I’ve had longer than a decade to learn how to manage Aunt Flo’s visits with grace and efficiency. But it’s only recently that I’ve been able to control myself from going into total reactive mode when my painful, messy, and mood-ruining “you’re-not-pregnant” reminder comes around.
I did the math. It’s taken me more than 156 cycles to feel like I can contain the situation. I don’t know how much money that is in ruined underwear, but it’s definitely a lot of ruined dignity.
So what happened this past year to change all that? For one, I got married. My husband and I started this thing called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)—also known as natural family planning—which means that I actually pay attention to my cycle. Secondly, I started working in the male-dominated tech industry. This means I have fewer sympathetic female coworkers ready to dole out tampons, Midol, and encouraging words of hope. It has forced me to be more self-reliant when it comes to managing my period.
So here are my tips on how you can make sure you’re prepared when Mother Nature’s sister comes to visit.
01. Know thy cycle.
There’s an app for that. In fact, there are several of them. These apps can be as simple as tracking when you have your period all the way to accounting for the several Fertility Awareness Methods. FAMs often include tracking your cervical mucus and/or body temperature to identify when you’re ovulating, which many couples use to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. But knowing when you ovulated also helps you identify when you’re likely to have your period, as menstruation typically takes place ten to fourteen days after ovulation, more or less. If you’re interested in learning more about FAMs, check out this clever (and funny) short film by Cassie Moriarty.
While fertility awareness might not be the right fit for you, tracking your period is an empowering habit to make. Not only will you be able to answer your doctor’s question—“When was your last period?”—with precision and ease (instead of “um . . .”), but you’ll also be able to read your body’s signs to help prepare in advance, whether you’re traveling or just planning your week. Moreover, it allows you to be more cognizant of your shifting moods and general health.
02. Note your nutrition.
If you’re anything like me, you often have monstrous cramps paired with frustratingly heavy periods. So we obviously deserve chocolate, right? Right?
Well, it turns out that our nutritional choices can be so much more than a coping mechanism. “While a full week of menstrual bleeding or spotting is considered normal, a long or heavy period is not necessary to shed the lining of the uterus,” explains Marilyn M. Shannon, author of Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition. “Better nutrition can noticeably shorten the length of the menses as well as the amount of blood loss.”
Shannon shares that if you’re losing a lot of bright red blood that runs quickly, it could signal that your clotting and healing mechanisms might need a nutritional boost. What does she suggest? Reach for the good-for-you stuff. While I recommend conducting your own research to create a meal plan that works best for you, here are some foods Shannon suggests you stock up on:
- Eggs, which are a natural source of vitamin A, are key for a healthy immune system, bone growth, and reproduction (cell growth).
- Orange and yellow vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and apricots, are full of beta-carotene that quickly converts to vitamin A in the body.
- Whole plant and animal foods are a great source for vitamin B complex. These help the body make new cells, break down fats and carbs into energy, support healthy sleep, treat and prevent various types of cardiovascular disease, and produce red blood cells, among others.
- Citrus fruits, especially the pith, or white parts inside their rinds, will give you bioflavonoids, which work with vitamin C to promote tissue healing and stronger blood capillaries. Use them to make infused water, dry them up to use in tea, make them into candied peels, or throw them into broths and stews to enhance meat dishes.
- Broccoli and milk provide a ton of calcium for strong bones, as changes in estrogen levels make women more prone to bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Raw pumpkin seeds and flax seeds will help with essential fatty acids to keep your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and immune systems functioning at their best.
- Lots of leafy greens for vitamin K will help the body’s blood-clotting and calcium-building processes.
- Beans and red meat will replenish iron lost during your period. If your diet does not match the amount of iron lost during menstruation, you could become iron-deficient. Symptoms of iron deficiency include headaches, feeling weak/dizzy/cranky, shortness of breath, and difficulty concentrating.
A healthy diet—while the most effective—takes at least a week of implementation before you begin to feel the physical benefits. So if you ate unhealthy, greasy food last week, and you need something to ease your period right now, Shannon suggests capsules of chlorophyll, rich in vitamin K. She also recommends taking tablets of cayenne pepper (also called capsicum), which can slow heavy bleeding. “Extra flax oil (2 teaspoons) taken before and during the period will often lighten bleeding also,” Shannon says. And if you’re looking for ways to ease PMS symptoms, add these five foods to your regular diet.
03. Two words: black panties.
Tired of ruining your underwear? This simple trick I’ve learned has been surprisingly transformative. I feel far more in control and less paranoid about leaks. Designate five to seven pairs of black underwear for your time of the month. Around the time you expect to have your period, start wearing them. Due to the color, the inevitable spotting stains won’t be as visible. Moreover, forcing yourself to wear black panties will remind you to avoid wearing white or light-colored clothes when you’re choosing your outfit (a mistake I have made more than once).
Want to up your game? Invest in these panties designed and made by women to prevent period leaks. A portion of proceeds goes to a charity that empowers women in developing countries by working to eliminate the shame and inequality associated with periods.
04. Build a wardrobe of period-proof outfits.
Yeah, I know. I’d rather wear sweatpants all day, too. But sweatpants hardly make me feel like I’m the capable, confident person that I need to be in the office. You might not need a whole week’s worth of menstrual-proof outfits, but it won’t hurt to set aside a few more comfortable pieces of clothing for when cramps are in full swing. For bottoms, wearing black, brown, or dark fabrics will ease your mind. For tops, depending on your style, wear something that will put you in a good mood (brighter colors, feminine silhouettes, ultrasoft materials). Reach for loose or breathable clothing, as we tend to bloat when we’re menstruating. Ultimately, choose something versatile that brings you both joy and ease.
As a busy woman who usually isn’t thinking all too much about my period until I feel it creep up on me, I’ve realized that the only way I will ever be prepared is if I’m overprepared. I’ve learned to always have both tampons and Midol stashed in four key areas of my life: my home, my office, my car, and my purse. I feel most in control from being proactive about my cycles instead of reactive. By having the right undergarments, clothes, familiarity with my cycle, and healthy eating habits, my period isn’t only less terrible, but my entire understanding of my body is also strengthened, reminding me how complex and amazing the female body is.