We all have our coping mechanisms when it comes to our periods, from curling up with a hot water bottle, applying a period patch or munching on a family-sized Galaxy bar, but did you know there's a long list of things that could actually be making our periods worse? We spoke to doctors, gynaecologists and personal trainers about what to avoid when you're on your period.
Don't skip meals or fast
If you’re an intermittent faster, it’s important to give fasting a break during your period, says Kelly Mulhall, nutritional therapist and founder of hormone balancing programme The Natural Balance. “For many women, especially those that have heavy periods and experience a lot of blood loss, energy levels can drop when menstruating due to the loss of iron which transports oxygenated blood around the body. In order to ensure energy and blood sugar levels don't drop, it's best to get three proper meals a day, two litres of water and snack on some fruit if energy is low.”
Don't use a hot water bottle - sorry!
A trusty hot water bottle is one of the first things we reach for when we're cramping, but it could be making things worse. "Using a hot water bottle can damage the fascia of your body - the connective tissue which holds your muscles in place and helps your skin repair itself," says period care brand BeYou. "Holding a hot water bottle against the fascia makes it softer and then when it cools down, it hardens. This means next time you’ll need to use more heat to relieve cramps." A nifty alternative is period patches, which soothe pain without using heat.
Don’t be a slave to your workout schedule
Your monthly cycle, especially the week of your period, can have a huge effect on your physical activity. “Adjust your training schedule depending on how you feel and listen to what your body is telling you," says Rachael Penrose, trainer at nationwide exercise studio F45 Training .
If you feel heavier and sluggish, you’re not imagining it. “Your womb alone weighs eight ounces vs four ounces when you’re on your period,” says Naomi Gale of organic tampon brand Ohne. With this in mind, avoid prolonged, strenuous activity such as high-intensity workouts, long runs or sprint training. “High impact exercises use excessive amounts of your energy, which you usually lack in when on your period,” says Rachael. “A great solution would be a walk instead of a run, or a low impact HIIT workout . Most importantly if you feel lightheaded, exhausted and your body is saying no, you should stop. Have a nice warm shower and read a book - your body is doing a lot of work down there and you can always catch up on your workouts another day.”
Don't go upside down
Unless you do yoga, this probably isn’t on your to-do list anyway. But if you do, you might want to skip inverted postures such as shoulder stand, headstand and handstand, says vinyasa flow yoga teacher and GTG editorial director Victoria Woodhall . “There’s no evidence that inversions during your period are harmful, they don’t create a risk of endometriosis in healthy people, as is sometimes said,” she says. “However, on the first couple of days of your period, it’s good to support what your body is trying to do – i.e. get rid of things - so going with gravity not against it. "If I really want to do an inversion, I maybe wouldn't hold it so long. Remember your balance might be a bit off on your period too."
Go easy on strong crunches and core work, too, she adds. “You don’t want to be adding extra cramping to that area.” Instead, focus on poses that give your abdominal area space at this time such as lying down butterfly/cobbler's pose. "Lying down, bend your knees and place soles of feet together and then let your knees drop out to the sides," she says.
Don’t over-wash your vulva
It can be tempting to pay extra attention to down-there washing when you’re on your period, but steer clear of over-zealous cleaning. “Overwashing your delicate lady parts can disrupt the level of the vaginal microbiome," says Kelly. "Gently bathing in just warm water should be enough to stay clean and fresh. Even intimate soaps can be too harsh and disruptive of the natural bacteria down there and can cause a reaction. If there are any unpleasant smells it may be worth investigating for bacterial or fungal overgrowths such as thrush or BV .” We recommend Gallinée's Perfume Free Cleansing Bar , £10, which is rich in lactic acid to support your vaginal microbiome.
Do skip your usual latte
A good coffee can be one of the greatest joys in life, but go easy on caffeine when you’re on your period, advises Tania Adib, consultant gynaecologist at tampon and towel brand Callaly . “Caffeine can make your cramps worse as it can constrict your blood vessels.”
