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Women’s Health

7 ways to deal with periods that are painful AF

Painful periods used to be the bane of my life. As in, I’d have to lie down on pavements because I couldn’t make it home, and I burnt myself with a hot water bottle to the point of causing blisters three months in a row because I felt so much internal pain that I had no idea that I was burning myself.

Thankfully, I haven’t suffered from period pain for the last six years and it’s made a huge difference to my experience of my cycle and quality of life. I no longer live in fear of coming on and no longer wonder if my uterus has got something wrong with it. I also know that even extreme period pain can be improved or resolved entirely (yes, really) and I want to share my favourite tips and tricks for dealing with it with you because a lot of you have been asking for advice on how to reduce the pain you’re experiencing, and it’s no wonder that so many of you have been asking, because it affects up to 84% of us¹.

And it’s important to know that painful periods are not normal and are a sign that something needs to change. We are conditioned to believe that it’s our lot in life to put up with them. It isn’t.

So why the hell does it happen?

Just before your period starts, the lining of your uterus – your endometrium – begins to break down and will be shed during your period. When this happens your body wants to minimise blood loss, and to this end, it produces hormone-like substances called prostaglandins which make your uterus contract and limit blood loss.

Prostaglandins are a good thing, but they also prime the nervous system for pain and heighten the pain response, causing painful contractions and an increase in pain signaling to the brain. And if you experience period poos or nausea around the time of your period starting, then you can thank your prostaglandins for that treat.

Some menstruators can secrete high levels of prostaglandins, resulting in an increase in pain, and some have stronger or abnormal uterine contractions which result in an increase in pressure inside your uterus and a decreased ability to get oxygen to the contracting muscles which results in more pain. The contractions of a menstruating uterus can even be as strong as those that occur towards the end of labour, and as someone who’s experienced both, I’d take giving birth over painful periods any day of the week!

Speak to your GP

With any kind of pelvic pain it’s important to speak to your GP so that they can assess you and refer you for further investigations where appropriate.

The birth control pill is often prescribed as a first line treatment for period pain, but although it can reduce period pain, it does not and cannot treat it, because it acts as a band-aid by stopping you from having periods altogether. The so-called ‘periods’ that you have on the pill are actually withdrawal bleeds and are entirely different from periods, which require a full cycle of hormonal activity in order to happen, the most significant of which is ovulation, which always precedes menstruation (your period) by fourteen days or so.

In my personal and professional experience, painful periods can be helped massively by dietary and lifestyle changes, especially with the help of a qualified practitioner.

Here are my top seven tips for improving them (there are 19 in my book):

1. Orgasms

This is hands-down my favourite approach (pun intended). Masturbation releases feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin and lowers levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, all of which can reduce physical pain. In Chinese medicine, pain is often a result of stagnant energy, and practitioners will use needles and other techniques to encourage blood to flow smoothly, but another way of doing this is by masturbating and/or having sex throughout your menstrual cycle in order to get the energy in your pelvis moving more freely. Traditional Chinese medicine recommends avoiding penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex when you’re on your period, but there are plenty of other forms of sex, and as most of us require clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm, isn’t that what our pleasure should be focused on anyway?

2. Cut out dairy.

Ok, so this one isn’t so much fun because let’s face it, butter and cheese are delicious, but it’s an important one, so bear with me. Dairy can cause or contribute towards period pain be because it triggers inflammation in some people, likely because of a protein present in the majority of cow’s milk called A1 casein, and my clients often find that cutting out dairy improves their period pain.

I recommend cutting dairy out entirely for three menstrual cycles and assessing what changes take place, and then reintroducing dairy which has A2 casein in it, such as that which comes from Jersey cows as well as dairy from sheep and goats, because it tends to be better tolerated and may not result in period pain and other hormonal and reproductive issues.

The good news is that feta, halloumi, manchego, pecorino, ricotta, Roquefort and goat’s cheese (which comes in cheddar form too) are all A2.

3. Start using supplements.

Ok, before we get stuck into this, let me first state that you can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet. Taking supplements without addressing your diet as a whole is not the route to go down, got it?

