7 Ways To Make Your Period Suck Less (Emotionally, Physically, And Financially)

I love my period. *Cut to me in a white dress running through a field of daisies holding a single red balloon.*

JK. I literally hate it. And I’d never wear a white dress during my period. But I digress.

I’m here to talk about ~menstruation~.  When it comes to regular monthly expenses, it is really easy for the creators of budget-templates to casually leave off the fact that we have to spend money on cotton that prevents blood from getting on the couch for one full week (or however long your period lasts!) every single month. It is tragic, but it happens, and we have to talk about it more. People are menstruating everywhere, every day, and since I’m one of them (Right now! Hi! I feel like shit!), I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’re not getting together as much as we should as a *squad* to swap tips on how to make it a little easier, a little more comfortable, and a maybe even a little less expensive.

Aside from the fact that it obviously costs money to get the products we need to not ruin our clothes/our entire day, it is also important to acknowledge all of the havoc it wreaks on the body of The Menstruator (cool superhero name, or no?). A lot of people find themselves with painful side effects like cramps, nausea, and dizziness — sometimes so debilitating that they miss work, and can’t do the things they need to do every day. I’m endlessly lucky to not experience anything like this — the worst I get is cramping that can be kicked with a cup of peppermint tea and a fistful of Advil, an intense craving for Cheetos, and the inability to see anything wedding/marriage-related without heavily sobbing (whoops, that last one is actually me every day), but I’m incredibly sympathetic to those who deal with truly debilitating symptoms (especially because good old Trump won’t stop until he has all of our life-saving, symptom-quelling birth control in his grubby little paws).

But I want to open up the conversation here on TFD. Every time the word “tampon” is mentioned in a post, you all go hard in the comments and make my day by swapping tips about how you make your period a slightly more pleasant experience.

So, I did some research, I talked to some fellow menstruating pals, and I thought long and hard about what I do religiously to make the Worst Week Of The Month™ (working title) run smoothly. Here are some tips for making your period all-around suck less.

(Sidebar: What do you do to make your period suck less? Do you run through a field of flowers holding a balloon? Let me know in the comments — I’m always here for talking about the dot.)

1. Try a menstrual cup.

I’m always half-expecting Diva Cup devotees to start going door-to-door handing out brochures and pamphlets of information on menstrual cups because they are such a cult-product, and everyone who uses them seems genuinely obsessed.

I’m not one of these people yet — without going into TMI-territory, I’m just not sure I’m personally ready for the menstrual cup. But it is an awesome product — incredibly wallet-friendly, and great for the environment. (The environment could definitely stand for us to stop throwing away a shit ton of used tampons every day. Ugh — we’re working on it, environment. Sorry.)

2. Try store-brand products.

In a few desperate pinches to grab something in public once when I’d left my stash of products at home, I’ve grabbed store-brand pads and tampons to save a few bucks. To my surprise, they really don’t seem to be any less effective than the name-brand ones. In fact, I like Target-brand products more than almost any I’ve ever used, and they cost a few bucks left than the (admittedly beautifully packaged) shiny pink Playtex or Tampax ones.

Additionally — although this isn’t a store brand, it is a less-fancy and less-popular brand — I stand by o.b. tampons. They definitely take a little getting used to, but they’re so affordable, and also pretty discreet if that matters to you.

3. Buy your name-brand tampons/pads in bulk.

If you’re into name-brand products, the best place to buy them is somewhere like Costco or BJs. The $7-10 you might spend getting 24 pads at a grocery store will get you nearly a hundred at a bulk/wholesale store, which is totally worth it because you’ll always need them, and they won’t go bad on you. I do this and only need to restock on products a couple times a year, and it costs almost nothing.

4. Ibuprofen-as-hell.

Products like Midol are great, but I went straight to the source and asked Dr. Boyfriend what pain reliever really should work best for cramps, in his profesh opinion. Every time I ask, without fail, he tells me to take ibuprofen. The good news here: because Midol is sort of a niche, novelty, name-brand med, it costs a lot more than a bottle of ibuprofen. (You can get 24 Midol pills for five bucks, but probably 100 ibuprofen pills.) There are a few different kinds of Midol, ranging from ones that are literally just run-of-the-mill pain relievers with the name Midol slapped on them, to pain-reliever-plus-diuretic-plus-caffeine ones that target more than one period-symptom. But TBH, you can basically mimic the effects of any version of Midol for cheap by taking store-brand ibuprofen (or whatever pain-reliever tends to work best for you) and drinking a shit-ton of water along with it.

