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These 13 Period Mistakes Might Make Your Time of the Month Even Worse

Your vagina wants you to break these bad habits for good.

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You clean too much down there

Periods don’t smell like a bouquet of roses so it’s normal to want to mask any odor with every powder, soap, or wipe that you can find. But using these fragrant products can make your vagina feel anything but pretty. “When it comes to vaginal cleansing, leave it alone,” says Clair Paik, MD, associate professor and director of gynecology at UC Davis in California. The best way to keep your vaginal flora healthy and happy is to cleanse the internal parts with water only. Dr. Paik recommends avoiding any fragrant soaps, wipes, and shower gels, especially douching. As for those external nooks and crannies, use an all-natural ingredient soap that doesn’t have the words “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label to help you feel fresh. Here’s how your vaginal discharge can be an indicator of your health.

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You wait until the last minute to alleviate your pain

Do your uterus a favor and make a trip to the medicine cabinet the moment you feel a slight pang in your lower abdomen or pelvic area. Dr. Paik suggests taking ibuprofen every six hours to keep the pain mild enough so you’re not keeling over from excruciating cramps. “Pain is easier to prevent when it’s mild rather than chasing it down when it’s bad,” says Dr. Paik. “If you know you’re going to have pain, don’t wait until the pain is so bad that you’re in the fetal position.”  You can also try these remedies to relieve menstrual cramps.

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You fall for gimmicky products

Steer clear of any products that falsely advertise things like a “pH-balanced vagina” or “long-lasting vaginal moisturizer” because they can easily throw off your vagina’s natural acidity and kill off good bacteria. “I see women who use some of these products and get a yeast infection because it throws their natural pH balance out of whack,” says Dr. Paik. “Gimmicky products have been associated with yeast infections and may put women at risk for bacterial vaginosis after their period ends.” Keep it simple: All you need is a product that soaks up the blood, so stick to unscented pads and tampons.  Here’s what to know about organic tampons.

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You leave iron out of your diet

Women who are menstruating can lose as little as one ounce and as much as an entire cup of blood each cycle, depending on how heavy their flow is.  As you lose iron-rich blood, your iron supply also diminishes; iron helps carry oxygen throughout your body, which gives your body the energy it needs to go. In response to this monthly iron depletion, your body nearly triples its iron absorbency each day, which means you’re using up more iron and need to increase your iron intake to make sure your body has enough to properly function. This makes an iron-rich diet essential during your time of the month. Eat iron-rich foods like oysters, red meat, or dried apricots. These are the seven silent signs of anemia you shouldn’t ignore.

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You skip the gym

The gym is the last thing on your mind when you’re curled up in bed feeling puffy and tired, but research shows that exercise could be the answer to your menstruation problems. Researchers in Iran split 40 young women who weren’t regular exercisers into two groups. One group exercised for 60 minutes three times a week for eight weeks while the other group stayed true to their lazy behaviors. After four weeks, exerciser reported a nearly 30 percent drop in both the physical and psychological symptoms associated with PMS and also saw  a slight mood boost and decrease in bloating. “I always encourage exercise in women,” says Dr. Paik. “Any activity where you can sweat it all out. It can make you feel better.” These are the 8 period problems you should never ignore.

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You don’t wear condoms during sex

It’s okay to have sex during your period, but if you’re not in a monogamous relationship or on the pill, you should still wear a condom to protect yourself against pregnancy, STDs, and even pelvic inflammatory disease. “Pelvic inflammatory disease is not necessarily a huge risk but some people can have ascension [a rise] of bacteria into their reproductive tract,” says Dr. Paik. During your period, your cervix is slightly open at the bottom of your uterus, which can make your clean uterus vulnerable to bacteria; when you have sex, bacteria from your vagina can sometimes move up into the cleaner areas of uterus and cause pelvic inflammatory disease.  Condoms not only keep sex safe, they also help keep your reproductive tract healthy. Here’s what your vagina wants you to know about sex, aging, and other important things.

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You wipe wrong

Whether you’re on your period or not, it’s always best to wipe front to back. “This is so you don’t track bacteria from the rectal area to the urethra and predispose yourself to a urinary tract infection,” says Shree Chanchani, MD, clinicial assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. If you have a urinary tract infection, keep an eye out for these signs.

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You self-diagnose too much

Many women who suffer from especially heavy periods or extra painful cramps will head to the pharmacy for over-the-counter meds instead of making an appointment with their doctor. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is patients will not seek medical help and try to deal with these symptoms on their own,” says Dr. Chanchani. “Seek medical help if they are bothering you. You want to make sure there’s no underlying issue going on.”

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You give in to the munchies

Snacks high in salt, like potato chips, can exacerbate your bloating problems. The more salt you eat, the more water you retain. “Minimize salty foods during your period, so it’s not an extra thing that’s contributing to your bloating,” says Dr. Chanchani. “Bloating is common and typically goes away after your period.” These are the best foods to eat during your period.

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You don’t change your pads or tampons enough

It doesn’t matter which one you use, but you should be checking every few hours to prevent gross leakages. For pads, check them every two to four hours depending on how heavy your flow is. As for tampons, you should always choose the one with the lowest absorbency needed for your flow to help avoid the risk of toxic shock syndrome. It’s a good rule of thumb to change your tampon every three to four hours, and definitely don’t exceed eight, especially if it’s a super-absorbent tampon. 

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You forget to use a heating pad

Your mother’s loving prescription of a heating pad or hot water bottle to soothe pesky stomach cramps was actually genius. Researchers in England may have discovered just how heat helps quell your retching uterus. “Period pain is caused by a temporary reduction in blood flow to … the uterus, causing local tissue damage and activating pain receptors,” Brian King, PhD, senior lecturer in neuro, physiology and pharmacology at the University College London told livescience.com. “The heat doesn’t just provide comfort and have a placebo effect—it actually deactivates the pain at a molecular level in much the same way as pharmaceutical painkillers work.” Researchers say applying heat of about 104 degrees Fahrenheit, think jacuzzi water temperature, seems to activate your body’s heat receptors, nerves on the skin that detect hot temperatures, near the pain source, thus blocking the pain receptors. This is how heat therapy makes you feel better.

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You let your mood swings take over

Each month it never fails, PMS turns you into the real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If you feed into that rollercoaster of emotions (especially the negative ones), all you’ll do is be in eternal misery for the rest of the week. Instead, try doing things that make you happy like listening to your favorite song, going for a light jog, or watching your favorite Netflix show. Try these tips to ease PMS misery.

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You don’t drink enough water

When Aunt Flo comes to town, she triggers hormonal fluctuations in your estrogen and progesterone levels, which means she’s to blame for that bloated belly. As your estrogen and progesterone levels ebb and flow throughout your menstrual cycle, your body retains more water and slows down its digestion, which can cause uncomfortable constipation, gas, and bloating. But there is a simple solution to this problem: water. Drinking seven to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day during your period is a great way to fight the bloat and flush waste out of your system. “Drinking lots of water means you’ll urinate it all out,” says Dr. Paik. “Eating lean proteins, snacking on almonds, fruits, beans, and green leafy vegetables like spinach can also help avoid bloating.” Don’t miss out on these helpful ways to sneak more water into your body