Let me introduce you to the most toxic relationship in my life: the one between me and my period cramps. I first got my period when I was 12 years old, and one month later, I felt my first cramps (also the longest relationship of my life). Over the next few years, they got worse. I eventually started going home from school sick once a month (the school nurse always thought I was lying and just wanted to skip math class. If only!) and throwing up from the pain. My gynecologist prescribed me prescription painkillers and eventually birth control pills, but neither worked more than making the pain tolerable enough (and by “tolerable,” I mean able to go to school but still hating my ovaries).
The point of this sob story is not to play the woe-is-me card, but to show that if I can minimize my cramps and turn the toxic relationship into (dare I say) a good one, you can too. I’ve tried it all over the years, but these six things work so well that they’ve remained my must-haves in my cramp-fighting arsenal (PS, just a remember that every body is different, so while these things are miraculous for me, they may not be for you. Talk to your doctor, be your own guinea pig, and HMU if you find any more cramp-busting secrets along the way).
1. CBD cream
OK, this one I had to try for myself to believe. It all started when The Everygirl team was talking about our universal obsession (AKA Equilibria CBD products), and Abigail mentioned she uses the Relief Cream to help ease period cramps. A cream for cramps? Color me intrigued! To be honest, I didn’t think a topical cream could make a difference in my intense, painful, long-lasting cramps, but the ingredients sounded alluring. With 500mg of CBD, coconut oil, shea butter, lavender, and rosemary, the Relief Cream is aptly named for its promise to absorb into the skin for relief of achy joints, soreness, and—you guessed it—period cramps.
My experience: I was an immediate convert after my first time trying. It’s hard to explain how your ovaries feel (I never thought I would type that sentence), but there was a calming, cooling sensation that gradually eased my cramps for about an hour (and you bet I immediately applied an hour later). Even when the cooling sensation went away, my cramps came back a lot less painful, so it seemed to genuinely soothe instead of temporarily mask the problem. The best part? It feels a lot better to put something soothing, all-natural, and relaxing on my body, instead of another prescription pill in my body.
2. Raspberry leaf tea
Raspberry leaf tea is a trick that I learned from period educator and practitioner Berrion Berry, but tea has been used for thousands of years to ease period discomfort and cramps. Ayurveda has used herbs in warm liquid to treat menstrual cramps for centuries, and traditional Chinese Medicine routinely uses a mixture of herbs to help with everything from regulating menstruation, easing PMS, and boosting fertility. Raspberry leaf is especially known as a woman’s herb, thanks to its supposed ability to relieve PMS symptoms (including cramps). How? Raspberry leaves contain a plant compound called “fragarine,” which helps tone and tighten muscles in the pelvic area and, therefore, might reduce the menstrual cramping caused by the spasms of these muscles.
My experience: The most important part of anything I’m ingesting is (obviously) the taste. I was worried this tea would be too sweet or fruity (I’m picky about my tea!), and I wouldn’t be able to tolerate a cup every day. I was pleasantly surprised by how neutral and refreshing the tea actually tasted–it’s more like a mild green or black tea than a fruity tea. I committed to having one cup every day and two cups a day on my period (which was pretty easy since it’s caffeine-free; I could have a cup later in the day or before bed if I didn’t get it in the morning). Even after just a few weeks of pre-period tea drinking, the results were pretty drastic.
I noticed it mostly on day one of my period, which usually comes with debilitating cramps. This time, the cramps felt much more manageable, and Advil actually got rid of them (it usually just makes them bearable). Now, I’ve been drinking raspberry leaf tea for a little over six months. I am not consistent every day, but make sure to drink two cups leading up to my period and during the week of. My cramps are so much lighter, and can easily be managed with other remedies (see: Relief Cream). On period day one, I don’t even get cramps anymore (a true shock to my identity!). While I attribute the changes to many lifestyle factors (more on that below), I can definitely count on the tea to make a major difference.