5. Don’t shell out for special cleaning products.

I’m not a doctor or a scientist or an expert, but I’ve read enough (and had the finger wagged at me by my gynecologist enough times, lel) to know that you don’t need to be doing anything special in terms of cleaning down-under. You really just need to use regular soap, and you shouldn’t be getting all up in there or aggressively scrubbing — it tends to do more harm than good. I’m not saying you should avoid the area altogether in the shower, or just let the soap drip down it and pretend it is enough — what I am saying is that the floral-scented $7 lotions and washes and sprays for your veej are unnecessary and quite possibly harmful, so just stick to gentle soap and water. (At least it’ll save you a few bucks!)

6. Low-impact workouts and long, leisurely walks are your best friend.

When I’m on the rag, I want to do two things, and two things only: sulk and snack. I get bloated, sluggish, hangry, lazy — basically all of the least-fun feelings. And feeling crappy is often a great excuse to treat yourself to greasy food cravings or random feel-good spending in an effort to bring yourself some joy. To avoid all of these bad habits, I have one (super annoying, I know) solution: get some exercise. When I feel yucky, I put on a cozy, stretchy pair of yoga pants and go for a long walk. The fresh air and exercise helps my mood and makes my body feel better, so it is doubly helpful. (It also prevents me from spending $20 on chocolate bars and eating them while crying and watching Say Yes To The Dress.)

7. Have a planned arsenal of ~Period Lewks~.

I’m actually not sure how universal this tip is, or if this is just something I deal with, but personally, I get 100% stumped on what to wear during my period. Nothing feels good on my body, and I always feel a little less comfortable in my skin — additionally, although I’ve gone a full 23 years without ever having a “leak” situation, I’m aware that they are possible, which limits the colors I choose to wear on the bottom.

In the past, I’ve found myself freaking out during that fateful week and running to the store in search of a pair of pants with the right amount of stretch in the waistband, or a dress that doesn’t cling to my body in places where I want no clinging whatsoever. I’ve definitely found myself getting my period before an event or occasion, and running out to replace my dress or outfit because it wasn’t Period-Chic™.

To remedy this, I’ve created a small capsule of ~lewks~ that are pretty period-specific: thick black leggings with waistbands that don’t dig into my sore tummy, loose-fitting cotton dresses that gently graze my body and flatter it even when I’m feeling a little bloated, and tops that go a little longer and cover the booty when every part of my body below the belt feels decidedly unsexy. I have different outfits in each category I may need — lounge outfits, work outfits, and occasion outfits — so I never find myself frantically searching for something that will feel comfortable when I feel like a balloon animal.

*****

These tips might not be helpful for everyone — this is just what works well for me. (Bonus tip: a single sip of peppermint tea fixes my worst cramps every time like magic. I didn’t include that in the actual list because I’m aware that it is probably just a placebo thing and only works because I believe it works.)

However, if you have a tip that works for you — something you go back to every month to make sure things run smoothly — please leave it in the comments and let me know. We need to be here for each other in sickness, and in conversations on health for women (and all people with periods).

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Ella

    Taking long walks prevents you from spending $20 on chocolate? Strange, because all my walks end up at a store where I’m buying snacks! 🙂

    I like the idea of period looks. There are definitely some items in my closet I’m less comfortable in when I’m in the first couple days of my period.

  • EJL

    Drinking hot tea and feeling relief makes perfect sense! Drinking even just hot water will increase blood flow to your skin, and then that eases cramped muscles. Peppermint, and most mint varieties I believe, are natural pain relievers. When I have a migraine, I have a mint roller that I use on my temples and I also drink some mint tea to ease the pain. Mint and mint tea are simply wonderful! 🙂

  • Court E. Thompson

    No offense to Dr. Boyfriend (who I know has done the med school thing and is working through the residency) but ibuprofen doesn’t do crap if you have severe cramps. There’s a reason they add caffeine and diuretics to products. They help! I couldn’t get through days 1 and 2 of my period without them! Midol is my savior. For others with severe (can’t work/think/gets physically ill) cramps – it’s all about the heat. Heating pads are your best friend. Also hot baths/showers and working out; anything that warms up your body to help the muscles release.

    And I second the -lewks-! A good swing dress with tights and boots is comfy and office appropriate!

    • HL

      Agree – ibuprofen has never been sufficient for me and I find that Midol actually does work best. And I second the heating pad tip! Unfortunately one of the worst, and often not discussed, factors for me is the overall lack of energy during my period. Unfortunately diet and exercise just aren’t enough to completely overcome that. Sigh.

