Your period can be a week you dread or just a week you focus on doing a little more in terms of self-care. The difference between having a great period and a period spawned in the fires of hell is largely determined by how you treat your body.
Let’s face it: there are a lot of rumors about what you should and shouldn’t do when you’re on your period. Growing up with an older relative in the home can mean learning untruths about your period that can be passed on from generation to generation.
At Rael, we want you to feel empowered by your period, and that’s why we’re on a mission to help you understand your body and know what it needs during every phase of your monthly cycle.
Let’s talk about the four phases of your monthly cycle, what changes you can expect, and what things you can and can’t do when you’re on your period. We’ll debunk some myths and give you some tips on how to better care for yourself, so your period feels like any other week of the month.
Four Phases and What They Do
Your monthly cycle isn’t just about the week of your period. Your monthly cycle consists of roughly 28 days that repeat each month. Your period is only five to seven of those days.
The four phases of your monthly cycle bring changes to your body because your hormone levels change. Namely, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels rise and fall, causing changes in mood, skin, weight, and energy levels.
Here’s a brief look at what happens during each phase.
1. Menstrual Phase
The first phase of your period is the menstrual phase and begins with the first day of your period. This phase usually lasts five to seven days. During this phase, estrogen and progesterone levels are lower, which means you have a higher circulating level of testosterone in your body.
Your skin may be drier and more sensitive during the menstrual phase of your monthly cycle.
2. Follicular Phase
During the follicular phase, your body creates tiny follicles that hold eggs. The follicular phase overlaps with the menstrual phase but lasts longer until ovulation or about the fourteenth day of your period.
During the follicular phase, you may notice an improvement in your mood and energy levels, and you may also feel like your skin is more comfortable, less sensitive, and overall more radiant.
3. Ovulation Phase
Ovulation only lasts about 24 hours, although the ovulation phase is usually given a two-day window. Ovulation happens when a mature egg is released from the follicle and travels down the fallopian tube to your uterus. If fertilization occurs, it will then implant in the uterus lining, resulting in a pregnancy. If not, your body begins to prepare to release it during your period.
Progesterone levels surge during ovulation, which can cause breakouts, mood swings, and even some cramping. You may also notice you have particular food cravings during ovulation, especially for sweets and carbs.
4. Luteal Phase
The luteal phase makes up the last two weeks of your menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase, especially the last week of it, you’ll experience symptoms of PMS. Food cravings, breakouts, cramps, mood swings, and disruptions in your sleep patterns can all be symptoms of PMS, and they’re all related to fluctuations in your hormones.
During the week just before your menstrual phase, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop, which can cause you to experience fatigue, breakouts, cravings for salt and sugar, and water retention.
Even if you aren’t on your period, you’re always at some point in your cycle. During these phases, your hormones change, and your bodily needs will be different. Learning how to treat your body properly during every period phase can help you feel like yourself and get rid of pesky symptoms that drive you crazy.
Five Things to Avoid On Your Period
To be honest, there’s really nothing you can’t do on your period (which we’ll talk about later). Modern technology and innovations with period care products have allowed us to participate in virtually any activity we want, whether or not we happen to be on our periods.
However, you can help your body feel better by avoiding these five-period pitfalls.
Nothing says PMS like diving mouth first into a bag of the saltiest chips you can get your hands on. Salt cravings can be a symptom of a more serious medical issue, but normally if you’re craving pretzels and chips before your period, hormones are the culprit.
Unfortunately, salt isn’t doing us any favors when we load up during the menstrual phase. Salt naturally increases the body’s water retention. Salt is an electrolyte, and your body will auto-adjust your water retention to compensate for a higher circulating level of salt in your bloodstream. This means you’ll end up feeling even more bloated than normal.
If you do end up eating salty snacks, be sure to drink extra water to help flush out the excess and prevent additional water retention.
Comfort food is comforting for a reason: it releases serotonin that makes us feel happy. Researchers aren’t sure why we crave carbohydrates (like sugar) during our periods. One theory is that we unconsciously pick foods our bodies know will lift our moods.
Another theory suggests that we consciously pick foods high in sugar and fat because we know they’ll give us a burst of energy and elevate our mood when we are feeling down. Regardless of the reason, 85 percent of us experience food cravings during our period, but choosing sugar is a bad idea.