Don’t get your breasts checked
We all know the importance of really knowing our boobs so we can notice changes, but during your period is not the best time to check them. “It’s best to wait until after your period to get a breast exam as they might be lumpy due to changes in hormones,” says Dr Tania.
Don’t have unprotected sex
While on the subject of sex, don’t have unprotected sex on your period if you're trying to avoid pregnancy. We all heard the rumours at school that you couldn’t get pregnant while on your period, but it’s not true.
“You can still get pregnant on your period, especially if you have irregular periods because you might be experiencing mid-cycle bleeding and be ovulating at that time. Just because you're having a bleed it doesn’t mean you're not fertile during this time,” warns Dr Tania. “Blood is a good transmitter of infection so it’s a good idea to protect yourself during this time.”
Don’t sleep with your tampon in
Leaving a tampon in for longer than four hours runs the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome ( TSS ). "This is when toxins from the staphylococcus aureus bacteria start to seep into the bloodstream and can cause life-threatening reactions," says Kelly. "You may begin to experience fever, rash, dizziness and vomiting. If you suspect you may have TSS then seek medical advice asap."
Don't forget to change your tampon either. This seems an obvious one, but it’s particularly relevant for people who have light periods. “We generally advise women to change their tampon every four hours,” says Dr Tania. “Don’t leave it any longer due to the risk of bacterial infection. This isn’t as much as a problem for women who bleed heavily, women with lighter periods need to make sure they remember to change the tampon even if it’s not finished.”
Don’t eat too much salty or sweet food
Very salty foods can worsen cramps and add to the water retention that some women experience during their periods, warns Dr Tania.
Sweet food isn’t much better either, which is bad news when all you’re craving is a Kinder Bueno. “Sweet food (as well as caffeine and alcohol) create chemicals in your body that increase your pain receptors making you feel worse. Trying to be conscious of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, plenty of water or herbal tea and regular meals will go a long way to reducing period pain and PMS,” says Kelly Mulhall.
Don’t stay up too late
Binging your favourite show late into the night? Put the remote down and head to bed, advises Dr Tania. “Make sure you get enough sleep as you still need your rest during your period even though PMS and premenstrual symptoms have dissipated. Try and get enough rest so that you feel on top form.”
Don’t reach for the rosé
There’s nothing better than a nice glass of wine at the end of the day (or over a boozy lunch) but alcohol consumption isn’t always wise when you’re on your period. “Alcohol is commonly viewed as a way of relaxing but it’s is actually a depressant and can make both depression and anxiety worse,” cautions Dr Sarah Jarvis, who is working with Livia, the pill-free period pain reliever. “Alcohol tends to have more profound effects on your mood in the run-up to your period – so it’s worth avoiding situations where you could be drinking more just before your period.”
Don’t feel you have to skip cake
“Your hormones are running riot and your pain threshold is at its lowest,” says Jodie Hughes endometriosis research advisor and founder of Endometriosis South Coast, who works with period patch brand Beyou. “If you want that piece of cake, eat it! If you feel the need to cry all day and purge your feelings, do it. Do whatever comes naturally without judgement and be kind to yourself. Pain during periods is so high it can cause all of the emotions and feelings to come to the surface. Sit with them and look on them with acceptance.”
Don’t hide indoors
It’s tempting enough to stay holed up inside during winter, even before you’re ailed with period pains but getting outside is key. “Nature has been found to help with soothing our mental health and with some of us experiencing elevated levels of anxiousness on our periods, getting out for a quick stroll can be of real benefit to boost your happy hormones,” says Naomi Gale of Ohne.
Don't have injectables...
Or piercings. Or a wax for that matter. We're more sensitive to pain during our period so Dr Sarah Jarvis advises planning your appointment for the two weeks after your period finishes. "Studies show that women are consistently more sensitive to pain in the run-up to their period and during their period," she says.