start crying because your husband ate the last cookie or you want to go to bed before you've even eaten dinner, you're not alone.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms associated with menstruation, and it causes symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, anxiety, or feelings of sadness before or during your period. Over 90% of women in the US experience at least one symptom when they're on their period.
"For some women, PMS may be mild. But for others, it may cause you to miss work or school because they're so severe. In either case, it's caused by hormones, which are completely out of your control - it's not in your head and it's perfectly normal," added Dr. Kurey.
PMS is likely caused by hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, falling dramatically when your body realizes you're not pregnant. These symptoms go away as your hormone levels start rising again.
While you can't control your hormones, there are some ways you can ease symptoms of PMS, such as:
- Staying healthy throughout the month by getting enough exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, coping with stress, and avoiding smoking
- Taking over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin to ease physical symptoms
- Taking prescription medicines, such as hormonal birth control, antidepressants, diuretics (pills to reduce bloating), or anti-anxiety medicines
Talk to your primary care provider or gynecologist if your PMS symptoms impact your daily life. They can help you find ways to alleviate them through lifestyle changes or medication.
MYTH #5: There's one best way to deal with period blood.
Fact: Tampons, pads, menstrual cups - there are a lot of methods out there to soak up menstrual blood. Advertisements, your friends, or even your own assumptions might make you think one method is more effective than another - when in reality, each has its pros and cons.
All of these methods will keep your white pants fresh, but some might be more comfortable for you. You can also switch things up depending on what you're doing that day or what you're wearing.
Most women know about pads and tampons. Pads can be preferable for young girls who have just gotten their period or any women who feel uncomfortable using a tampon or menstrual cup. Pantiliners - which are very thin pads - can be useful if you have light bleeding.
Some women prefer to use a tampon because of the convenience of it, especially when playing sports or swimming. Don't leave a tampon in for more than 8 hours, though, as that can cause an infection called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
There are a few other ways to deal with period blood, including:
- Menstrual cups, which are silicone cups that your insert into your vagina to hold the blood until you empty it, are reusable once you clean them. These can be an affordable, convenient option.
- Period underwear, which is washable, reusable underwear that absorbs your period blood. These can be an environmentally-friendly option that's cheaper than buying new period products each month.
Whether it's because it involves blood or reproductive organs (or both), many women don't feel comfortable talking about periods. If you avoid talking about menstruation completely, you might fall for some of the myths out there — or even help spread them.
From new to experienced members of the period club, menstruation can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you're afraid to ask questions. Mothers, daughters, aunts, and friends can all help each other make this monthly process easier if we keep the conversation going.
If you have concerns about your period, talk to your primary care provider or gynecologist. There may be ways to make your time of the month a little easier to handle.
Having your period is a completely normal process. Women should feel confident about the changes they experience each month and appreciate what their bodies can accomplish - period.
If you have questions about your period and would like to discuss with a gynecologist, call 610-738-2300 to find a provider near you.
Pamela Kurey, MD, sees patients at Chester County Ob/Gyn Associates in West Chester, Downingtown, Kennett Square and West Grove.