Celebrating First Menstruation

If you are a woman, do you remember your experience of menarche, your first menstruation? Did you have accurate information about what was happening to you? Did you celebrate with your mom, dad, a friend or family member? Did you tell anyone, or no one at all? Were you embarrassed or ashamed? Did you think you were bleeding to death? When I talk to women and girls, I hear all of these stories, and so many more.

The Taboo Topic:

In our culture the topic of menstruation is often taboo, making it a source of great pain and shame for many girls. My advice to moms, dads and guardians is to start the conversations early. Have lots of conversations, giving your beloved girls (and boys!) a road map to their bodies, a user’s guide. Start with simple information. Encourage questions; answer honestly. It’s ok to be nervous; do it anyway. It’s ok to say you don’t know–you can find out together.

Girls are starting their periods sooner these days. They usually start bleeding between the ages of 10 and 16, with most girls getting their period between the ages of 12 or 13. It is normal to be irregular at first. It takes practice, just like a baby learning to walk. The flow and timing can vary for the first 2-3 years. Moods can change and often feel more intense. This is all normal.

The Pill:

The first few years of menstruation is usually when I see girls going on birth control pills to “regulate” their cycles. There are many problems with this common practice. When we use exogenous hormones (hormones that are consumed from outside the body), we don’t give our bodies the opportunity to practice the reproductive hormonal cycle for themselves. Imagine giving a baby crutches when it was learning to walk. How would it find it’s own balance and strength?

Just like learning to walk, it takes time for the body to master making new hormones like estrogen and progesterone. It takes time to learn what to do with these hormones and how to break them down and recycle them. It is a learning process, just like developing any new physiological skill in the body. The expectation that this hormonal cycle will happen instantaneously, without practice, is the unfortunate way we have learned to treat girl’s bodies. It is a huge disservice to our girls.

Herbs Work!

On the other hand, herbal remedies can be amazingly supportive the body, helping it learn do it’s own work. When dealing with irregular cycles, mood swings and skin issues related to the cycle, consider using hormone balancers such as Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex angus-castus), Peony root (Paeonia lactiflora), Black cohosh* (Actea racemosa), and Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).

Reproductive antispasmodics help to reduce menstrual cramps. They include Black cohosh* (Actea racemosa), Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), Valerian (Valeriana spp.), Wild yam* (Dioscorea villosa).

Reproductive tonics help strengthen the tissues of the reproductive system as well as promote healthy reproductive function. Consider using herbs such as Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Raspberry (Rubus spp.), Angelica (Angelica spp.), False unicorn or helonias* (Chamaelirium luteum)

*Please use only cultivated herbs for this species.

If you’d like more information on herbs for the fertility cycle, you can download my Menstural Map.

Our Bodies Talk to Us:

What if our cycles had a story to tell us? What if each month they were giving us important information about how things were working (or not) for our bodies? The truth is our period can tell us many things if we know how to listen! Menstruation is an amazing gift. It gives each girl and woman individual feedback about how things are going in their own body and whether their specific diet and lifestyle are working well for them. Cramps, changes in the skin, and mood fluctuations all help tell us if what we are eating is working well for us. Lifestyle issues, such as getting enough rest and exercising are also apparent through looking at changes in the menstrual cycle. For instance, high stress levels can impact the hormones and cause irregular cycles.

It can be an amazingly helpful and informative to keep a cycle chart (you can download a PDF copy of my Menarche Cycle Chart). I like to keep track of the moon cycle, physical and emotional well-being, foods, and current activities.

Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid:

Below are my recommendations for healthy eating in general, and for eating for a healthy menstrual cycle in particular.

  • Eat good high quality fats like avocados, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
  • Chocolate, coffee, tea and cola can cause menstrual cramps for some women and girls.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Reduce junk foods, processed foods, white flour, processed oils, fried foods, sugar and soda.
  • Eat plenty of whole foods, including whole grains, leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Eat antioxidant rich foods including fruits and vegetables with lots of color (red, yellow, orange, purple…).
  • Eat organic animal products. (dairy, eggs, and meat).
  • Important nutrients include B Vitamins, Iron, Calcium and essential fatty acids (Omega 3’s in particular)

Period Products:

What words have you heard used about menstruation, either in in ads or between peers?  Comments like on the rag, aunt flow, code red, crimson wave, that time of the month, red curse, have the painters in, on the blob, red tide, ride the cotton pony, ragging, women’s trouble, and shark week are all common slang terms for menstruation. These often negative and demeaning code words perpetuate shame and secrecy when communicating about menstruation.

