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Enduring the monthly pain, bloating, and emotionally draining symptoms of a menstrual cycle is hard enough, so being told we can't do the things that seemingly ease our woes when Mother Nature strikes only seems like further punishment. But enticing as it may be to take a deep dive into a bag of potato chips and remain completely stagnant in bed while watching reruns of Sex and the City, these guilty pleasures can be more harmful than we might think. Thus, staying away from such activities (along with other common poor period practices) will benefit us in the long run.
To have the healthiest, most enjoyable period as we possibly can, we researched things we should avoid. Spoiler: Some of these are crutches during our monthly visit, like coffee and sweets, but we only need to go cold-turkey for a week, so no sweat. Ready to improve your reproductive health? Keep scrolling.
Limit Salty Foods
According to Thomas A. Molinaro, MD, many women experience water retention (i.e., bloating) during their periods, so it's best to avoid high amounts of sodium. Since salty foods tend to be very dehydrating, your body overcompensates by stockpiling hydration. However, if you've already fallen down the sodium hole and are feeling a bit puffy, drink plenty of water so that you flush out the excess salt and your body can return to its normal state. (For a comprehensive list of foods you should and should not eat during your period, take a look at this guide).
Meet the Expert
Thomas A. Molinaro, MD is a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist, obstetrician, and gynecologist at the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey. He specializes in assisted reproductive technology and treatment of ectopic pregnancy.
Don't Overload on Caffeine
Caffeinated beverages (yes, including coffee) can contribute to increased breast tenderness during your period, says Molinaro. Additionally, studies show that caffeine blocks GABA in the brain (the "downer" neurotransmitter), which results in anxiety and increased heart rate, escalating symptoms of PMS. Instead, try decaffeinated green tea, which can help soothe cramps.
Don't Forego Protection
While Molinaro says that it's actually okay to have sex while you're menstruating, he explains that "there are a few studies that have shown an increased risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease during menstruation, so it is advisable (as always) to practice safe sex." This increased risk is due in part to the fact that blood will be present during sex, meaning blood-borne diseases are more easily transferred. Molinaro warns that it is also possible to become pregnant while you're menstruating, so just another reason to play it safe if you aren't planning on expanding your family anytime soon.
Don't Use a Douche
Molinaro warns against using douches to cleanse yourself during your period, and using it as a method of hygiene altogether. "In general, douching is not a necessary practice and can disturb the normal microorganisms of the vagina, leading to infections," he explains.
Don't Use Cleansers With Artificial Fragrance
"Using soaps, sprays, or creams with perfumes can also cause vaginal irritation and should be avoided," says Molinaro. "If you have a strong vaginal odor, it is best to see your gynecologist in case there is an infection or imbalance that can be treated."
Jessica A. Shepherd, MD, adds that perfumes "contribute to an overgrowth of odor-producing bacteria," so try using a more natural product like SweetSpot On-the-Go Wipes ($14) when you want to freshen up during your cycle (and when you're not menstruating).
Meet the Expert
Jessica A. Shepard, MD is a board-certified OB/GYN and director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Don't Wait to Take Pain Medication
If you experience painful cramps during your period, Molinaro advises you not to wait to treat your symptoms: "Many women wait too long to take pain medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen. These slow down the production of substances that cause pain, so taking the medications at the first sign of your period can reduce the symptoms proactively."
Don't Lounge Too Hard
Get up and get moving when your cycle kicks in. Says Molinaro, "There are no specific activities to avoid. Some women find that exercise and the associated release of endorphins may help to lessen the cramping and pain experienced during their period." This boost of endorphins is also great for counteracting mood swings so you can stay on the up-and-up.
Don't Leave Sanitary Products in Too Long
"Regularly changing your pad or menstrual cup is an essential part of good hygiene," says Molinaro. "For women using tampons, changing every four to six hours is an important step to prevent toxic shock syndrome." At a minimum, cups should be changed every 12 hours, and pads every three to four hours.
What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
A rare, life-threatening condition caused by the release of toxins from an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (staph) which is found in many women's bodies.