But, supplementing your diet can be beneficial, especially if you’ve taken the birth control pill, which is well known to cause vitamin and mineral depletion², such as folic acid, vitamin B2, B6 and B12, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc (this is why I always recommend waiting before trying to conceive after coming off the pill, you need time to restore your body’s nutrient status before getting preggers).

Supplements to consider for period pain include Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish oil, magnesium, curcumin, zinc, and B vitamins. But don’t just run off to your local health store and load your basket up with all of the above, it’s important that you have a nutritional plan which considers all of your health and current requirements, and that will vary from person to person. So your best bet is to see a qualified nutritional therapist or naturopath.

4. Get moving and grooving.

Remember what I said about pain being caused by stagnant energy in Chinese medicine? Well, we need to get that stuck energy flowing a heck of a lot better and the best way to achieve that is by moving. It doesn’t matter what you want to do – swimming, yoga, CrossFit, pilates, running, or dancing around your kitchen to Madonna – they all count and will help to shift the energy in your pelvis. Research shows that doing aerobic exercise three times a week (30 mins each time) for 8 weeks is associated with an improvement in period pain³.

5. Try castor oil packs.

Heat therapy (aka hot water bottles and hot baths) have been shown to be as effective as NSAIDs such as ibuprofen in relieving period pain⁴, but you can level up by using abdominal castor oil packs. To make your own DIY castor oil pack, you will need:

  • A 250ml bottle of high-quality cold-pressed castor oil (preferably organic).
  • A piece of cotton or wool flannel that’s large enough to cover your lower abdomen when folded in half (muslin baby squares work well).
  • A hot water bottle or heating pad.
  • Another muslin square, small old towel, or cling film to cover the pack with while you’re using it.
  • Old clothes to wear and an old towel to place underneath you as castor oil does stain.
  • A glass container with a lid to soak the flannel in the castor oil, and to store it between uses (glass Tupperware or a jar are perfect).

Your first castor oil pack could be a slightly messy affair, so don’t do it on your favourite sheets. Once you get the knack, it gets easier and there won’t be any mess. Here’s what you do:

  • Fold your piece of cotton or wool cloth so that it is a size that will cover your lower abdomen.
  • Place the folded fabric into your glass container (you can fold it up further so that it fits in there), then saturate the cloth with your castor oil. It doesn’t need to be dripping wet, castor oil is very thick so once you use it the increase in temperature from your body heat and the heating pad will make it runnier.
  • Stick some relaxing music on or enjoy some silence.
  • Lie down somewhere comfortable, with an old towel underneath you, and your hot water bottle/heating pad and your glass container with castor oil-soaked cloth in it all next to you.
  • Turn your phone off.
  • Carefully remove the cloth, unfold it, and place it across your lower abdomen.
  • Then, cover the saturated cloth with another folded muslin or an old towel. You can use clingfilm (saranwrap) but this isn’t ideal because it’s plastic.
  • Place the heating pad or hot water bottle on top of the cloth.
  • Take some deep breaths, meditate, read a book, watch Queer Eye, or if you’re anything like me, fall asleep.
  • Keep the pack on for 30–60 minutes.
  • When you’re done, store the saturated cloth in the glass container. It can be reused around 30 times, though you may need to top it up with extra oil occasionally.
  • Wipe off any excess oil, and if you prefer to wash your skin afterward, a diluted solution of baking soda and water will remove it easily (1 tsp to a pint of water).

My recommendation is to do the pack for three consecutive days a week (it’s lovely to do before bedtime), for 1–3 months and assess if you feel they’re helping you. One word of warning: oil gets hot easily and can burn you, so don’t use a just-boiled hot water bottle.

6. Reduce inflammation.

It’s not just dairy that can trigger inflammation and result in painful periods; not getting sufficient sleep, processed foods, sugar, alcohol, gluten, simple carbs (pasta, bread, pastries), and nightshades (aubergine, peppers, and white potatoes) can all create inflammation, so it’s really worth making sure that you get enough good-quality sleep and avoiding or restricting likely causes of inflammation in your diet.