No discussion on menstruation is complete without talking about advertising. Unfortunately, advertising is the way most boys and girls get the majority of their information about periods. But what are these ads trying to tell us, and why? A lot of money is spent on advertising in order to sell products and make money. Common words used in advertising menstrual products include “embarrassing, no smell, leaking, cleaner, drier, secret, fresh, and my “favorite”: protection, as if periods might actually be dangerous. Products sold include “feminine” sprays, washes, powders, deodorants, soaps, wipes, douches, tampons, pads, pain relievers, and the list goes on. It’s a big industry: every month, for years and years….

Many of these products have an adverse effect on the environment and our bodies. I am a big advocate of eschewing these products, therefore not supporting their messages. Rather, we can invest in alternative menstrual products, including cloth pads, menstrual cups, ethically harvested sea sponges, reusable tampons, period panties and interlabial pads.

Loving our Bodies and Experiencing Pleasure:

I have found this to be true: How we feel about our bodies’ affects the health of our reproductive systems. Throughout our lives, we ultimately hold our beliefs about our bodies IN our bodies. Our beliefs affect our fertility, periods, body image and fundamentally our health and well-being. We all need positive images and role models!

Think about all that your body does for you! What does it feel like to run and let the wind blow your hair? Eat a food you enjoy? Hug someone you really love? Watch a beautiful sunset? Pleasure is wonderful! Our bodies give us so many experiences. Every day we have the opportunity to be grateful for our bodies and take good care of them!

This is a little fun from the amazing doctor Dawn Dalili, ND. As she says, you don’t have to wait until you LIKE everything about your body until you LOVE it!

Celebrating Menstruation:

Let’s celebrate! Consider having a First Moon Party or Ceremony. Remember, if you are a woman who had a traumatic menarche experience, it’s never too late to have a healing celebration! In the celebrations that I lead, I always have everyone make a celebration necklace or bracelet to wear when they are menstruating. I have each person write down a wish for themselves or their beloved girl and add it, with their jewelry and some rose buds,  to a pink “period pouch”. We then toast each other with Red Tea (see recipe below). I recommend researching one’s own ancestral heritage for additional ideas. You can find books, online resources or local groups to help you connect with your cultural traditions. See the resource list at the end of this article.

My Blessing for Your Beloved Girl:

“Every single one of us comes from a woman. Your mother’s body, without ever being told, had the inner wisdom to make you. She made you from the Divine Mystery and from the earth: plants, animals, minerals, water, stardust. You are a child of woman, a child of the earth, a child of the universe. This beautiful planet is your birthright, and just like the earth, YOU are sacred. Your body is sacred. Your blood is beautiful and blessed and is made of the earth. May it rise and flow like the tides of the ocean and take you on your own sacred and amazing journey.” ~Elaine Sheff

Moon Baskets:

Moon baskets are gifts (given in a beautiful basket) that can be given to a girl when they reach menarche. I actually like to give them early, to be explored beforehand and then kept in waiting for that special day. They should help the girl focus on self-care, slowing down, expressing herself and celebrating her cycle and coming womanhood.

Gifts to include in a basket:

  • Beautiful blank journal
  • Calendar or moon calendar
  • Affirmation cards
  • Necklace or ring symbolizing moontime (red stone)
  • Flax & lavender womb warming pillow
  • Cloth menstrual pads
  • Cycle charts
  • Cycle tracking bracelet
  • Red candle
  • Pink quartz crystal or moonstone
  • Art supplies
  • Coupon to do a special activity with a beloved family member or mentor on their moontime (tea, dinner, ice cream, hot springs, hike, artwork, ceremony)
  • Books (see resources)
  • Herbal recipes (see below)

Herbal Recipes:

Below are some herbal recipes I have created especially for girls. I offer them to you to help ease their transformative times and to celebrate their beautiful blossoming into womanhood.

Red Tea

Mix together equal parts of the following herbs dried by weight:

  • Rose hips (Rosa spp.)
  • Raspberry (Rubus spp.)
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
  • Roobios (Aspalathus linearis)
  • Rose petals (Rosa spp.)

Directions: scoop 1 tablespoon of the herbal mixture into a tea pot, coffee press or canning jar. Pour one cup of boiling water over the top. Steep for ½ hour. Strain well. Sweeten with honey if desired. Toast to your own amazing self. Give thanks to your beautiful body and all the amazing places it will take you!