    • Cynthia

      As someone who is in medical school (more junior than your bf), I have to chime in here.

      To add to what Court said, based on what best evidence practice database I looked at, it said:
      “in randomized trials, application of heat to the lower abdomen was effective for relief of dysmenorrhea [1,2]. Heat was as effective as ibuprofen [1] and more effective than acetaminophen [2]”

      1) Akin MD, Weingand KW, Hengehold DA, et al. Continuous low-level topical heat in the treatment of dysmenorrhea. Obstet Gynecol 2001; 97:343.
      2) Akin M, Price W, Rodriguez G Jr, et al. Continuous, low-level, topical heat wrap therapy as compared to acetaminophen for primary dysmenorrhea. J Reprod Med 2004; 49:739.

      I think it is great that your boyfriend is sharing this advice but personally, I thought touting ibuprofen as THE pain therapy was a bit limited when there are other comparable options available. I would suggest that you go to see a healthcare professional if you want to understand the range of therapies that are available.

      Regardless, thanks for the article!

    • Adriane

      A friend of mine who works in construction (as a female) mentioned to me that the guys on the construction site swear by Midol for aches and pains over other pain meds. With my IUD I get much less severe cramps so ibuprofen works for me now. Previously, Midol was my bff.

      • Court E. Thompson

        By far my favorite Midol story!

  • Anon #5

    The best thing I ever did was get an IUD. I still get my periods (I was hoping it would go away entirely), but it’s much less intense – I don’t get cramps anymore. Also, it’s much lighter so I buy less product. Obviously ymmv, but i’d recommend people try it if they have insurance/their insurance covers it.

    • Holly Trantham

      I agree! I don’t get my period anymore, but I do still get semi-severe cramping sometimes. Completely worth it, though!

  • Carolina

    Love this conversation! Though honestly, I stand by Midol. I get so foggy I can’t even think straight (as though I’m high) but I can’t handle caffeine straight from coffee or tea, so I rely on the caffeine added to Midol to feel semi-normal. But I make it stretch too! If it’s just cramps, ibuprofen will do just fine.
    Also tea is awesome for cramps! Particularly raspberry leaf tea. And bananas. That’s basically my breakfast every day during my period. 🙂

  • Rebecca Ann

    Naps. So many naps. Helps with the PMS rage and then the during-the-flow sluggishness. All the naps.

  • Taylor

    I use Lola tampons and pads–it’s a subscription service that is delivered every month, but you can halt months if you have enough tampons/pads/liners left over. I find a box of tampons ($10) and a box of pads ($9) last me 2-3 months, so it shakes out to be pretty cheap! You can customize your box according to flow, and all products are 100% cotton which is important for vaginal health. They also donate menstrual products! I used to use a Diva Cup and I ~*~loved~*~ it, but my flow changed and is now too low for me to feel comfortable wearing it (also let’s not talk about the time I had to pull it out in my gyno’s office…if ever I have panicked it was then)

  • Lauren

    I have the copper (non-hormonal) IUD and it makes periods absolutely heinous, but I just can’t handle the hormones. Love the idea of Period Looks — literally the last thing I want to do when it’s The Worst Time of The Month is wear a pencil skirt to the office 🙁

    I have this one app, p.tracker, that has gotten really good at predicting when my periods are going to be based on my past data. When I’m feeling emotionally crazy and don’t know why, I can check the app and 99% of the time it’s because I’m about to get my period — it really helps just to know when it’s coming.

    I also stockpile ibuprofen literally everywhere.

    • Ella

      A period tracker app is so great if you’re using non-hormonal birth control! I find other moods also correlate with the app data ;). Science is so cool.

  • Wolf

    Team menstrual cup here!
    For me, it hurts less than tampons. And it lasts 12 hours – no awkward search for a clean public bathroom during the day.

    • Nic

      If you’re a heavy bleeder, you might find you only get the same two hours you would’ve gotten out of tampons from a menstrual cup. That’s me for the first three ish days of my cycle, unfortunately. The days after that are more like Wolf’s experience. (I just wanted to point this out so anyone considering buying one has another perspective.)

    • Anon

      I’m also team menstrual cup.

      Pre-copper IUD, it would last all day, everyday. No worrying about it at work. I’d change it before I showered in the AM, and at night before bed.

      Post-copper IUD, it would last an hour during my heaviest day… it was hell. You definitely need to wear a pad, thinx underwear, or have dedicated black panties. Now that I’ve had it a couple years, it last most of the day on my really bad days.

