Three years ago, I read the book The Red Tent which enlightened me on some aspects of a woman’s menstrual cycle that I would never have thought to consider. The book is biblical fiction, but the ideas surrounding the red tent in the story were based on fact. I learned that before modern times, women would always menstruate together. That wasn’t really a surprise, I guess, since I knew that women who lived together often cycled up together. But this wasn’t just women who lived together, but all women. How the heck did that happen? I also didn’t know that their periods only lasted three days and they always occurred during the new moon. I was envious about the three-day part of the deal, and I thought the new moon part was cool, but strange. How did the moon make a woman’s period come? I wondered if the moon had some kind of pull on us women like it did the tides. I wasn’t sure if I believed that though. Maybe moonlight affected us somehow? Seemed strange…
It was interesting to me that women would only bleed for three days. My first couple of periods were short like this, but then they got longer and longer. I’d typically bleed for seven days when I was in my teens. I had read (probably in a woman’s magazine or something) that most women bleed for 5-7 days, so I thought this was normal. But when my period started stretching out to nine days long, I knew I wasn’t normal anymore. Having a non-hormonal IUD placed when I was 25 only made my period worse (longer and heavier).
Maybe a year into motherhood, I learned that some women were shortening their periods to 3-4 days by switching to cloth pads. This sounded too good to be true, so it was a couple years before I finally decided to give up tampons for cloth. It was surprisingly comfortable to wear cloth pads (as opposed to the nasty disposable ones–made me feel kind of bad for putting disposable diapers on my son for his first nine months). Switching to cloth has had some surprising benefits. For one, I started becoming more in tune with my body and with my cycle. Hard to explain, but this was a good experience, as I got to know myself better and accept this part of my womanhood more fully. It took some time, but I did notice an improvement in the quality of my period, although if it shortened, it only shortened barely. It did get a tiny bit lighter, but mostly it just kind of looked better. I was disappointed it didn’t improve more, but it was still worth the change, and two years I haven’t wanted to go back.
What did really improve my menstrual cycle was diet. I used to get terrible PMDD before my periods. Changing my diet to a traditional one, especially eating more red meat and getting more omega-3s in the form of cod liver oil, helped a lot with my mood. When I started taking a magnesium supplement, not only did my mood improve more, but my periods started looking better. They were a little redder, a little lighter, and a little shorter. Just a little, but any improvement was welcome. Then when I started the GAPS diet a year ago, I saw more noticeable improvement in all of the above. After only a month or two on GAPS, I had a five-day period, the shortest one since I was 11. I rejoiced.
The longer I was on GAPS, the better my period was looking, and the better my mood was. PMS was totally gone. Then in September, I decided to have my copper IUD removed to see what it did. In October, my period was only four days: One heavy day, one medium day, and two light days. I was still spotting a little before and after as I have for years, but this was like a miracle for me. Even the heavy flow day wasn’t all that heavy. In November I was sick with a cough leading up to my period, and this gave me a longer period, but besides that, my periods have been pretty much like the one in October. Even the before and after spotting is getting lighter and barely noticeable. When I first got my cloth pads, I would have to wash them all halfway through my cycle because I would have soiled them all already. Now, I only use half of them. I’ve cut my pad use to one quarter of what I started (granted, I’ve gotten better at running to the toilet when I’m about to bleed, but not that much better).
So, in review, things that have improved my period are: Switching to cloth; Diet–particularly more red meat, fish oil, and magnesium, followed by greater improvement with the GAPS diet; and, Removing IUD. Now, I’ve learned of another way to improve one’s menstrual cycle!
Remember how I said that pre-modern women would menstruate with the new moon? I’ve just learned about something that makes a lot of sense to me, and it is called lunaception. Lunaception is based on the idea that pre-modern women would ovulate during the full moon. When I read this, a light bulb popped on in my head–of course, if we menstruate during the new moon, then we would ovulate during the full, if our cycles are regular. According to lunaception, the white light of the full moon stimulates ovulation. If you sleep in total darkness except three nights a month when you sleep with a small white light (or actual full moon light) then your cycle will regulate. You can align it with the moon’s cycles if you wanted to. Doing this helps balance the hormones.
A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have understood this, but now that I know that light affects our hormones in a variety of ways, it makes a lot of sense. Women can use this method to lengthen short cycles or shorten long cycles. It can help stimulate ovulation in women who have anovulary cycles. I’m thinking it may even help shorten menstruation to a normal length. Since I just learned about it, I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but I am excited to see what it can do for me.
Herbs can also help regulate menstrual cycles, but I do not know enough about them yet. The book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year lists some herbs that can bring on menstruation. I’ve just come across this article about fertility herbs that looks promising.
I believe it’s important to remember that a healthy body is a fertile one. If your menstrual cycle is out of whack, it’s a sign that your health is off. My menstrual cycle saw the most improvement as I made changes that improved my overall health.
Have you found something that improved your menstrual cycle? What was it?