Menstrual Cramp Oil

  • 5 drops Marjoram (Origanum majorana) essential oil
  • 5 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
  • 2 drops Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) essential oil
  • 1 ounce olive or almond oil

Mix all ingredients well and store in a dark glass bottle with a tight fitting lid.  Use: Rub on belly and back as needed for menstrual cramps. For additional comfort, a heating pad, flax seed or rice warming pillow can be placed over the top. Breathe deeply and check in with what your body has to tell you. Rest.

No More Cramps Tincture

  • 1 part Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa) tincture
  • 1 part Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) tincture
  • 1 part Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) tincture
  • 1 part Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) tincture
  • 1 part Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) tincture

I like using a tincture (liquid herbal preparation) for this formula because it works very quickly! Mix all tinctures together in a large glass bottle and label well. Dosage: Use a day or two prior to period starting if possible, 60 drops 3 times a day. During menstruation use 30-60 drops up to 6 times a day. For severe cramping, use every 10 minutes for up to 1 hour and then hourly for up to 6 hours. Discontinue use if side effects are noticed. Rest, recuperate, take a nap.

Moon Time Bath Salts

  • 2 cups sea salt or Epsom salt
  • 1 tablespoon Beet powder
  • 10 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
  • 10 drops Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) essential oil
  • 10 drops Marjoram (Origanum majorana) essential oil
  • 10 drops Rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil

Mix ingredients well and store in an airtight, glass jar. Turn off the phone and light a candle. Put on some relaxing music. Draw a hot bath and slip in. Add 1 tablespoon bath salts. Daydream of the moon. Afterwards, walk barefooted through the grass.

Hormonal Support Tincture

  • 2 parts Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex agnus-castus) tincture
  • 1 part White peony (Paeonia lactiflora) tincture
  • 1 part Eleuthro (Eleutherococcus senticosus) tincture
  • 1 part Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia spp.) tincture
  • 1 part Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza spp.) tincture

Mix tinctures together well and store in a dark glass bottle. Dosage: 30 drops 3 x per day. To balance the cycle, this formula is best used every day for 3-6 months or more. Tell your body how much you love it!

Let’s Shift

Of course we begin where we are, with girls of any age, but I encourage you to start these explorations and conversations early if you are able, before negative messages take a strong a hold. I wish your beloved girls pride, pleasure and healing on their journey into womanhood!

Resources:

One can also research one’s own ancestral heritage for ideas. You may be able to find books, online resources or local groups to help you connect with your own cultural traditions. The below resources are a great place to begin.

Books:

  • Reaching for the Moon, by Lucy Pearce
  • Menarche: A Mother-Daughter Journey, by Rachael Hertogs
  • Moon Mother, Moon Daughter, by Janet Lucy and Terri Allison
  • A Blessing Not a Curse: a Mother-Daughter Guide to the Transition from Child to Woman, by Jane Bennett
  • The Heroines Club: A Mother-Daughter Empowerment Circle, by Melia Keeton-Digby
  • Beautiful Girl: Celebrating the Wonders of Your Body, by Christiane Northrup and Kristina Tracy. Highly recommended for ages 4 – 8 or 10.
  • It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex & Sexual Health, by Robie Harris & Michael Emberley.  Ages 10 and up
  • The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls, by Valorie Lee Schafer and Norm Bendell, American Girl Publishing.  Ages 8+.
  • The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens, by Julie Tallard Johnson
  • Changing Bodies Changing Lives: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships, by Ruth Bell, Three Rivers Press
  • Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body, by Toni Weschler, Harper Paperbacks, 2006
  • GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, by Kelly Huegel, Free Spirit, 2011
  • The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality, by Michael J. Basso, Fairview Press, 2003

Websites:

http://www.journeyofyoungwomen.org

For Younger Girls:

http://www.newmoon.com/ 

http://www.girlshealth.gov/

http://www.kidshealth.org/

For Older Teens:

http://www.sexetc.org/

www.plannedparenthood.org/

http://www.teenvoices.com/

http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/

© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2017

About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, MT, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She has taught both nationally and internationally at conferences and events. Elaine is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. An artist and writer, Elaine has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. She has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and Aromaculture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, Montana Herb Gathering, Northwest Herb Symposium, Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at GreenPathHerbSchool.com.


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