3. Eating more nourishing foods
Historically, my period was my personal excuse to eat all of the pasta and gallons of ice cream in sight. I had period cravings, but mostly I was in so much pain during my time of the month that food became a form of comfort or reward to get me through. However, as I learned about the role that food plays in the way the body feels, I started questioning my “eat-hard, bleed-hard” mentality. I started seeing food as medicine, rather than a form of comfort or reward, and realized that food could make my periods better, rather than just get me through.
The biggest change in my overall diet was probably cutting out gluten. Stool tests and blood work showed I have gluten sensitivity, and it was an inflammation trigger in my body. So I said goodbye to pasta (that isn’t made out of brown rice or chickpeas) and limited my gallons of ice cream. Instead, I loaded up on fruits and veggies, prioritized iron-rich foods (like beans and leafy greens), and made warming, grounding soups, stews, and dishes while on my period. When I started craving something heavier or sweeter, I listened to the craving instead of suppressing it, knowing my body knows what it needs. But instead of pasta or mac n’ cheese, I made a warming rice dish, and instead of bingeing an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s, I had a few squares of dark chocolate to satisfy me.
The results: Changing my diet has been one of the greatest and most drastic changes–not just in my period cramps, but in my life. While it wasn’t a miracle cure-all, I feel lighter and happier on my period since eating differently. As previously stated, my cramps are manageable and even nonexistent on days they used to be intense. The biggest difference I noticed with my diet change was a shorter period (I used to bleed for seven days, and now it’s more like 4-5), but this obviously impacts the length of time I’m in pain, as well as the pain itself.
4. Applying heat
When I was 12 years old and had my first bout of cramps (a right of passage and a shocking wake-up call into womanhood), my mom came into my room with some Advil and a heating pad that plugs into the wall. Ever since that day, a heating pad has been my go-to for periods (don’t worry: it hasn’t always been the same heating pad). While this method is pretty old-school, there’s a reason it’s been around for so long: applying heat has been shown to reduce muscle tension and relax muscles to reduce ease cramping and treat menstrual pain. It’s also cheap and has no side effects (so why not try it?).
The result: Since this is something I’ve done since I was a literal child with my first period, it’s safe to say that it’s a must for me. Maybe it’s the studies that show applied heat eases cramping, or maybe it’s my grown-ass-woman version of a blankey when I need some additional comfort—but either way, a heating pad is a must. I’ve even noticed it can help stop cramps from coming if I get out my trusty heating pad as soon as the period strikes. Interested in trying yourself? Look for a heating pad, patch, or water bottle with continuous low-level topical heat. Also, treat yourself to a lot of other warmth during your time of the month: take lots of warm baths and sip on warming teas or soups (PS, the seat heater in your car works like a charm if you also get lower back pain).
5. Trusting my body
Yes, there are many things I’ve done throughout my life and continue to do once a month to help manage the dreaded pain that comes with periods. But after 10+ years of cursing my awful cramps, I’ve learned to not only welcome them, but to trust them. The body is much smarter than we typically give it credit for, and any symptom or craving is the body’s way of communicating with us what it needs. Now that my body is my best friend instead of my arch-nemesis, I see cramps as a sign that I need to slow down, rest, and turn inward. If I feel like I can’t get out of bed, that’s probably my body’s way of telling me, “could you, like, chill for a sec.”
The result: It sounds cheesy, but everything changed when I stopped dreading and cursing cramps (and my period in general) and instead used it as a sign from my body to tell me how to be healthier and happier. If I need to stay in bed with the aforementioned heating pad all day, is that really so bad? If I feel like I have to take a bath, make some hot tea, and take notice of what’s going on in my body for the first time all month, could that be anything but good? Now, I preemptively turn period weeks into downtime. I don’t ambitiously book workout classes like I used to or even make a lot of plans. Instead, I take the time to be alone, sleep more, and pay attention to my body (before cramps force me to). And guess what? On the months where I let my body rest instead of getting forced to rest by cramps, the once wicked, agonizing, torturing cramps are barely there.
Please consult a doctor before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
This post contains a sponsored inclusion of Equilibria, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.