This is an abbreviated version of “Menstrual Flooding: Surviving the Deluge.” Read the full version at Candace Hunter: The Witch Next Door.
Flooding can feel like adding insult to injury. Between Hot Flashes and Night Sweats, Spontaneous Weeping and Irreconcilable Rages, Formication (which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds) and the myriad of other crazy signs that clearly call your attention to just how much you’re aging, there’s flooding: The Period that Gushes, Never Ends, or, worse, Gushes and Never Ends. What’s a Lady to Do?
Flooding: What it is and What it isn’t
For most women, flooding in one form or another happens at least once through their menstruating years. Whether it’s the period that dragged on for far longer than the week you’d allotted for it or the gusher that kept you hiding at home within reach of your own bathroom (and supplies…and washing machine), flooding can be a real challenge to endure. For some of us, it may well happen the first time long before other perimenopausal symptoms rock our worlds. For others, it can be a signal that the end has really and truly arrived. Each woman’s experience is different, and for the most part we don’t have a lot of data to help us predict if and when it’ll happen or what it might look like when the dam finally breaks.
Doctors define flooding as a period that goes on longer than average (4-6 days) or that includes a very heavy flow. They’ll often classify the period that seems to go on far too long as spotting, particularly if it’s weepy with a relatively low flow. Defining a heavy flow is a little tricky, but for the most part it means soaking 12 or more regular tampons or menstrual pads — bleeding roughly 60-80 ml/12-16 teaspoons for the duration. Doctors call that heavy flow Menorrhagia, and it can be accompanied by a low blood count or anemia. The classic medical approach is to prescribe iron-boosting supplements of drugs along with oral contraceptive or progesterone hormone therapy before recommending invasive surgical procedures like those that scrape off the endometrium (like the D&C) or remove the uterus altogether (hysterectomy).
If you’re experiencing pain with flooding, particularly more than usual, it’s time to seek medical help. Likewise, if you feel weak or exhausted by the blood flow or have other non-standard period symptoms like fever, nausea, fainting, dizziness, diarrhea, or just feel worried or frightened by how your body’s behaving, seek medical attention. If your periods are heavy enough to require you to alter your lifestyle (such as waking at night to change your menstrual pad or calling in sick because you really can’t venture out due to fear of soaking through your usual menstrual pad or needing to double-up on your pads), you may want to consult with your medical team as well.
Natural Ways to Manage Flooding
If, like me, you’d like to avoid both the prescriptions and surgeries, there are some alternatives. After establishing that you’re not suffering from a bigger or potentially life-threatening complication, you can try these natural approaches to managing the deluge.
Try Homeopathic Remedies
Homeopathic remedies are more complex and more effective than we often give them credit for. Practitioners who specialize in homeopathic medicine often advise you avoid taking them within 30 minutes of eating anything, that you not touch the pills or drops in any way before taking putting them under your tongue, and that you avoid strong foods or chemicals like garlic, onions, and perfumes when taking them. While these are all good guidelines, I’ve had surprising success with less rigorous use of the homeopathic remedies I’ve tried. Whether you seek the advice of a pro or try the slightly more haphazard approach I tend toward, the following homeopathic remedies may be helpful in easing flooding:
- Lachesis—Flooding is accompanied with feelings of rage or the flow is dark and/or foul smelling.
- Sepia—Periods are close together, bleeding is heavy or painful or accompanied by back ache, depression, or constipation
- China—Flooding is dark with clotting and you feel utterly exhausted.
- Crocus sativa—Flooding is with clots but without pain.
- Natrum mur.—Tears, exhaustion, depression, and cramps accompany flooding. Intense vaginal pain at any time of the month.
- Sabina—Severe cramping, weakness, and clotting with flooding.
- Secale—Flooding without clots but with severe cramping.
- Sulfur—Flooding when your hot flashes are the drenching sweaty kind.
- Argentum Nitricum—flooding when heat or hot conditions make it worse.
