Menstruating people may experience periods, but so many of us are in the dark about what it even means to have a healthy, powerful cycle! For the Mama Glow webinar “Period Power: A Conversation About Menstrual Cycles & Womb Health,” Mama Glow doula Djali Brown-Cepeda led an illuminating conversation with doula and women’s health practitioner Alicia Hudson (Honeydew Holistics), Cindy Luquin, sex educator (Howl at the Womb), and Courtney Mayszak Co-Founder & CPO of De Lune (De Lune).
The panelists broke down the phases of the menstrual cycle and what they mean for your health and wellness, reflected on the ways in which foods and medicines can impact menstruation, discussed the intersections of social justice and reproductive health, and so much more.
Read on for 5 of our biggest takeaways from the webinar.
1. Improve your body literacy & track your cycle
One way to get more in touch with the power of your period is by improving body literacy and understanding that reproductive health is a part of general health. If you are not in good health, your reproductive system will tune in to the fact that it’s not a good environment or time to have a baby.
To collect data about your body and stay in control (using your period to your advantage), it’s useful to track your cycle so you know when you’re in each phase and what to expect during it. There are 4 phases: Follicular, Ovulation, Luteal, and Menstrual.
The panelists noted that many of us are only taught about our womb as it relates to our period and pregnancy and menopause, and are therefore unaware of the power of it for every other part of your life. Knowing the changes your reproductive system is going through in each phase, and how they impact the rest of your body can bring you closer to your divine feminine energy.
Cycle tracking is also a great way to increase fertility awareness. Body literacy allows you to make real-time observations of your body’s signs of fertility and infertility. One great app for cycle tracking and learning more about how to listen to and make the most of each phase of your menstrual cycle is Flo Living, founded by Alisa Vitti.
2. Make food choices that support a healthy womb
Hudson revealed that once she switched to vegetarianism and began using food as medicine, she saw a big change in her health and her periods. Many of us do not realize the impact of food choices on our womb health. Processed foods, caffeine, process red meats, and alcohol are just a few of the things we put into our bodies that can be disruptive to the menstrual cycle. For those suffering from fibroids, making choices that support healthy blood sugar levels, guts, and livers (where we breakdown estrogen) can help. Hudson founded Honeydew Holistics to support women with natural alternatives to combat issues like fibroids, ovarian cysts, painful menstruation, and traumatic childbirth experiences.
The panelists encouraged us all to be especially mindful of what we’re eating right before and during our periods. Variety and diversity in the diet is important, and well rounded nutrients help keep your reproductive system happy. Essential fatty acids are a necessary dietary staple to support good womb health. To have more control over what’s going into your body, they recommend growing your own food or buying local. It can also be helpful to commit to regular detoxes and cleanses.
In neighborhoods that have been gentrified so that they now have health food story and organic groceries, the panelists stressed the importance of reeducating the people who were living in that neighborhood first about what food health is and making that kind of food financially accessible to them.
3. Understand reproductive health inequity
“Reproductive justice” is where social justice and reproductive rights meet; reclaiming it and understanding where reproductive health inequity exists paves the way for conversations around environmental justice, food justice, and more, because (to put it simply) life itself does not exist without menstruation.
The history of gynecology is rooted in racism, as Black women were experimented on and traumatized for gynecology to be established as a medical practice and study. Reproductive health inequity persists for Black and brown people today, especially those living in disenfranchised communities.
Today, improved cultural specificity is necessary in wellness spaces, which are usually predominantly white. It’s also critical that we make spaces more inclusive for all menstruating people, looking at sex ed curriculums and language that include all people. The panelists asked us to look at real life events, asking questions like “When a person who doesn’t fit the ‘femme’ aesthetic experiences a period, can they go into a drug store and purchase period products safely and without fear of being harassed?”
For those raised in cultures where the stigma persists that women are inherently sexual once our bodies start changing, the panelists noted, we grow up with fear of our bodies and sexuality and how we will be perceived.
4. Monthly menstrual pain is common not “normal”
The panelists emphasized the importance of teaching people not to normalize their pain, reminding us that period problems are not your cross to bear as a person with a uterus. Luquin said that “I’ve always observed the intimate relationship dynamics in my family… reproductive issues were the norm, but we never talked about it.” Hudson agreed, adding that even though “We were taught that it was normal for you to have pain, and have cramps,” that does not have to be the case. Pain is often a sign that something is out of balance, and can usually be prevented by paying attention to how you’re tending to your body through your period.
Irregular periods or uncomfortable symptoms are not reason to take the pill, and yet many women are quickly prescribed hormonal birth control by their OB/GYN as a “solution” for period-related issues. The panelists stress that menstruating people should get the full picture about hormonal birth control and all of their options, and not be afraid to asking their doctor all of their questions. It’s important to note that when you’re on birth control, your monthly bleed is not an actual period, and while birth control is often prescribed as a solution to balance estrogen levels, studies show a higher risk of cancer for birth control users. If you are wanting the pill for pregnancy prevention, the panelists suggest that one way to prevent pregnancy without synthetic hormones is to improve your fertility awareness to know when you are fertile and plan abstinence around that time in your cycle.
The panelists also commented on the cultural stigmas around sex and intimacy during your period. They used a scene from 50 Shades of Grey as an example of a scene in which pop culture prioritizes a hyper-sexualized male gaze over the woman’s health and wellness (in the scene, Christian Grey has sex with Anastasia on her period because he’s so desperate for her that he “doesn’t care” that she’s menstruating). In reality, sex on your period makes bacterial infection more likely. If you want to engage in intimacy while menstruating, they encourage you to make sure partner is clean, make sure what you’re using to clean yourself is nontoxic, etc., to avoid infection or discomfort.
5. Come up with a monthly ritual to honor yourself during your period
To conclude, the panelists reflected on the rituals and self-care actions they take each month during their periods to honor their bodies. Some suggestions included indulging in Yoni steams, setting boundaries, or taking time to journal. They also recommended “letting yourself be” by releasing the pressure to constantly be “on” or “going,” conserving your energy, your resources, your spirit, etc.
There are also a number of powerful and empowering books to read in order to connect more intimately with your menstrual health, including:
- Sacred Woman – Queen Afua
- The 5th Vital Sign – Lisa Hendrix
- The Period Repair Manual – Lara Briden
- It’s Only Blood: Shattering the Taboo of Menstruation – Anna Dahlqvist
- The Moon Within – Aida Salazar
Join us for our upcoming Mama Glow Webinar: Demystifying Sex + Intimacy for Millennials, presented by Foria.