Sugar may give you a quick boost of serotonin and make you feel good for a few minutes, but it also causes your blood sugar to spike and fall, which can make you feel worse. Not to mention, eating additional carbs and fat during your period can cause you to gain weight.
When sugar cravings hit, opt for fruit instead. Berries, in particular, have a lower glycemic index and can satisfy a sweet tooth without packing on extra calories or causing your blood sugar to go haywire.
Feeling tired during your period is completely normal, and the culprit, once again, is hormones. Fluctuations in serotonin levels can cause you to experience fatigue, as well as lower estrogen levels. Estrogen is lowest just before your period starts, so it’s no surprise if you’re craving extra coffee the week before your period.
The problem is, caffeine can exacerbate other premenstrual symptoms, like cramps. Caffeine can cause muscle contractions that make cramps worse. Because caffeine is also a diuretic, it can also cause you to become dehydrated, making you feel worse.
Lastly, you may find that increased caffeine interferes with your mood. Too much caffeine can cause mood swings and interfere with your circadian rhythm, causing you to lose sleep.
Instead of ordering a venti latte, opt for green tea or try going to bed an hour earlier than you normally do, so you can rest more and have more energy for your day.
4. Wearing Period Protection Too Long
Life is busy, and the last thing you want to worry about is making another trip to the restroom to change your tampon or pad. We get it, promise. But not taking your period care products out on time can cause terrible side effects, like infections or embarrassing leaks.
Most period care products are designed to catch your flow from two to four hours; however, some can definitely last longer depending on your flow level and the type of absorbency you select.
If you want a product that lasts longer, opt for a menstrual cup. Rael’s menstrual cup is a comfortable, natural way to forget about your period for up to twelve hours at a time.
5. Get a Breast Exam
Getting a breast exam is an important part of your yearly check-up, but don’t schedule it during the week of your period. Changes in your hormones affect your breast tissue and can make them swollen and more tender. Not only could the exam be painful, but it could also be harder for your clinician to detect changes in your breast tissue.
The best time to schedule your breast exam is when hormone levels start to level out the week after your period.
Five Things You Can Do On Your Period (That Might Surprise You)
You know what to avoid, but we’re guessing you’ve probably heard a few rumors about activities you shouldn’t participate in when you’re on your period. It’s time to set the record straight. Here are five common myths debunked.
1. Have Sex
You can 100 percent have sex on your period; in fact, some women enjoy sex more when they’re on their periods. If you’re nervous about it, talk to your partner. Chances are, they probably don’t mind.
If you’re concerned about mess, check out our complete guide to having mess-free sex on your period.
2. Go Swimming
If you can use a tampon or a menstrual cup, you can go for a swim on your period. Obviously, wearing a pad won’t work. The pad would soak up the water and become heavy and ineffective. However, a tampon or menstrual cup lets you comfortably wear a bathing suit and enjoy a stress-free swim.
Oh, and if you’ve been avoiding a trip to the beach because you’re afraid a shark could attack you while you’re on your period, relax. There’s no evidence that sharks are attracted to your period blood.
If you’re considering skipping your spin class because you’re on your period, you’ll have to come up with a better excuse. Exercise is actually incredibly beneficial to you when you’re on your period. It can help you feel more energized, elevate your mood, eliminate bloat, and ward off food cravings.
Make sure you’re using a period care product that lets you stay comfortable. Rael has period care kits that make it easy for you to have the right options at your fingertips.
4. Talk About It
Your period is normal and natural, and it isn’t taboo. If you’re having unhealthy feelings about your body or experiencing pain or discomfort, talking about it can help you get relief.
5. Get Better Overnight Protection
There’s not much worse than waking up in the middle of the night because you’ve leaked. Rael’s period underwear is your go-to solution for ensuring you never have to have a middle-of-the-night laundry drama ever again.
You can do virtually anything you want to when you’re on your period, as long as you have the right period care products and know how it will affect your body. Avoiding certain activities and ingredients can help you feel better during certain phases.
With Rael and a little extra attention to your body, you can have an empowering period every month.
Carbohydrate craving, mood changes, and obesity | PubMedPremenstrual syndrome (PMS) - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic