Do you remember the first time you got your period? Where were you, who were you with? What was it like? Was there a ritual, a talk, an acknowledgement of a life transition? Were you supported? Many of us recall the experience and the first few years of our bleeding as uneventful, no one celebrated us, or told us how sacred our bodies were. Instead many of us were fed information and messages from society and our community that something was wrong, that our bodies were dirty. With the daily attacks on our bodily autonomy, the future of women’s health is in our hands. Learning to lean into the magic and mystery of the body can free us. And the area that arguably can teach us the most, is our menstrual cycle.
Maisie Hill is a UK-based author, women’s health advocate and expert who’s mission is to help women harness their period power. Her new book, Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You manages to take one of the most complex aspects of human physiology and breaks it down into lay person’s lingo so everyone can learn how to mind their periods.
Maisie, can you share a bit about yourself, what you currently do and what led you into this very specific path of work?
In my early twenties, I was managing a rock bar in Soho (London) which was a lot of fun but I was kind of over dealing with drunk people every night and in search of a new direction, so whilst working there, I became a birth doula and qualified as a massage therapist and reflexologist. At the time I was also really struggling with debilitating period pain and I was trying out all sorts of different therapies to try and heal that pain, which is what led me to acupuncture. I went on to complete a degree in acupuncture and my aim all along was to focus on women’s health – I think my lecturers got a little fed up with me banging on about periods and pregnancy all the time!
After working as a women’s health practitioner and birth doula for over a decade and returning to work after being on maternity leave, I started running my online course, the Womb Tang Clan (which I’m about to relaunch as a membership) and developed a burning desire to write a book. I would sit up night after night, breastfeeding my son, writing in my head, desperate for a chance to write it all down, and I got a book deal with Bloomsbury shortly after.
In Section 2 of the book you get into Cycle Strategy. Its a really empowering way for us to engage with our periods and harness our hormones. Can you explain how you teach this philosophy using the seasons?
Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer pioneered the four seasons approach to the cycle, and it was through completing the Red School apprenticeship with them that I was able to understand the menstrual cycle using their approach. Then whilst I was up breastfeeding my son in the night (a lot can happen in those hours!), my experience as a practitioner started to slot together with what I’d learned from them and I realized that it gave me a really great way to explain hormones in an accessible way, and they were very kind and allowed me to use the framework of the four seasons in Period Power.
In the Cycle Strategy, the menstrual cycle is split up into four phases, or seasons. Menstruation is your inner Winter, pre-ovulation is Spring, the time around ovulation is Summer, and the premenstrual time is Autumn. By doing this, even without explaining what’s going on specifically in each season, it’s easy to get a sense of the qualities of each season – there are times when we have more energy and are up for socializing, versus the times when we’re might want to stay in and rest, and that our appetite, sexual desire, creativity, and productivity will all be influenced too.
One of the self-care practices you promote is Seed Cycling. What is it and how does it work?
Seed cycling is a practice that involves eating specific seeds during the follicular and luteal phases of the cycle to support hormone production. From day one of your period to ovulation, you eat 1-2 tablespoons of raw, ground flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds per day, then from ovulation to the start of your next period, you eat 1-2 tablespoons of raw, ground sunflower and sesame seeds. Whilst there aren’t any studies proving that seed cycling does or doesn’t work, links between the nutritional benefits of consuming seeds have been discussed in relation to the hormones of the menstrual cycle, and anecdotally, some people do find that it gently supports their cycle and overall wellbeing, and most of my clients have noticed that it’s improved their skin too.
We love that you strive to make PERIOD POWER inclusive and use language that isn’t gendered. Tell us about your efforts to write the book in this way.
This was so important to me but I didn’t consult with my publishers about my decision to do this at all, so when I handed in my first draft, I was apprehensive about the conversation would follow, but I needn’t have been because Bloomsbury have been completely supportive of my decision to use non-gendered language.
Any tips for new moms who are just getting their period again after having a baby and breastfeeding? What might they notice has changed?
It’s important to know that if you’re not breast/chestfeeding, you can ovulate as early as three weeks postpartum, and even if you are breast/chestfeeding exclusively, some people get their period back quite soon – as early as three or four months postpartum – whereas others won’t get theirs back for a couple of years. The latter usually coincides with a reduction in night feeds or stopping them entirely.
Some people find that post-pregnancy, their periods are lighter and less intense, whereas others notice that they’re heavier and therefore more draining. In the postpartum, it’s quite common to become deficient in iron and/or develop postpartum thyroiditis, both of which can influence the health of your menstrual cycle and general wellbeing so it’s a good idea not to make sure that you’re having check-ups with your doctor – getting to appointments and prioritizing your own health is hard with a baby, but when issues like these are missed and untreated, life gets even harder.
I think the main way life with a menstrual cycle changes once you have a child is that it’s so much harder to take care of your own needs throughout the cycle. There might be times when you feel incredibly touched out, experience nursing aversion, and crave time on your own, not to mention dealing with any cycle-related symptoms like pain or heavy flow. I encourage my clients to track their cycles so that they can become aware of any patterns and then speak to loved ones about what help you’ll need in order to feel supported and take care of your own health.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) can also be triggered by pregnancy and parenting, so if you’re having an awful time in the second half of your cycle (from ovulation to the start of your period) then I really recommend researching PMDD on www.iapmd.com and speaking to your doctor.
What are 3 basic things anyone can do to get attuned to their periods?
- Every day, write down a word or a sentence to describe how you feel physically and emotionally, that way you can get to know your cycle and begin to spot any patterns as well as noticing any changes – positive or negative.
- Once you’ve tracked for 2-3 cycles you might begin to identify common themes. For example, you might realize that day 6 is when you tend to feel depleted and is therefore not the day to add in any extra tasks – they can be saved for the point in your cycle when you have more energy. Similarly, you might notice that you feel irritable around day 20/21 and that you prefer time on your own or with friends who get you. But it’s all about getting to know your experience of your cycle because we’re all different, and we all have our favorite and least favorite parts of the cycle. This is about understanding and respecting your experience and needs.
- Track your cycle dates using an app so that you have an easy way of knowing where you are in your cycle and can look ahead to predicted dates for future cycles. I recommend using Clue as they’re transparent with how they use your data and are partnered with reputable research institutions and I love their non-gendered interface.
Learn more about Maisie Hill and her new book Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You