By Karen Lawton and Fiona Heckles of the Seed SistAs
Being brought up in a family that never talked about menstruation it came as a shock to me when my periods finally arrived and brought with them all manner of inconveniences, simply buying sanitary equipment was an embrassesment to me as a teen but the pains that often accompanied my bleed were awful. It is one of the reasons that I became a herbalist, caring for and nurturing our bodies with herbs could be something that we are taught about in schools.
There is a delicate balance of hormonal activity that creates the monthly cycle in a menstruating woman it is easy for this to be thrown out of balance. There are identifiable factors that can predispose effects on the hormone system such as ancestry, relationships, shock, trauma, diet, posture, physical injury, and the high levels of chemicals in our foods and water sources.
Painful periods (medically termed dysmenorrhea) are super common, huge amounts of analgesic medicines are sold over the counter each year but relatively little is taught to girls about how to cope and what tools they have to their disposals.
The interpretation of pain can vary from woman to woman but also depends on other factors like what foods we consume, how emotional or stable we feel, various life experiences and our childhood. However, whatever the interpretation of pain is, you will know if you struggle to move, feel deep cramping sensations in the womb area, have spasmodic painful sensations, suffering from a bad back or feel super tired around the menstrual period.
Our society prefers to ignore the bleeding phase and the dominant narrative advises using a tampon and carrying on as normal. Advertising campaigns see smiling women horse riding and trampolining. Ideally firstly we need to acknowledge that our bodies are actually bleeding and may need more rest, at this time our ligaments are more relaxed so heavy lifting is not recommended.
Pain is our body bringing our attentions to something important and learning how to support and manage ourselves at this time is imperative.
Issues with painful periods arise from lack of blood flow to the area, postural problems or previous trauma (such as through child-birth), liver insufficiency (many hormones are processed through the liver), and prolonged stress or anxiety.
There is a theory that much of menstrual health issues stem from misalignment of the womb. There are ligaments and musculature that hold the womb in place and there is a host of issues that can affect the positioning. Particularly with menstrual cramps, the womb could be working harder to expel blood and as a result creating more cramping and pain. This could be an indicated factor if the flow alters throughout menstruation, heavy, light, back to heavy, red to brown etc.
Efficient pelvic circulation is imperative to help support menstruation. With more blood flow there is less cramping. Ginger is known to improve pelvic circulation. It is warming and comforting. A simple Ginger tea can be used around menstruation, usually from the day before the bleed. Through to the end of the period. Hot water bottles have also been total life savers for me. I like to rub lavender essential oil around my lower pelvis, where I often feel cramping pains and lay a hot water bottle over the top for instant relief.
The herb that has benefited me most over my personal journey with period cramps and pain has been the Lady’s mantle, revered for her mystical qualities, this magical herb has been associated with wisdom and female power, ruled by Venus, called the Little Alchemist (Alchemilla vulgaris) because of her powers of transformation. Applied by herbalists for many imbalances affecting the womb. Science owes Lady’s Mantle’s womb toning, astringent properties to the tannin content of the herb a member of the rose family which are all high in these toning tannins.
Valerian root is another faithful friend of mine, supporting my ‘on edge’ nerves which show up premenstrually and trigger, shocking moodiness, adding to tension in my muscles and cramping. The Valerian is a smooth muscle relaxant and works wonders for me I generally take capsules from 2-3 days prior to the 3rd day of my bleed.
Long term support
Regular pelvic massage can help to realign the womb, improve pelvic circulation and if practiced over a few months can support menstrual flow. I found a YouTube video (there are many) and followed a self-care massage regime on myself for several months, I made my own infused oils of rose and hypericum, and this really sorted out a lot of my pains.
Plotting my menstrual cycle, connecting in with my womb through pelvic massage and taking care and time out with each bleed, I do this by being very careful with what I plan and diary into my life, of course I have to work but I plan ahead carefully and never book in too much around my pre and menstrual cycle if I can help it.
The medical establishment sees many cases of what they term Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common kind of period pain. It is period pain that they cannot find any caused by another condition. They state the cause is having too many prostaglandins, which are chemicals that your uterus makes these prostaglandins effect the muscles of your uterus to tighten and relax, and this causes the cramps.
As herbalists we are lucky to have access to herbs that can relax muscles and ease cramps aiding in deeper connection to our menstrual cycles.
Karen Lawton & Fiona Heckels are the Seed SistAs. Sensory herbalists who have a passion for educating others about plant medicine. Their mission: to connect people with their local plants promoting empowerment, autonomy, freedom and diversity in health care. Medically trained herbalists with a love and interest in the so called witching herbs of old, they have worked and played together for many moons exploring all that the plants have to share. They combine their clinical experience with ritual, art and creativity to teach herbal medicine in a unique, inspiring and accessible style, led by the plants themselves. www.sensorysolutions.co.uk