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12 Period Mistakes You’re Making Every Month

Feel better during your period and reduce your risk of PMS and menstrual cramps by avoiding these habits during your period.

How to avoid making the same period mistakes

Every month, if you’re a woman of reproductive age, you likely have your period for about two to seven days. Although by now you probably know how many pads and tampons you need, how long your period lasts, and what to use to treat your premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms—there are mistakes you’re probably making that could make your period worse. Yes, some of your lifestyle habits during your time of the month could affect your monthly flow.

To help identify some of these common period mistakes, we spoke with two gynecologists who share with us the dos and don’ts during your period.

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You clean too much down there

Periods smell like, well, periods, and some people think you need to mask the odor with powder, soap, or any wipe you can find. But using these fragrant products can actually irritate your vagina. “When it comes to vaginal cleansing, leave it alone,” says Clair Paik, MD, OB-GYN, associate professor and director of gynecology at UC Davis in Sacramento, 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 outer parts, use an all-natural ingredient soap that doesn’t have the words “fragrance” or “perfume” on the label to help you feel fresh.

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You wipe from back to front

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, OB-GYN, clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

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You wait until the last minute to alleviate your pain

The next time you feel a slight pang in your lower abdomen or pelvic area visit your medicine cabinet. 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.”

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You fall for gimmicky feminine hygiene 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.

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You leave iron out of your diet

Women who are menstruating can lose as little as five to 12 teaspoons 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.

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You skip exercise

Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you’re curled up in bed feeling puffy and tired, but research suggests 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 sedentary behaviors. After four weeks, exercisers 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 the uterus and cause pelvic inflammatory disease.  Condoms not only keep sex safe, but they also help keep your reproductive tract healthy.

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You self-diagnose too much

Many women who experience heavy periods or extra painful cramps will head to the pharmacy for over-the-counter medications 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 junk food

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.”

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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 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. (Your first period can reveal a lot about your health.)

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You let your mood swings take over

Each month it never fails, you may feel your PMS, are taking over your emotions. If you feed into that rollercoaster of emotions (especially the negative ones), all you’ll do end up feeling miserable for the rest of the week. Instead, ease PMS symptoms by trying to do things that make you happy like listening to your favorite song, going for a light jog, or watching your favorite Netflix show.

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You don’t drink enough water

When you’re on your period, you experience hormonal fluctuations in your estrogen and progesterone levels. 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. Staying hydrated 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.”

Sources
  • Clair Paik, MD, OB-GYN, associate professor and director of gynecology at UC Davis in Sacramento, California
  • Shree Chanchani, MD, OB-GYN, clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City
  • NHS: "Periods"

Ashley Lewis
Ashley Lewis received her Master’s Degree from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2015. She was a Jason Sheftell Fellow at the New York Daily News. and interned at Seventeen and FOX News before joining Reader’s Digest as an assistant editor. When Ashley is not diligently fact-checking the magazine or writing for rd.com, she enjoys cooking (butternut squash pizza is her signature dish), binge-watching teen rom-coms on Netflix that she’s way too old for, and hiking (and falling down) mountains.