Again, there’s no point spending money on supplements if you’re surviving on beige food and sugar, and sinking half a bottle of wine every evening.

7. Try acupuncture and/or the Arvigo Techniques of Mayan Abdominal Therapy

It goes without saying that I’m biased towards these therapies because they’re the main therapies that I use with my clients (as well as reflexology and aromatherapy), but I’m biased towards them for good reason – they work!

They both help by moving the stagnant energy that can cause painful periods and are great ways of supporting your fertility and digestive health too.

So there you have it, my favourite tips for dealing with painful periods, give them a go for a few months and let me know how you get on!

Want to know more about your cycle, how to attune daily life to suit the phases of your cycle and get a boatload of self-care tips?

There are some spaces available for my Womb Tang Clan three month programme which starts Feb 25th and is entirely online. Plus, you’ll save £250 and only pay £147 if you decide to do it now. You can get the full details and book your spot here. My books are closed to new clients until July/August so this is currently the only way of working with me.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22792003
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5791467/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15493566

Will you conceive in 2018?

I’m no Mystic Meg and this post isn’t about me predicting if you’ll conceive or not in 2018. But, if you’re planning on trying to conceive at some point this year, or even if you’ve been trying for a while, and you want to improve your fertility, then this post is for you.

Recently I’ve been hearing from a lot of women who are preparing to conceive, and that gets me feeling excited because not only do I love doing this work but I’m also impressed by their forward planning. For me, it’s always amazing to start working with a woman at least 3 months before she and her loved one start trying to conceive, but ideally before then. Not necessarily by treating her on a weekly basis, but definitely with the idea of making a plan and suggesting things that she and her partner can do on their own in the year that they’ll start trying to conceive.

The trouble is that my diary is pretty loaded at the moment, so because I’m not able to see all the women that I’d like to right now, I’ve put together some information to get you started. (more…)

I’ve been going to births for over 10 years; here’s how I prepared for my own.

2016 was my tenth year of working as a birth doula, and the year that I finally gave birth. Here’s the post that I wrote as my due time approached. 

I’ve helped a lot of women and their loved ones prepare for birth, and now that it’s my turn, a lot of people are asking me what I’m doing to get ready for my own. So, other than trying not to eat my stash of labour snacks, here’s what I’ve been up to:

Movement.

I’m well aware of how a baby’s position can affect a labour and birth. I also know that the key to a well-positioned baby is having a balanced pelvis. Thankfully, I did *a lot* of work on my pelvis pre-pregnancy, back when I used to get extreme period pain, and I believe that’s helped me to have a healthy pregnancy (our baby has also been head down and persistently LOA – the ideal position – since around twenty weeks).

That being said, I don’t want to drop the ball so here’s what I’m currently doing:

  • Forward-leaning inversion (daily), to stretch and release the utero-sacral ligament.
  • Side-lying release (twice per week), to relieve tension and torsion in the pelvic floor.
  • Rebozo sifting (weekly), to relax the ligaments, relax me and our baby.
  • 3-5 mile walk (twice per week at the moment and shorter daily walks the rest of the time), for too many reasons to list. I tend to walk in minimal footwear which stops my hips and bump from falling forwards and also helps to lengthen my psoas.
  • Calf stretches, lunges and squats (daily), for all these really really good reasons.
  • Nadia Narain’s pregnancy yoga. I’m at the stage where travelling to North London isn’t very appealing, even for an amazing yoga class, so I’m glad Nadia has this great DVD for me to use at home (it’s also available to download on itunes).

(more…)

The 2 minute practice that will drastically improve your relationships

Ladies, I promise you this is easy, quick and simple.

All you have to do is keep track of what day of your menstrual cycle you’re on (if you’re not currently menstruating or don’t have a womb, then you can use the lunar cycle), and write down how you feel, any particular insights you receive, what you struggled with and what went fantastically well.

You might just write down one word that sums things up (ideal if you’re short on time or have trouble committing to self-care practices, and yes, that’s most of us), or a sentence… or a page might feel more appropriate on some days. Just start with something.