- Calcarea Carbonica—flooding when hot flashes tend to move upwards through the body and when anxiety, palpitations, or chills tend to get worse just before your periods.
- Graphites—Flooding accompanied by real weight gain or obesity during perimenopause and when hot flashes tend to happen in the face or sweating occurs from the slightest exertion.
- Kali Bromatum—flooding when hot flashes occur in the face accompanied by fears and anxieties or a general indifference to life that is lessened when busy mentally or physically.
- Nus Vomica—flooding when hot flashes often happen while eating, sometimes accompanied with nausea that abates with rest or laying down.
- Sulphur—flooding when hot flashes are in the chest and move up toward the face and are made worse by being in a room full of people or in warm conditions.
Diet: Balance with the Right Nutrients
If flooding or heavy periods are becoming a part of your usual monthly landscape, you can take a few simple dietary steps to help manage the flow. Choosing a diet that’s balanced with an emphasis on fresh vegetables (raw or cooked) and light on fat will help your body with overall hormonal balance. Alcohol, sugar, and caffeine are all on the limit or avoid altogether list because of how they tax your detoxification system (especially the liver and kidneys) and can contribute to hormonal imbalances. Consulting with a naturopath or nutritional specialist who specializes in women’s health may well be a wise move toward making your perimenopausal experience flow more evenly and comfortably, too.
Anemia or anemic conditions are common when you’re bleeding a lot for any reason. Flooding is no exception. To help your blood stay rich and healthy, try adding iron-boosting foods to your diet just before and during your period. Nettle, Spinach, Kale, and other dark, leafy greens are a good option. Peas, beans, meats, and seafoods are also high in iron as is Black Strap Molasses. A few fruits, like raisins and apricots are rich in iron, too. Get several portions of iron-rich foods daily, but don’t take those portions all at once. The body best absorbs iron in small portions, so spreading your iron-rich treats across the day will give you the biggest bang.
To increase your body’s ability to absorb iron, add vitamin C to your iron-rich snacks. Broccoli, Kiwi, Strawberries, Chilies (the green ones), and tomatoes all have a load of vitamin C, so you’re not limited to downing an orange or a glass of orange juice with each iron-rich meal or snack. Rosehips, Elderberry, and Coriander leaves are all high in vitamin C as well. A tea that includes even one of these in accompaniment with your iron-rich foods can give your body a leg-up on digesting and incorporating that iron into your system.
If you’re in the midst of flooding, choose your exercise wisely. For some of us, flooding creates a weak feeling in the lower pelvis. If that’s true for you, take time for gentle exercise that won’t strain your uterus or increase blood flow. Think of the kinds of restrictions that are often given to women who’ve just given birth — avoid heavy lifting and intense activities. Try gentle yoga or a light stroll around the block. If it’s safe for a new mama in the first week after she’s given birth, it’ll be safe for a woman who’s flooding and has weakness in her uterus.
If weakness isn’t part of your experience, amp up the intensity carefully. Some of us depend on a good, vigorous hour or two of exercise several days a week just to ease stress and muscle tension. Letting that tension go can help bring hormonal balance to your body, which leads to a more balanced menstrual experience. Through your non-bleeding weeks, get that workout in even when you really don’t want to. When you’re experiencing a heavy period, opt for exercise sessions you can tailor to fit your body’s immediate needs. You may well find that one or two hours of jazzercise is perfect, but you may also find that half-way through you’re wiped out or your body’s decided to amp-up the menstrual flow. If you can’t modify your activity level as you go, pass that workout for one you can adjust. Your body will thank you for the consideration. If you’re lucky, it’ll throttle back on that blood flow in return.
