The Menstrual Map: Explorations of Menstrual Health

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In our modern western culture, menstruation is a topic that comes with many myths and phobias. Think of the concepts we see in advertising that are used to talk about menstruation. Words such as cleaner, drier, no odor, no more accidents, fresh, feminine hygiene, pain, no one has to know, and my favorite: protection (like menstruation might actually be dangerous?). It breaks my heart that these negative connotations are what many girls and women hear, and believe, about their bodies. I believe that how we feel and what we think about our bodies affects our health and well-being. Menstruation isn't dirty and shouldn't be embarrassing. I believe it is a beautiful gift, a potential. Menstruation holds the possibility of new beginnings, of new life.

Menstruation can be an incredibly rich source of information for women. We are lucky to menstruate. Yes, lucky. Men don’t get feedback like that. Menstruation gives us monthly feedback about what how our diet and lifestyle affect our health and well-being. It is amazing what the body has to tell us when we start listening! But to use this tool, lets find out more about menstruation.

Menstrual Wisdom:

Typically, menstruation should last 3 to 5 days, not including spotting. A period longer than 7 days is considered excessive and herbal uterine tonics can be used (see The Menstrual Map). Pain during menstruation is not normal, but rather a sign of imbalance. It is our body’s way of telling us that something is out of balance. Menstrual pain, also called dysmenorrhea, can usually be improved with moderate exercise and diet changes such as reducing or eliminating foods including chocolate, refined, hydrogenated and rancid oils, and caffeine-containing foods and beverages. Adding more whole, organic foods to the diet is always beneficial.

Menstrual blood should be bright red – a sign that there is good abdominal circulation and a healthy oxygen supply to the reproductive system. Dark blood may indicate a lack of pelvic circulation or sluggish menstruation. Menstrual clots are normal, but should be no larger than one inch (about the size of a quarter). Larger clots can be a sign of heavy bleeding. Most women bleed an average of 2 ounces to 8 ounces (1 cup) for their entire period. More blood can be a sign of flooding, or excessive menstruation.

Signs that the Reproductive System May Need Attention:

These are some of the main reproductive symptoms I look for that tell me a client's reproductive system needs support. Make sure to check with your health care provider if you are experiencing new or prolonged reproductive health issues.

  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea)
  • Dark brown menstrual blood
  • Lingering bleeding with several days of spotting before or after a period
  • Menstruation longer than 7 days
  • Bleeding more than a cup of blood per period
  • Large clots
  • Absence of menstruation (amenorrhea)
  • Serious acne or skin problems
  • Exhaustion following menstruation
  • PMS
  • Irregular fertility cycles
  • Reoccurring vaginal or bladder infections
  • Problems with getting or maintaining pregnancies

The Menstrual Map:

You can take a deeper look at how to support and heal the fertility cycle with a handout I created called The Menstrual Map. The Menstrual Map includes herbal tools for the complete female reproductive hormonal cycle. It has categories of useful herbs for menstruation, hormone balancing, phyto-estrogens, reproductive tonics, herbs to enhance fertility, progesterone encouraging herbs, herbs for PMS and uterine astringents useful for reducing bleeding.

Advertisers have agendas to profit by telling women they need a certain product. Let’s not let them define our bodies and how we feel about them. My dream is to see women taking back their reproductive health and forging new relationships to their beautiful and varied bodies. I’d love to see women, men and children learning about menstruation, embracing it as part of a woman’s healthy fertility cycle and as one of the female body’s most amazing communication tools. Let’s welcome menstruation as the gift it is.

© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2015

Listen to Elaine's class on Sacred Blood: Interpreting the Menstrual Cycle for Health and Wellness from the 2015 Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference. Backcountry Recording has recordings of classes from the entire conference here.
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menstrual map

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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. 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. 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.
Elaine
Click to read our article on Natural Birth Control
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