Once you’ve been charting for a few months, you’ll start to notice patterns, and that’s when life gets excitingly predictable: You’ll know when you’ll want to socialise and be out there in the world, you’ll know when you’ll need some time alone, and when you’ll crave being outside/going out dancing, or simply want some uninterrupted time to potter.

imagesYou’ll also, and perhaps more importantly, know when it’s really not the right time to do your monthly shop with kids in tow (not that that is ever a wise move). You’ll know what days you should avoid cramming extra meetings into. You’ll know when it’s a bloody awful time to have house guests… Especially your in-laws. (more…)

What that wet patch in your knickers is all about

You’ve probably noticed that once in a while a wet patch appears in your knickers, in fact, there can be a hell of a lot of fluid down there, enough to make you question if you have something weird going on. But what you’re feeling and seeing is cervical fluid and it’s a sign of good health. Thank flip for that.

In fact, it’s massively important when it comes to your fertility.

Ferning CFProduced in the lead up to ovulation, it works in several wondrous ways by:

  • Letting you know you’re getting ready for the big O (ovulation). Cheaper, and in my opinion, more effective than ovulation sticks.
  • Making sex more comfortable due its lubricating nature (though it is different to the love juice you produce when you’re turned on).
  • Creating a route for sperm to get from your vagina and into your womb via your cervix.
  • Literally speeds sperm up on their epic journey to your egg.
  • Produces a ferning pattern to guide sperm on their merry way. Non-fertile fluid during the rest of your cycle stops them in their tracks (one of the ways the birth control pill works is by preventing you from producing fertile fluid).
  • Nourishing sperm to keep them alive and in tip-top shape.
  • Providing an alkaline environment which protects them from the acidic nature of your vagina (it’s acidic to help prevent infections).

(more…)

Are you playing Russian roulette with your hormones?

ec2343600f68bb6724378029acd9573aThere are times when I find it really easy to skip meals, particularly breakfast.

If I’m in the flow with my writing or having a lazy morning in bed at the weekend, it’s all too easy for me to ignore my belly’s need for food.

Hours will go by and I’ll suddenly realise that I’m ravenous, and before I know it, I’m shovelling a pile of hot cross buns smothered in butter and jam down my gob instead of the sweet potato fries and poached eggs I had lined up.

And that, ladies, royally screws me for most of the day, because skipping a meal and then loading up on refined carbs means that my blood sugar levels can be as up and down as a whore’s drawers.

(more…)

7 things to do now that you’re pregnant

IMG_7222You’ve peed on a stick, or possibly ten. Re-read the instructions thirteen times, checked with your partner or best friend, and yes, you are actually pregnant.

So what the hell happens now?

1. Don’t risk taking folic acid.

I’m betting that although every pregnancy app has told you how important folic acid is in preventing neural tube defects, not one of them has told that you may not be able to process it.

Yet at least 25% of the population have a genetic anomaly which prevents them from processing folic acid.

Pretty shocking, right?

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate (vitamin B9) and at least a quarter of us can’t process it in this unconverted form. So unless you know that you don’t carry the genetic anomaly, you’ll want to take a prenatal which contains the converted form (which we can all process) labelled as folate, 5-mthf, or l-methylfolate. Brands which use the converted form include: Nutri-Advanced, New Chapter and Thorne Pharmaceuticals.

You can read more about the difference between folic acid and folate, and why you might not be able to process folic acid here.

2. Lie about your due date. (more…)

How to recover from a miscarriage

photoThis post is largely borne out of my own recent experience (which you can read about here), as well as the stories of the clients I’ve had in the years I’ve been working as a women’s health practitioner.

My understanding of miscarriage from both Western and Chinese perspectives has helped me to accept what has happened, and has provided me with ways to recover and heal. It is those that I want to share with you, because let’s be real; miscarriage fucking sucks.

Every woman’s experience of miscarriage is different, and I encourage you to listen to your instincts and needs throughout the process. Do what you need to do to heal, and take the time you need.

You’re exactly where you need to be.

