We all know what a drag periods can be. Even with the help of modern sanitary products which are largely effective and comfortable (for those who can afford them, at least ) your period can sometimes be a real inconvenience.
We’ve written about the impact of menstruation on athletes , but there are many everyday situations where we’d rather not want to deal with uterine blood.
Maybe you have a beach holiday coming up and you don’t want to worry about tampon strings or – like my sister did for years – shark attacks.
Maybe you are about to get married and you don’t want to have a second-day-of-your-period-bloat or an ‘I’m filled to the gills with ibuprofen’ daze in your eyes immortalised in your wedding pics.
Or maybe you have a hot date coming up and you’re just not ready to have the period sex talk yet.
Don’t sweat it. There are ways (although not always foolproof) to tame the Beast In Your Womb.
We speak to Cape Town gynaecologist, Naseema Barday on controlling your period.
Manipulating the onset of your period
“My preferred first choice if we plan properly ahead, is to either bring a period on earlier or later by stopping or delaying active pills of OCP (combined oral contraceptive pill) to shift the phase,” says Dr Barday.
“You can then avoid the period on a particular weekend, or date range. But better, even, is to make this adjustment during the pack before the month of interest, just to accommodate for failures in your plan, since any breakthrough bleeding in your adjustment month is often smoothed out during the following pack.”
Which is a perfect option if you know about an upcoming event way in advance. But what if you’re not on the Pill? Dr. Barday explains:
“One can use progesterone (the other main female hormone that helps to regulate your cycle) to bring on a period at a planned time, alternately, like just before a trip overseas, in women not otherwise on the OCP.
This is because upon completion of a course of progesterone, a period will have been induced. Having just finished a period before a special time, one is usually bleed free for another menstrual cycle of a few weeks, as it kind of resets the menstrual clock.”
Nifty eh? So instead of trying to delay your period, you can actually make it come faster, so that you can get it over and done with!
But what if you suffer from very heavy periods which interfere with your life in general? Is there any sort of recourse except for grinning and bearing it? Well yes, according to Dr Barday.
Ways to minimise bleeding and lighten your flow
“Implanon and Mirena won’t suffice as delay options for occasional events, but they are options for less frequent bleeding on the whole. Mirena has a higher incidence of amenorrhea (no periods at all), and Implanon has amenorrhea in about 25-30% of cases.
“But remember that until your body has adjusted to a new device, you may bleed for several weeks, up to 8 or even 10, before your body settles and does what the manufacturers sell it as doing.”
I don’t know about you, but a 10 week period sounds like some sort of fresh hell to me.
So don’t think you’re going to use this as a quick fix – it might just have the opposite effect! And of course, neither are foolproof. Dr Barday continues with the following precautions:
“The potential for bleeding problems in the long term exists with both these options, though, especially the Implanon - in which my impression is that the incidence of prolonged/heavy bleeding is somewhat higher than the manufacturers suggest.
Yet both are great options for many women who desire fewer periods and lighter bleeding. The problem is that you don't know how you'll respond untill you try it.
I've seen two sisters respond completely differently for example, with one loving it and the other pleading to have their device removed.
But is it safe to mess with nature?
Dr Barday has no issue with it. But she does remind you that delaying periods is not an indefinite strategy: “Of course, if you are back-to-backing your OCP packs, you cannot do this indefinitely. You have to bleed every 3 months at least.
“Breakthrough bleeding is also a common problem with doing this tri-cycling of OCPs.
If one doesn't shed the lining of the uterus regularly after it’s been stimulated with oestrogen and progesterone, there is a theoretical risk of cancer of the endometrium (uterus lining) or ovaries.”
So while you can manipulate your period safely, you should let your body follow its natural course eventually.