According to our survey of nearly 1,000 women on top period peeves, cramping is enemy number one when it comes to that time of the month. This is why it’s our mission to kick period pain and discomfort to the curb starts with your tummy. Consider this your complete guide to understanding — and eradicating — menstrual cramps. Period.
What causes period cramps?
You don’t have to be in labor to get a taste of painful contractions. Cramping just before and during your period happens when your uterine muscles contract as they work to shed your uterine lining (or endometrium), which had grown nice and plump in preparation for pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, hormone-like substances called prostaglandins related to pain and inflammation trigger the contractions.
What a pain
Menstrual cramps (official name: dysmenorrhea) can vary from mild to moderately severe (alas, the higher the prostaglandins level, the greater the pain) and usually last one to three days. Cramping is most at home in the abdomen or pelvis, but as many of us know, they can also mess with your back, hips, upper thighs, and can cause headaches and sometimes the overwhelming need to puke. Not to be confused with typical period cramps, secondary dysmenorrhea is severe cramping and pain caused by serious reproductive issues such as dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, infection, or other genetic conditions, according to the experts at Harvard Health. This type of pain usually begins early in the menstrual cycle (although it can wreak havoc at any stage), increases over time, and can be accompanied by heavy flow and pain during sex. If symptoms worsen or become severe, take that as a sign to see your doctor, pronto.
The good news is you can tell period pain to peace out (or piss off, whatever works), without resorting to popping an ibuprofen and crawling into bed. Get onboard the natural wellness train and try alternative pain relief remedies to curtail cramps for good. Start by being the healthiest version of yourself by taking a daily multivitamin. Cleo’s SAVE YOUR SANITY multivitamin supplements are infused with health and mood-boosting minerals and vitamins including C, B6, B12, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D, which fights inflammation.
Heat it up
It’s official: heat packs are the new water bottles. Adding heat to the abdominal and pelvic area helps dilate uterine blood vessels to boost circulation, increase blood flow, relax muscles, and flush out prostaglandins faster to relieve cramping. Instead of being demobilized with a water bottle, Cleo’s COMFORT therapeutic on-the-go heat pack provides discreet continuous, relief from cramps for hours. Simply stick it to your underwear, and it will heat up to the perfect soothing temperature so you can go about your biz pain-free.
Exercising might be the last thing you feel like at that time of the month, but 30 minutes of aerobic exercise will boost your heart rate and blood flow to help stop cramps in their tracks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So run, bike, power walk, or indulge in a yoga session. For instant relief, try the “legs up the wall” (aka Viparita Karani) yoga pose, which has shown to ease cramps and refresh the reproductive area by encouraging the pelvic organs to flow into the lower belly. Lay flat on your back, put both legs up the wall at a 45-degree angle, and breathe baby — you’ve got this.
Bathe in it
You probably don’t need encouragement to soak in a warm bath, and this little at-home luxury is the perfect remedy for soothing period cramps. The heat therapy works to relax your uterine muscles, increasing blood flow and easing pain and cramps. While you’re at it, sip on a calming chamomile tea, which will not only lower your stress levels and ward off the dreaded PMS monster, but studies show it eases muscle spasms and fights inflammation.
For a holistic fix to bidding cramps farewell, trust in the healing powers of plant ingredients and essential oils — a godsend for bidding cramps goodbye. Aromatherapy has been practiced as a remedy for natural pain relief for thousands of years in ancient eastern cultures like India and China. According to aromatherapist, herbalist, and author of Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide, essential oils are incredibly relaxing to the central nervous system and really good for cramping and irritability. “When you're in a lot of pain and cramping, the whole body tenses up and you kick into fight or flight mode. Anything feeling tight and tense or constricted will release and relax if you’re using the right combination of oils.”
That said, rub soothing, healing sage, lavender, or rose onto your tummy and pelvis, then sit back relax and, well, smell the roses.
You are what you eat, so making a few healthy dietary changes can act to relieve menstrual cramps and elevate your overall feeling of health and wellness. So replace the burgers, fries, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, saturated fats, and processed foods with healthy fats and lots of fresh in-season vegetables to help your body reduce inflammation, which may increase your estrogen and prostaglandins levels. Go for nourishing items like papaya, avocado, nuts and seeds, fish, leafy greens, and olive oil. And it goes without saying to keep up the H2O. Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated, flush out toxins, oxygenate sore muscles, and reduce the bloat.
Here’s to living your best life and no longer letting your period cramp your style.