Bad Blood: A Menstrual Cramp Survival Guide

In honor of the eleventh anniversary of my first ever period, my body has decided to gift me with what feel like probably the worst cramps I’ve ever had. I’m sorry if this is too much information for you, but I had to tell someone. Actually I had to tell everyone. Does anyone else have this habit? I can’t stop talking about my period. At NYC Autostraddle brunch a few months ago the only fun fact I had to share with my table as we introduced ourselves was a period-related story (it involved my diva cup exploding all over my yellow silk shorts in a rest-stop in New Jersey, I’ll tell you guys about it another time).

Some people are blessed with the ability to feel their cramps to the fullest and not have their lives ruined about it, like my friend Viveca, who had this to say: “Last week during my woodworking class I had a cramp attack while I was sharpening a chisel and I thought, This is one of the gayest moments of my life, so I decided to take a seat and enjoy it. Then the cramps went away and I built a table.” We can’t all be brave table-building menstrual warriors, though.  I’ve spent this whole week in various made-up yoga positions on my couch, listening to the period playlist, weeping into a glass of red wine and obsessively googling to see if science or paganism or just someone compassionate out there in the universe can save my poor tortured uterus.

if only i had a tree to hide in

But regardless of the real/not real medical advice on the internet, there are of course some Old Reliables that I always turn to. With that in mind, I polled some fellow Autostraddlers for their favorite coping tricks. Everyone is different and not everything is going to work for everyone, but I think it’s really useful for people who get their period to share what makes them feel better so that we can all benefit.

My cramps are a full-body experience involving not just my uterus but my thighs and my back and my boobs too, and I have this really amazing microwave aromatherapy heating pad that I can essentially wrap around myself like a burrito. It smells like chamomile and lavender, which calms me down when I’m about to go into cramp-panic overdrive. I highly recommend getting yourself one, just be careful not to microwave it for too long; I burned a hole through my first one. Sometimes I can get my dog to be my heating pad, but usually she needs to just do her, which I respect. Fonseca gave me a hot tip about a vibrating hot water bottle, and it looks fairly life changing.

Speaking of things that vibrate, having an orgasm can help alleviate cramps. I guess my main problem with this solution is how exactly to go from being doubled over in pain to being in the mood to orgasm. I feel the same way about advice related to working out. Like, I can barely stand up, how am I supposed to get on a treadmill? However, the times in my life when I have been motivated enough to go for a run, it has actually really made me feel better. I’m also told that crunches help.

None of the fake yoga positions I tried made me feel better — my approximation of a child pose just seemed to concentrate the pain to one area. Laneia suggested a partner stretch in which you lay face up on a bed and have someone push down on your hipbones with crossed arms so that they are pushing your pelvic area open in addition to down.  This has the effect of increasing blood flow and also making one feel “so good” and also “vulnerable.” Just be careful they don’t push too hard and bruise your pelvic area.

kind of like this

Another thing that helps me is drinking wine. Beer or really anything carbonated makes my cramps worse because I’m already bloated enough to float through the air like a miserable, bleeding hot air balloon. There are also some foods that tend to increase bloating, like dairy products and also randomly broccoli, so I try to stay away from those. Though I always crave chocolate, I feel like it makes me feel worse. Food that actually makes me feel better include bananas and dark leafy greens.

Also, I’ve learned the hard way that wearing pants that are as close to sweatpants as possible is important. I used to forget to avoid tight jeans when I had my period which resulted in a conundrum over whether to find a way to unbotton my pants in public or just suffer in silence. I now rely heavily on soft pants like legging jeans because people in New York judge me for wearing sweatpants in public (I need a new city).  Avoiding a tight horrible waistband is the main reason I love wearing onesies, though I know many other people have very polarized feelings about them and they are not really weather appropriate for my current menstrual cycle.

Finally, I really wish I was brave enough to go at it without help from the medicine cabinet, but alas I am not. The only (non-smoke-able) medicine that’s ever really helped me is naproxen.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Please tell me your best cramp fixes. I need you!

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Gabrielle Korn used to be a contributing editor at Autostraddle. These days, she's the author of "Everybody (Else) Is Perfect," a journalist, digital media expert, and the former editor-in-chief of Nylon Media, an international lifestyle publication focused on emerging culture. Under Gabrielle's editorial leadership, Nylon became a fully digital brand with an ever-growing audience and original, politically-driven, thought-provoking beauty, fashion, music, and entertainment content. She graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2011 with a concentration in feminist/queer theory and writing. She lives in Brooklyn.

Gabrielle has written 92 articles for us.

180 Comments

  1. Honestly the only things that help me are sleep, bubble baths and Vicodin. The last one is the only thing that works for more than a few minutes at a time. I wish I had better fixes cause no one’s gonna write me a prescription for Vicodin just to deal with cramps when I *could* just lose 50 pounds.

  2. I get horrible horrible cramps so I was prescribed naproxen, which didn’t really seem to do enough. Now I’m on the pill and it has changed my life unimaginably for the better! Whereas before I was having 7- or 8-day-long periods that were incredibly, up-with-cold-sweats-in-the-night, curl-up-in-a-ball-all-the-time painful for at least the first three days, I now get 3- or 4-day-long periods that are only manageably painful on day one, and that are ridiculously predictable. I love it.

  3. Hot bath Epsom salt and a big cup of ginger tea. I also use with pain killers, pms essential oil put a little on the uterus and apply heat. And weird one hemp seed oil. Helps the deadly cramps and if you get like I do a huge pimple clears that up to and hemp seed oil makes a good dressing for the dark leafy greens.

  4. I’m still in high school which means it’s easy for me to just take the day off. When I’m home alone I like to put a heating pad on my stomach and try to focus on something else like a movie or a video game. But if my family is at home I lay in bed and make them get me food. Sometimes my dad moves the tv into my room so I can watch it and he doesn’t have to awkwardly talk to me well “it’s my time of the month”.

  5. I’ve suffered for years with terrible cramps and an incredibly heavy flow (gross!) and for over the counter medicinal help I take a combo of naproxen, paracetamol, codeine (low dosage) and buscopan. About 6 or 7 years ago the heaviness of the flow got so out of control I went to my Doc for help, feeling that it really wasn’t ‘normal’ to be using super plus tampons and still having to change them every hour! Especially at 26 years old! Anyway after a bunch of tests ruling lots of things out he decided I just had a heavy flow and probably always would. BUT he put me on Transexamic acid tablets to help reduce the blood loss and indirectly they really help with the cramps too! The theory is that the body produces these things called prostaglandins to help the womb expel the blood once it realises you are not pregnant each month; hence cramps. The more blood, the more prostaglandins, the more intense the cramps. I think you see where I’m going with this. I’m not saying it’s a miracle cure or would work for everyone but thought I’d put it out there in case it helps someone.

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