We often believe that healing is a linear process, one in which we gradually get better, until one day, we’re fine. But it’s messier than that, it can be two steps forward, five steps back. You may feel like you’re doing well, and then a whole new set of emotions enters your being, and with that, the possibility of having to find new ways to understand and work through them. Loved ones and colleagues may also assume that you’re doing well, and be taken aback by sudden changes in mood and wellbeing. It isn’t fun but it *is* healthy, and as a friend of mine says, you’re exactly where you need to be. (more…)

A legendary guitarist, my tattoos, and your fertility

I was already wearing next to nothing, but here he was, asking me to get naked for him.

My body felt like it was failing me; I couldn’t breathe let alone manage an answer. I looked at my friend Olivia, whose jaw had dropped in disbelief.

For once, it was a hot weekend in London, perfect festival weather. We had AAA passes (the perks of working in a renowned rock bar frequented by bands and those in the industry), and were sipping our warm beers, chatting to some band members that we knew.

Then Olivia clocked him.

She grabs my arm, spilling over-priced beer all over me.

“OH MY GOD” she quietly yells in my ear (in that way only girls can do).

Sure, I could have been annoyed at losing half my pint of lager, but I knew that if Olivia – who knows so many bands she probably can’t even list them – was saying this, then it was big.

“Don’t look now, but check out who just walked into that cabin”. So, being the queen of cool that I am (cough, cough), I casually turn around.

“HOLY SHIT” I reply. “We *have* to go and talk to him”

Olivia tries to tell me that the No. 1 rule when you see someone famous is not to pester them.

But I wasn’t having any of it. “But it’s hiiiiiim, we have to!”

“We can’t, my dad (a musician) always told me it’s the one thing you never do.”

“Olivia” I protest, as I grab her arm and start marching her towards the cabin, “is this likely to ever happen again?!”

“Oh my god, are we really doing this? Are you sure?”

But there was no deterring me.

Suddenly there wasn’t enough room in my chest for my heart to beat and my pulse was beating in my ears, not to mention the butterflies herd of miniature elephants in my tummy.

We approach the cabin and he walks out to find the two of us grinning at him like prize idiots, we manage to say hi and utter a few sentences of god only knows what. I honestly can’t remember what rubbish came out of our mouths, but all of a sudden he was telling me he really liked my tattoos and wanted to know if I’d get naked for him so that he could see them all.

It is a rare occasion when I am stunned into silence, but this was one of them.

Would you have stripped off for a legend?

I’m guessing that you fall into one of the following categories:

“No flipping way! What a pervert to even ask that!”

“Ummm, it depends, who is this guy? Is he hot?” (Answers coming up, I promise)

“Hell yeah! He’s a total legend!”

We all have our limits.

The same goes for your fertility. You may have strong feelings about how you conceive or you may be on the fence and need more information before you form an opinion.

Some of my clients feel certain that they don’t want to use any assistive reproduction techniques, such as IVF. Others are happy to use them but will only do certain procedures (such as IUI or “natural” IVF), or they place a limit on how many rounds of IVF / ICSI they will try. And others will keep going until someone or something stops them.

No judgement.

Regardless of where you are on your journey to conceive, you won’t find judgment here: I’m here to support you, and that means doing my bit to help make it a better experience, whether you’re getting ready to start trying to conceive, preparing / recovering from IVF, or looking for support during an IVF cycle.

It’s not my place to decide what the right or wrong way for you to have a family is. It is my place to help you to improve your chances and encourage optimum health through Acupuncture and Arvigo Mayan Massage. It is my place to offer you a safe haven, where you can take off your “everything-is-fine” mask and let go. It is my place to provide you with a space where you can really discuss your options.

Here I am.

And I’d love to hear from you if this has resonated with you.

If you’re full of hope and excitement.

If you’re fed up of keeping everything inside.

If you’re over everyone telling you not to worry.

If you simply need help.

Here I am. Just Holla.

Oh, and you wanted to know who he was, right?

Jimmy Fucking Page (of Led Zeppelin fame).

48 hours of hell

The call came at 1am and I mumbled my interested but sleepy responses to the man on the other end.

This was no booty call.