Shepherd’s Purse is by far the first go-to most herbalists suggest for reducing bleeding both after giving birth and when you’re facing a heavy or flooding menstrual period. Up to a dropper full taken 3-4 times a day should slow the flow within the first 24-36 hours. Be aware, however, that Shepherd’s Purse can potentially make you feel sedated and, in a few women, it can increase blood flow rather than taper it off. If that is the case for you, consider letting your menstrual flow progress naturally for a few days, then try Shepherd’s Purse again. One theory is that Shepherd’s Purse shores up weakness in the system by binding the blood or tissues. If you take it too early in your period, even if you’ve got the joy of a very heavy flow right off the bat, your body can react with flooding to counteract Shepherd’s Purse’s binding action. In this case, letting your period progress for a few days before taking Shepherd’s Purse makes sense. Once your uterus has shed its lining, it’ll be ready to slow the flow; Shepherd’s Purse is likely to help that process once the flow has done its job. Additionally, with Shepherd’s Purse less is often more. Try a lower dose, such as 5-10 drops, and up it with each dose until you see improvement. Most women report that Shepherd’s Purse acts almost immediately, making it easy to recognize when you’ve hit the right level.
Yarrow is another herb that’s known for helping reduce and halt excess blood flow. Women who’ve given birth often take Yarrow with Shepherd’s Purse to ease post-birth bleeding. Heavy periods can be lightened with this same formula. If your flooding is accompanied by excess heat, yarrow is an excellent choice with or without the Shepherd’s Purse. Yarrow helps the body to shed excess heat, both the stagnant kind that feels like a hot-spot in the body and the kind that feels like the classic hot flash. Night sweats, too, can ease with yarrow.
Lady’s Mantle is a strong, astringent herb often used in combination with Shepherd’s Purse to ease or stop heavy bleeding. It’s particularly indicated for periods that come on too heavily or for menstrual cycles that are imbalanced. It’s used on a more broad scale to ease blood flow and heal wounds, particularly those that are deep or inflamed. For flooding, particularly when your uterus or lower pelvic region feels hot or overheated, Lady’s Mantle tea is a good option.
Nettle is often included in iron-rich herbal tea blends to help ease anemic conditions. The rich vitamins and minerals in nettle offer up the easy nutrition your body needs to endure flooding and recover from the experience as well. If tea isn’t your style, try making a syrup of nettle using Black Strap molasses as your sweetener makes for an iron-rich, nutritious treat to fortify and rebuild your system during your period through the first week or two afterward.
Yellow Dock is another weedy herb that ’s chock full of vitamins and minerals, most notably iron, you may want to incorporate into your diet to ease anemic symptoms like general weakness and lethargy brought on by a heavy or prolonged period. Try adding it to your nettle-blackstrap molasses syrup or daily herbal tea. It is often used as a liver and lymphatic cleanser, offering support to the systems that are working to process the toxins your menstrual cycle removes as well as to keep the body and blood healthy through out your cycle.
Raspberry Leaf is used by many herbalists to encourage a strong uterus for the fertile years. Through perimenopause, this member of the mint family is a staunch ally, particularly to those of us who suffer flooding with cramps or pain. Raspberry leaf helps bring balance and strength to the lower pelvic region in general and to the uterus in particular. Add it to your pre-period tea blends or tinctures and take it through to a few days after your cycle has ended. If you’re one of those people who work better with routine, Raspberry leaf tea every day is a perfect herb for both toning and balancing through out your cycle.
Rosehips are packed with vitamin C, which helps your body build new cells and absorb iron. While you’re bleeding or for the couple of weeks before, rosehip tea or decoction is an excellent choice to help boost your body’s strength.
Wild Yam helps encourage your body to produce progesterone by offering up diosgenin, a precursor to progesterone that helps your body create higher levels of progesterone. Some studies have shown that, at least for some women, flooding can be caused by an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. During your period, estrogen asks your uterus to bleed while progesterone asks it to stop bleeding. So, if your progesterone levels are low during your period, a little boost of natural progesterone may well help ease the flow. On the other hand, when your estrogen levels are low as compared to your progesterone levels, you uterus will create a thicker, richer lining (the endometrium) that makes for a heavy period. Natural Progesterone creams, like the one made by EEE, use Wild Yam. These have been effective for many but not all women in boosting progesterone levels prior to menstruation. Tincture is another option herbalists suggest as a daily tincture particularly to to help women who suffer from uterine cysts (diagnosed as Polycystic Ovarian disease or PCOS) to help ease period pain. If you intend to try Wild Yam, it may be wise to consult with your medical team, particularly those who are hip to herbs, before you give it a try.
