Menstruation still has the stigma of filthiness, so we keep doing our best to disguise its symptoms. The negative conceptions associated with menstruation are so strong that many women prefer to keep it as secret as possible, although everybody knows it's something that happens. There are endless stories and myths about the evilness of women and menstruation, using this process as the evidence of this malignity, as well as it being their "weapon against men". From the Middle Ages, when people assured that menstruation blood was the cause of leprosy and was capable of destroying crops, to the still common practice in India of banishing women during their periods, menstruation continues to be a natural process that perplexes and even frightens society.
We don't have to go to extreme cases. Just think about all the myths you've listened recently, and you'll see that misinformation is still harmful to women. For that reason, here are five do's and don'ts we should all know:
There are many myths about the best foods to consume during the period. There are even some bloggers who claim to have the perfect diet to cleanse the body from the "toxins" of menstruation. Yes, they believe this process is filthy and unnatural. Fortunately, many of these theories and myths have been debunked by doctors, but this doesn’t mean there’s not a relationship between our period and food.
Do’s: While the idea of a diet to detox our body from toxins has been debunked, there are foods that can ease the discomfort. For instance, one of the recommendations is to reduce the natural cravings derived from menstruation to avoid bloating and cramps. Eating complex carbs like fruits and vegetables helps regulate sugar levels. Dark chocolate can also do the job, plus it increases serotonin, which lightens our mood. In that same way, the list includes calcium (broccoli, kale, and natural yogurt) and magnesium (tofu and peanuts). The best trick is to be well hydrated, so don’t forget to drink lots of water.
Don’ts: Avoid eating too much salt during these days. This makes sense since salt is one of the substances that makes the body retain water. During those days our bodies are more swollen, so salt can increase the discomfort. Also, according to gynecologist Angela Jones, it can also increase cramps. On the list of food that produces more painful cramps are caffeine, chocolate (not dark), dairy (cheese and whole milk), and red meats.
Do’s: In the past sexual relationships during periods were absolutely out of the question. For example, according to Janice Delaney (The Curse), during the Middle Ages French people believed that children conceived during a woman’s period were doomed to be born with the most terrible diseases like leprosy, syphilis, among others. However, many specialists (like Dr. Thomas A. Molinaro from the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey) agree that sex during the period can be good, since orgasms help reduce menstrual cramps.
Don’ts: While sex is not forbidden at all, one important thing is to always use protection (actually this rule should apply whenever you have sex). Blood is the main medium to spread viruses and bacteria. Blood vessels are more exposed, increasing the possibility of contracting a disease or an infection.
Do’s: We know, exercise is the least appealing activity we want to do on those days. However, it’s been proven that being inactive can increase discomfort. Movement and the processes involved in every single exercise help relax the body. Moreover, it also increases endorphin levels, which reduce pain and improve your mood.
Don’ts: Actually, there are no don'ts. The type of exercise, duration, and intensity depends on your personal choice.
The idea of the hygiene during menstruation has been a very important issue for years. For example, there's evidence showing that ancient Egyptian women used a sort of proto-tampons made with papyrus. These were soaked with the water of the Nile River and then with honey. Of course, the risks of getting a massive infection were really high, and even today, no matter how sterilized our supplies are, that zone of our body is very delicate and needs the utmost hygiene cares.
Do’s: Washing that region is very important, especially during those days. However, use only water or neutral soap. And remember, constantly change your tampon, pad, or any other method you use.
Don’ts: Don't ever use douche products, no matter the brand and what they claim to do. The vagina has natural bacteria protecting it. When douching, you annihilate good bacteria, increasing the risks of an infection. This doesn't only apply on your period.
Do’s: A lot has been said about the importance of sleeping for health. However, sometimes we're so immersed in our routines and duties that we forget to get the minimum amount of sleep needed to function every day. Especially during our period, sleep can play a very important role, so try sleeping the hours you need during your period.
Don’ts: According to Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman (Obstetrician/Gynecologist at the Rosalind Franklin University College of Medicine), sleep deprivation increases the levels of a hormone called cortisol which, among other things, it's released in moments of stress. Not sleeping becomes a stressful process that can end up in a hormonal imbalance.
Being informed about the physical processes our body goes through is something we all should do. However, stigmas and taboos are still so strong that many women are afraid to ask or talk about their doubts and experiences. For example, did you know that menstruation can give you hints about your health in general? At the end of the day, the only way to stop the spreading of myths and other misconceptions is by informing ourselves through reliable sources.
Images by @mikkelpop