I’d only had two hours of sleep and wasn’t ready for this. After 2 years of working as a birth doula, you’d think I would have been, but the truth is, being jolted out of sleep is always hard.

Now, given the title of this post, 48 hours of hell, and the fact that this birth was an induced one, you might be expecting a horrific birth story. However, although it was one of my longest births, both my clients and I felt it was a positive one.

But I was in hell.

Shortly after I arrived at the hospital, my bleed arrived. This was five years ago, back in the days where period pain would floor me. Not realising my bleed was due, I had no tampons or painkillers. So there I was, supporting my client through her intense surges (my preferred term for contractions), whilst being on the verge of collapsing from my own pain. Thank goodness for my clients maternity pads and the midwife who sneaked me some paracetamol.

It happens all the friggin time.

Yes, I’m self-employed. Yes, I can largely decide my schedule, but not all the time. When a client is in labour, I go, and with almost eight years experience as a doula, I’m now fully aware of how common it is to get a bleed whilst at a birth, (somehow we sync up with our clients). Thankfully, I no longer require any painkillers but my bleed still affects me in other ways, and just like the rest of my cycle, I plan around it.

And the point of telling you all of this is:

You can too.

Every woman I’ve spoken to about cycle awareness has been touched by how powerfully simple tracking your cycle can be. Women get it. Men get it. Because it’s a no-brainer.

But maybe you, like them, struggle to see how you can make it a part of your life.

“I have a normal job”.

“I don’t have the power to schedule my work around my cycle”.

“I can’t take time off to rest”.

“I’m reeeeally busy”.

I’m calling bullshit.

You heard me. Bullshit.

None of the above are valid reasons for you not to track your cycle and use it to your advantage. In fact, if any of those statements are true for you, you have an even greater need to pay attention to your cycle.

I’m not asking you to change your life.

When I say, live in accordance your cycle, a lot of women hear change your life according to your cycle. Let’s look at the difference by working with the statement I hear the most frequently:

“I have a busy office job which doesn’t allow me to decide my own schedule”.

What women think I’m going to say, ie. changing your life to suit your cycle:

You need to rest when you’re bleeding, so don’t go into work on those days. Tell your boss that you can’t do that really important presentation on that day, you need to reschedule it for this day. Back to back client meetings on that day isn’t going to work for where you are in your cycle, you should cancel them or ask someone else to do them. You know what, maybe you should think of a career change … be self-employed like me, then you can do all of these things!

What I *am* saying, ie. living in accordance with your cycle:

Ok, so you’re going to be working at the most intense part of your bleed, what can you do to make it easier? You have a presentation coming up and it’s not at the ideal time in your cycle, what do we need to do during the rest of your cycle, so that you can safeguard your confidence and nail it? Back to back client meetings? That could be exhausting for you during that phase, what can you get in place in terms of self-care, so that it’s not so depleting?

Living in accordance with your cycle does not mean only doing things at certain times, it means matching tasks to phases, where possible. And the rest of the time? It’s about working with what you’re able to.

You *are* in charge.

You can’t set your schedule when you’re at work, but you can outside of work. So if you have a full on work day week, smack bang in the phase you struggle with, how about not making evening plans too? Instead, prioritise getting enough sleep and eating regular meals, that way there’s less potential for it to feel catastrophic.

Find half an hour.

That’s all I’m asking. 30 minutes to prioritise you.

  • Leave your office for half an hour during your lunch break (radical, I know).
  • Get lost in the neglected book that’s been moping on your nightstand for two months.
  • Turn your phone off and have a conversation with someone you adore. I bet that person just popped into your head.
  • Have a steamy bath date with that delicious Argentinian, Mr. Malbec.
  • Fly solo or partner up, but have an orgasm.

Too busy to go for treatments?

You want to have some acupuncture, but you don’t have time to travel to me. Or maybe you just want the luxury of being treated in your own home. Either way, right now I have an offer running which will appeal to you. Due to the fire which damaged Sadhaka, I’m currently treating clients in their homes for £85 instead of £125, but only until I find a new treatment space to use.

So if that’s appealing, holla.