Motherwort helps tone the reproductive system. Plus, it helps reduce hot flashes, ease anxiety, and is generally cardio-tonic. When you’re not bleeding, motherwort can help ease general symptoms and prepare you for your period. For heavy periods that include overheated conditions, motherwort can help, but as a specific for flooding it’s rarely indicated. It can, however, ease the anxiety, frustration, and general nervous tension that comes with an excessive menstrual flow.
Oat tops and Oat straw, like Motherwort, are supportive of the nervous system. Oat tops are generally used specifically to calm the nervous system while oat straw are high in minerals, including magnesium, calcium, and sodium, which are often depleted with a heavy blood flow. While oat tops and oat straw aren’t specific to reducing flooding, they can support your body as you ride the deluge and help you to stay calm and centered rather than anxious, nervous, or tense in the process.
Herbs to avoid while you’re flooding:
- Alfalfa may be chock full of vitamins and minerals, but it’s also a mild blood-thinner. While you’re bleeding, alfalfa may (or may not) contribute to the heaviness and duration of your flow by making your blood run easier, as it were. After the flow has ceased and all the weeks in-between, however, alfalfa is an excellent addition to your daily tea.
- Dong Quai, or Angelica sinesis, encourages blood flow to your reproductive system, plain and simple. If you periods are too light to be effective or irregularly spaced, this herb can be helpful. It’s high in minerals, including iron, and is often indicated for the first half of your cycle (cessation of period bleeding to ovulation) for women with ovarian cysts as well as other menstrual challenges. For flooding, however, it’s one to avoid for the second half of the cycle, from ovulation until bleeding ends.
- Chilies, the spicy ones, contain constituents called capsaicinoids, often called capsaicin, that promote circulation. While that’s a really good thing most of the time, during a heavy period or spotty, flooding, improved circulation may well mean that the blood will flow more easily from your uterus. Eat spicy chilies with caution and watch carefully to see how your body responds if you’re flooding. Through the rest of your cycle, partake of spicy chilies as much as you so desire, however.
- Ginger increases circulation and improves digestion…which sounds like a terrific idea except that it also draws fire and energy to your lower pelvic area in the process. If your flooding is accompanied by mild nausea (and you’re positive the nausea is not a sign of a greater problem), a bite or two of ginger may help ease the nausea, but try it with caution. Watch how your flow responds to ginger and adjust your intake or eliminate it altogether while you’re bleeding as makes sense.
- Tumeric has been used to promote hormonal balance and to treat menstrual irregularities in traditional medicines, like Auryveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, for centuries. It is described as promoting the elimination of stuck phlegm, kapha, or stagnant energies. It promotes circulation and is generally cardioprotective. Modern study shows that tumeric helps increase general estrogen balance. For women who suffer from lower estrogen levels, such as happens during the perimenopausal years, daily tumeric can help bring relief from many symptoms. In addition, tumeric brings health and balance to your digestive system, promoting the smooth flow of energies through your abdomen and digestive tract. While your period is heavy, tumeric may or may not be helpful. Overall, tumeric has not been shown to be toxic even in high levels, so this is an herb to experiment with…but watch carefully how your body reacts if you choose to include tumeric in your diet or as an herbal medicine while you’re flooding.
For too many of us, Perimenopause feels like a solo-journey. There are no Doulas or Midwives to hold our hands or offer practical and useful advice. In the midst of The Flood, life can feel downright miserable and lonely. Natural approaches can help ease the journey’s challenges. Do your research, check in with your medical team, and try to enjoy (or survive) the ride knowing you’re not alone, sister.