If your cramps hit like clockwork every month, leaving you curled up on your couch in agony, you know this particular period symptom is a special brand of sucky.
But you’re not alone in your misery: “Gynos get cramps too,” says Jaime Goldstein, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center. Yes, that female gynecologist of yours gets the same period cramps that make you curse your uterus every month. The thing is, gynos know more than the gynecological system and its monthly flow than the average person—including how to kick those period cramps.
“We’ve just found what works for us to end the cramping, or at least make it more manageable,” she says. After all, they can’t suddenly cancel all of that day’s Pap smears just because they have a case of killer cramps.
For some gynos, that means taking a monthly, multi-pronged approach: “I usually combine three of four different strategies to manage my cramps,” says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at The University of Illinois College at Chicago. While a single strategy can certainly help, put several together and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with.
So what are these strategies, you ask? Well, we asked the same thing.
Here, top female gynos explain how they alleviate their own period cramps—and how you can, too. And, no, you definitely haven’t tried all of their tricks before.
So get ready cork your wine bottle, hit up the gym, and even have some between-the-sheets Os.
THEY GET DOWN…
“Sex helps with everything!” says Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Elite GYN Care of the Palm Beaches. And she notes that applies to both couples and solo play. That’s because (fun fact) having an orgasm increases blood flow to the uterus, which can help with cramps. Plus, orgasms trigger a release of feel-good pleasure chemicals including oxytocin and dopamine.
Just make sure that, if vaginal sex is your method of choice, you use a condom. “If your partner ejaculates on the cervix it will actually cause an increase in inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins in response, which can make cramping worse,” she explains.
THEY PULL OUT THE HEAT
“When I’m on the go, I stick an adhesive heating pad or rub some tiger balm onto my lower abdomen so that I can keep on seeing patients, or rocking skinny jeans while I’m bleeding,” says Julie Levitt, M.D., an ob-gyn with the Women’s Group of Northwestern. That’s because applying heat to your abdomen can actually help the uterine muscles relax, which means less cramping, she explains.
But even making yourself a cup of hot herbal tea to drink in transit will help warm and relax you from the inside, says Sheppard, which is why she goes for chamomile that time of month. Stay away from hot cocoa or other sugary beverages, though, and stick to herbal teas, she suggests, because excess sugar intake can worsen cramps.
And if the cramps start at the end of your night, then try drawing yourself a hot and steamy bath. (Make that bath even more relaxing with color therapy bath botanicals from the Women’s Health Boutique.) Or take a window-fogging, long shower and blast some tunes. It will have the same effect, says Levitt.
THEY USE HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL
Hormonal birth control options like birth control pills and the hormonal IUD do something pretty incredible: they keep the lining of the uterus from building up as thick as it normally would, says Vivian Clark, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Chapel Hill Obstetrics and Gynecology. The result? Hormonal birth control shortens the length, heft, and flow of each period, which for many women on birth control can mean fewer, less intense cramps. And yes, these too have an effect on those prostaglandins, she says. Sensing a common theme?
Goldstein says her IUD helped reduce her own cramping, which is one of the reasons why she recommends the Nuvaring and Mirena IUD for her patients. Plus, it takes user-error out of the equation, she jokes, because you don’t have to remember to “take” an IUD every morning.
So if you’re in the market for a new birth control and have cramps that leave you bedridden, it might be worth asking your ob-gyn which contraceptive will help with your symptoms.
THEY GET SWEATY
A solid sweat session not only ups your production of mood-boosting endorphins, but it also help the uterus muscles loosen up, says Levitt. Plus, any workout that gets your sweating will help metabolize some of those pain-causing prostaglandins, she adds.”The more I move, the better I feel, so I try to stay as active as possible even when it feels like my cramps want me to stay in,” she says. Clark also hits up the gym, saying, “Aerobic exercise is my first line of defense, if that doesn’t work then I grab the heating pad and Motrin.”
If you’re not up for HIIT, that’s okay, but do something. Stretch, grab a medicine ball, go for a walk, or hop on a stationary bike, because even low-intensity movement is better than laying around on the couch, says Levitt. Yoga is another great option. “I myself prefer yoga because it incorporates breathe-work which helps my entire body, including my uterine muscles relax,” says ob-gyn Pari Ghodsi, M.D. (Find more inner calm and build strength in just minutes a day with WH’s With Yoga DVD!)
THEY DITCH THE SALTY FOODS AND BOOZE
Grab the water cooler, ditch the salt, and lay off the booze: Aunt Flo is coming to town and she’s thirsty. That’s right, staying hydrated during your time of the month can actually nip those cramps in the bud. The reason? When the cramps hit hard, it’s because the uterine muscles are contracting, and just like you’re more likely to get a mid-run calf cramp if you’re dehydrated, your uterus is more likely to cramp if you haven’t been hydrating properly, explains Shepard.
That’s why both she and Ghodsi decrease their caffeine and alcohol consumption a few days before their periods start. “I watch what I eat in the days leading up to my period. I cut the alcohol and salt, but up my water intake because the better hydrated I am, the less likely my cramps are to occur,” says Shepard. Similarly, Ghosdi says, “I cut my caffeine and alcohol consumption the few days before I’m supposed to get my period because they’re dehydrating.”
That means if you give into your pickle, fry, and potato chip cravings, or shotgun a beer to ease the lower-abs pain, you’re actually dehydrating yourself, which can increase the amount and duration of the cramps, says Shepard. Her recommendation: Stick to healthy eats and non-alcoholic beverages from the day before your period until it ends.
This easy water bottle hack will help you stay properly hydrated every single day:
THEY TAKE AN NSAID
NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help halt the inflammatory process that comes with period cramps, especially if you can pop them before the cramping even has a chance to start. “About 12 hours before I’m supposed to get my period, I start taking a low dose of ibuprofen every eight hours with food to stop the inflammation in its tracks,” says Goldstein, who recommends tracking your period so you know when to start your meds.
If one kind of NSAID doesn’t seem to work for you, try another. “Some of my patients swear by naproxen, while others find it entirely ineffective and opt for ibuprofen or acetaminophen,” she says.