      For people worried about being grossed out, think about the bacteria festering in tampons. It’s disgusting. Medical grade silicon is where it’s at. You’re not creating micro-tears in your vaginal walls by inserting/pulling out tampons. There’s no bleach, or fibers being left behind. No risk of TSS. It’s a complete game changer, not to mention not ruining the environment (or your plumbing system) one flush at a time.

  • Anon #7

    Other tips:
    Always keep a spare tampon/pad in your purse, gym bag, backpack, pencil case – wherever. Even if you don’t use it, you can help out your fellow coworkers/friends/lady humans in need.

    If you need to wash blood out- do it by soaking your clothes in cold water.
    And for those of you that will have the copper IUD like I do, designate a special pair of underwear or Nike combat shorts or the like to wear with a pad along with your diva cup. ❤️

    • Miranda Bianchi

      So so scared to use my diva cup with my IUD! I know it’s supposed to be okay but I can’t help but panic I’m gonna somehow pull on the string and hello extreme pain, bye-bye IUD (or worse even, move it to where it’s less effective and end up pregnant). Been back to horrible pads since getting the Paragard two years ago and I miss my cup! 🙁

      • Miranda Bianchi

        Also, if you’re in a pinch and there’s not a lot of blood, your own spit will dissolve your own blood! Something about enzymes. I’ve tried this when I wasn’t going to be able to get home for a while and it totally worked. Feels a little weird doing it, but hey. Everything about this is weird. 😉

  • I stopped waisting money on pads and tampons, yes i bought a menstrual cup! Lol and for me was so good that even reduced the cramps to almost nothing! I also changed from the pill to the vaginal ring and i have the best experience so far! No more headaches or cramps or stupid cravings that bloat me up like crazy! The best for me is the cup already paid itself, in 2 months i had already money in my pocket, and my days are easier i don’t have to take pads or tampons with me you can wear it 12h straight without leaking and it’s amazing! 🙂

  • PJ

    I’m not much for commenting (I prefer the lurker lifestyle on every blog I follow), but I’m going to chime in on this one. If you deal with bad cramps. Like, fetal-position-on-the-floor-crying-nonstop-shrieking-til-your-dog-gets-scared-and-shits-in-your-closet cramps, I have one word for you:

    Aleve.

    It is the only thing that works for me. Advil was OK when I was younger but does nothing for me now. My boyfriend tossed me his bottle of Aleve once when I was ~dying~ because it works for his debilitating migraines. Thankful every day for that bc Aleve is a godsend. I haven’t seen anyone else mention it here, so just in case you’re looking for #halp: I’ve been there. Don’t be discouraged if ibuprofen & acetaminophen don’t do shit for you.

    The generic drug name to look for is naproxen. I buy the bulk, store-brand bottles from Costco and they last for years. Cheap-ish and effective.

  • Miranda Bianchi

    Jumping on the “THIS pain reliever though!” train… Excedrin is basically Midol sans the diuretic (which might not be super great for you, anyway). It’s got caffeine to help the ibuprofen along and it’s cheaper than Midol, too!

  • hln

    There is a theory that part of the reason periods stink so much is because much of society perceives them as being gross and dirty. I find that doing something to celebrate your period helps counter this, and periods to be a little easier. One way of doing this is having something that you only use when you are menstruating, such as a piece of jewelry, a pleasant smelling candle, or a special tea.

  • Sandrine

    I have an hormonal implant and almost don’t get my periods anymore at all. On average it’s been around 3 times a year, periods are a lot less painful since the cramps are a lot milder and the flow is also much lighter. I’m on my second implant now and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the pill, just the fact of not having to deal with periods anymore is priceless to me! I just wanted to mention it since the hormonal implant seems less well known than the IUD, is as effective and is placed in your arm which is a big advantage for those who are not comfortable with the idea of having something hanging out down there.

    For those rare times I do get my period, I now use the cup and it’s been a game changer. It took me forever to make the switch but then I regretted it not doing it sooner. It makes dealing with period so much easier and I find the cup more comfortable than any tampon or pad I ever used. It’s also much cheaper in the long term.

  • Kristen

    My best period hack has been getting the hormonal IUD. I have a Liletta; I got it 6 weeks post-partum. Haven’t had a period since, and no cramps. It will last me up to 7 years, but I’ll be taking it out early when I want my next baby. But you can be damn sure I’ll be getting another one, after baby #2!