I know, I know. You’ve been dealing with your period for years (or months, for a few of you, I suppose). You’ve got your menstrual cycle all figured out. You’re only here for me to tell you to stock up on Rom-Coms and it’s okay to eat an entire tub of ice cream. Sure.

But do you really have it figured out? Is your cycle still kind of a mystery? Have you really paid attention to the little details, or are you like me and just kind of glossed over them and only noted really strange things, like a late period? You might be scared of your cycle because it’s a mystery, but take the mystery out and it’s actually quite predictable. Knowledge is power. If you want to know how to survive your period, start by knowing your period. Well, your whole cycle actually, because your period is determined by basically everything else your body does during your menstrual cycle. So here’s the first tip:

1.Pay Attention.

Get one of those period-tracking apps. There’s a million of them. Some are better, some are worse, some are just okay. Or just note the details on your phone’s calendar. Don’t just settle for tracking your start-and-end dates, though. Even if you’re not trying to conceive, and especially if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, noting all the details about your body is really important to understanding what’s going on when. Do you always get bloated at the same time every cycle? Do you feel really sexy for a few days, halfway through your cycle? Are you like me and feel the need to exercise non-stop in the first three days of your period? These things probably seem really random until you start to see a pattern, cycle after cycle.

2. Learn Biology.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Taking Charge of Your Fertility changed my life, thanks to a weird-but-amazingly comforting conversation with a cousin and great friend. But there are things that your body does, those little details that you’re now going to pay attention to, that have a purpose. Some people might be grossed out by the thought of cervical fluid or looking at it or, golly, touching it, but it gives you immeasurable insight about what is going on with your body.

There’s a pervasive myth that having unprotected sex will lead to pregnancy at any time during a woman’s cycle because women’s bodies are mysterious and strange, but it is simply not true. Strange, sure, but mysterious? Hardly. And pregnancy? There’s only a 25% chance of conception when you’re fertile, which is really for only about four days before you ovulate. Four days. In approximately a month. And I say that as someone who has had two unplanned pregnancies (seriously, over a span of around seven years, it was the only two times we had unprotected sex). Learning the signs of fertility, what they mean, and keeping track of them will change how everything you think you know about your body.

3. Determine What’s Normal.

For me, before our son was born, my cycle was an astounding 42 days long. It was regular, and a common length among the women in my family. Most websites will tell you that a normal, healthy cycle is 21-35 days and anything other than that is abnormal and unhealthy. I never thought my cycle was anything other than fine until I found that out. And guess what: my cycle was fine. What matters more than length is that its regular, predictable, and that I ovulate every cycle, around the same time. And I did. But for someone who’s cycle is the 28-days that everything is calculated by despite its innacuracies, having a 42-day cycle mixed in there is a problematic sign (and likely the early miscarriage of an undetected pregnancy, you didn’t ovulate, the start of menopause… the list goes on).

What’s normal for you might not be normal for someone else, so knowing what’s normal for you is really really important. Of course, there are some things that aren’t normal at all, for anyone, and should be discussed with a doctor.  Things like irregular, unpredictable cycles and really heavy periods. But note this: going on birth control, especially the pill, will not fix the problem. The things you’re experiencing before getting on the pill will continue after you get off it. Like, if you’re having irregular cycles, sure, going on the pill will make your life easier, but it won’t actually make your periods not-irregular. When you get off the pill, because, say, you and your partner decide to have a baby, you might have difficulty because your cycle will still be irregular.

The only times this isn’t really the case is when you’re a really young or going through menopause. For some young women, when you first get your period it might be irregular but regulates as you get older. With menopause, the pill can help smooth the transition and alleviate symptoms.

4. Be Your Own Advocate.

In my experience (and the experience of my aforementioned cousin, the fertility guru), doctors don’t always listen. They’re busy and they don’t have a lot of time for each patient, so they dole out the panacea for the problem. Take the birth control example. Many women go on the pill just to have regular cycles, but they could really be experiencing something like PCOS, fibriods, endometriosis, or PID, which can be very serious.

My personal example? When I went to my OB/GYN , whom I loved dearly, for my pregnancy confirmation, they calculated my due date based on the 28-day cycle. I knew my cycle length was a solid two weeks longer, on average, and I knew when I conceived. There was only one day we had unprotected sex so it had to be within a few days after. But I was, for the most part, ignored. Because of this, I was induced when I was a week past my due date, even though I really wasn’t.

If I had been tracking my cycles, it might have been different. I might have been able to say “look, here, at this hard evidence that something is different.” If you’ve been taking your basal body temp (which I recommend) and can show that you haven’t been ovulating, or that something else is abnormal it changes things. Cycle tracking takes some of the guesswork out of the doctor’s job, while ensuring that you get the best possible care.

5. Prepare Yourself.

Let’s assume you’ve started tracking your periods and everything’s healthy and normal. Which means you know your period is about to start, which means you can prepare for it. Whoa. Let’s say, for example, you now know you get really bloated two days before your period. You can make sure that around that time drink more water, avoid salty food, and that you have clean clothes one size up. Amazing! You know when to expect PMS and go heavy on the relaxation strategies. You can go out and pads, tampons, or uncover your cup and start wearing your designated underwear. I wear Thinx the day I expect my period and the day before since my first day is lighter. It alleviates some of the anxiety.

There is no one-size-fits-all-periods list of things to do, because every woman’s body is unique. Since you know your cycle, your cravings, and your symptoms, you can get ready for your period by stocking up on the things you need. This is where the ice cream and rom-coms come in, or hair ties and clean workout clothes, if you’re me. You can tell your partner that you’d better have sex now, because it’s not going to happen next week. Which I don’t actually recommend, because sex during your period helps reduce the intensity of cramps. Which you can also plan for, if you get really bad cramps! Woo, SEX!

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