Note: This is a guest blog from Roxanne Phillips, a graduate of the University of Kent, where she studied Comparative Literature and first discovered feminist literature and texts. Roxanne’s main interests lie in reproductive and menstrual health. She currently works for VR Sani-Co but continues to write on a variety of feminist issues, including period poverty and menstrual leave.
Even the most enthusiastic heat-lovers that pine for summer months will likely find menstruating during a heatwave a bit of a challenge–and for good reason. Menstruation already has significant physical and psychological impacts on the human body; combined with stress from extended periods of extremely hot weather, this can quickly become a recipe for a very uncomfortable few days. While you may not be able to delay summer like a contraceptive pill can delay your period, it’s important to understand how hotter temperatures can affect menstruation. With some planning, there are a number of ways you can make that time of the month a little more bearable.
What’s heat got to do with it?
Heat alone isn’t likely to have a direct negative impact on your period. After all, hot water bottles are a go-to method for pain relief for many: direct heat (perhaps ironically) increases blood flow and reduces the pain signals to the brain. Rather, it’s the way in which climate and temperature affect our lifestyles and daily activities that can worsen our menstrual symptoms and ultimately make the experience more challenging.
You may think there’s nothing worse than a sleepless night in the summer humidity and feeling constantly low on energy due to dehydration. But factor in your treacherous hormones and lower-than-average estrogen levels, and all of a sudden your summer fatigue is even worse.
Pain is also an unpleasant part of the menstrual package and high temperatures aren’t soothing to painful symptoms like period headaches. While increased serotonin levels are usually to blame, heat certainly doesn’t help matters–hotter temperatures make blood vessels swell, which only worsens period headaches and uncomfortable bloating. The human body can be easily thrown off balance during periods of extreme heat and ordinary activities and routines can become that much more difficult and stressful, especially if you’re menstruating. So whether you’re jetting off on a dazzling summer vacation or facing an unexpected heatwave, it may be a good idea to rethink or alter your usual period routines and rituals for the summer season to ensure that you feel as comfortable as possible.
What should I wear?
As soon as the temperature rises and humidity sets in, comfort is key to making the most out of summer, and the same goes for menstruation–opting for weather-appropriate period products is important. Bacteria build-up is far more likely in hotter conditions, and if you’re unable to change your products as often as you’d like then it may be necessary to alter your routine. If you usually wear pads and know that you won’t be able to change them as often as recommended, you may consider switching to tampons; for some, tampons also provide a more comfortable and flexible option during the summer. Unlike pads, they are essentially invisible and do not limit your clothing choices, and they can allow the freedom to engage in activities such as swimming. However, comfort is entirely subjective and some people will still find pads to be a far more comfortable option. Some may also wish to try out more fashionable reusable products that may not irritate the skin as much in hotter, stickier conditions. Whatever products you choose, the most important factor to consider is that you feel comfortable and clean, and that you are able to go about your daily routine as easily as possible.
Alternative methods of pain relief
For most people, some level of discomfort is just all part of the menstrual package. Yet while reaching for a hot water bottle, getting into a hot bath, or even doing light exercise would usually be a saving grace, these methods are likely to be your idea of hell during the height of summer. Try testing out different pain relief methods that won’t cause you to overheat: instead of exercising, try gentle stretches, especially around the abdominal area where the pain is likely to be at its strongest. This can still have the desired effect of relaxing muscles and encouraging blood circulation, but won’t get your heart rate pumping like a jog around the park would.
However, if movement is the last thing on your mind during your period, why not try some of the exciting technological advances in period pain relief? A TENS machine relieves pain using a mild electrical current. This method is still fairly new, but is becoming increasingly popular. Most importantly, a TENS machine does not have to emit heat, which means it’s perfect for a hot summer’s day. Though there may still be gaps within the menstrual pain relief market, there are plenty of options available to you that are heat-free, like cooling pads for headaches or primrose oil for sore breasts and muscles. And of course, reaching for over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can also do wonders to reduce swelling or bloating if natural pain-relief methods aren’t sufficient.
A healthy summer
Feeling fatigued, moody, and stressed is perfectly natural, both during your period and in the heat. While it may feel satisfying at the time, giving into period cravings can do more harm than good in alleviating unpleasant menstrual symptoms. Spikes in blood sugar levels often lead to tiredness and eating junk food can worsen bloating you may already be experiencing. Avoiding high fiber foods like legumes, beans, lentils, refined carbohydrates, and salt will help fight feelings of bloat and lessen fatigue. It’s important to stay hydrated, decrease your sodium intake, and increase the potassium-rich foods in your diet such as bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes.
With a thousand-and-one healthy eating options for you to try out nowadays, knowing which foods to eat during your period can make a big difference, both physically and emotionally. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to try out green smoothies and drink more water, your body will certainly thank you for it, especially in the middle of a heatwave.
Unless you’ve made the decision to delay or stop having a period altogether, menstruating in the heat is a reality many have to deal with sooner or later. While it’s unlikely that menstruating during the height of summer will ever be pleasant, there are at least ways that you can make the experience as comfortable as possible. Remember: everyone experiences the heat and menstruation differently, so it’s important to figure out what methods your body responds well to and be willing to be adaptable if you find your routine isn’t helping.