Doula, educator, author, and co-founder of LA’s LOOM a center for reproductive empowerment, Erica Chidi Cohen possesses a deeply nurturing spirit and a decade of experience working with women from all walks of life. Her deep understanding of our bodies’ inner workings and use of modern, straightforward tools have helped so many women experience a more empowered approach to their reproductive health.
On Period Phases + Body Literacy
Our ‘cycle’ involves more than those few days of menstruation each month. A woman’s cycle refers to a broader biological process broken down into four distinct phases — learn about them here.
Getting to know the characteristics of each stage is key for total mind-body wellness as a woman. According to Erica, learning about the different phases of our monthly cycle can be incredibly empowering, as it helps enhance mind-body synergy and increases body literacy across the board.
Understanding when and how we’re affected by hormones during our cycle helps us better predict and manage energetic and emotional fluctuations throughout it. We’re better able to take advantage of peak energy and power as it arises, and by the same logic, we can lighten up our routines when our bodies might be needing a break. Recognize that a workout slump might just be related to where you’re at in your cycle, rather than a consequence of laziness — go easy on the guilt we too often give ourselves for slowing down.
On Period Pain
There’s a crucial distinction between cramps and contractions. During our period, our uterus’ main job is to contract to expel its lining. Contractions are a normal, physiological function and don’t necessarily have to be painful. Cramping, on the other hand, implies pain, but as with getting muscle cramps anywhere else in our bodies, there are simple ways to prevent and manage the discomfort…
be prophylactic: Take preventative measures, not just reactive ones. That means less of “it’s here how can I fix it” and more of “it’s coming how can I handle it best”.
One simple solution is to regularly load up on essential fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation and therefore pain. Erica recommends taking Ritual multi-vitamins which are clean, high-quality and specifically designed to support female physiology. They deliver a daily dose of those critical fats as well as other important nutrients like vitamin D, which can also help balance our hormonal situation.
strengthen the uterus: The uterus is just a muscle and like any other muscle in our body, we need to strengthen it so it can lift heavier and work harder without crying for help each time (read: causing pain). Training your uterus means helping it have optimal contractions, often by taking supplements and eating specific foods, to shed the lining as efficiently as possible. The harder it has to work the more uncomfortable the contractions will be.
Drink raspberry leaf tea: Raspberry leaf is considered a reproductive supporting herb because of an alkaloid called “ferragine” which can help strengthen the uterus as well as the pelvic area. Sipping on raspberry leaf tea is an easy way to begin the process of preventing cramping as it’s powerful but inexpensive, and easy to work into your usual routine.
Load Up on magnesium: There’s a reason why so many athletes use magnesium. Taking magnesium can calm cramping muscles as it helps remove lactic acid, allowing exhausted muscles to relax and reboot faster.
Take a tincture: All it takes is a couple drops of the right blend into a tea or tonic. Erica recommends this period pain tincture by De Lune. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic mixture that works great a few days before and during your period.
On Tracking Ovulation
how to tell you’rE ovulating: The simplest way to know when you’re ovulating is to track your cycle. Erica’s favorite app is Clue. In addition to recording patterns, it’s important to observe yourself throughout your cycle. There are three things to look for: cervical mucus consistency, body temperature, cervical positioning.
Reading Your cervical mucus: The texture of cervical mucus changes throughout the month. When you move to the follicular phase after bleeding it has more of a lotion-like texture, in the ovulatory phase the consistency becomes more thin and watery with a little more elasticity, and at peak fertility, cervical mucus is almost like raw egg white.
feel it out: Cervical positioning changes throughout the month and can be another indicator for tracking ovulation. After our period our cervix is going to be a little lower. During ovulation, the cervix pulls upwards and its soft and hard to locate. Wash your hands and feel it out to figure it out.
On Transitioning from Birth Control
Start Tracking: When transitioning away from hormonal birth control to natural birth control it’s important to gather as much personal data as possible. For each of the four phases of our monthly cycle, Erica recommends taking notes on fluids, timing, energy and mood (which tells us a lot about what’s going on in our body).
Know What’s Normal: One question Erica was asked was “is it normal for you to miss your period?” and her answer was yes. When you’re coming off hormonal birth control it takes the body a little time to catch up. It takes up 12 years for the communication between the pituitary gland and our reproductive system to be optimized. Depending on when you started hormonal birth control, once you get off it might take some time for that connection to continue refining itself and get established.
Getting Back to A Rhythm: When removing an IUD the body comes back to a regular cadence more swiftly than coming off the pill. Either way, it usually takes about three or four months for a body to get back to a natural rhythm, so be patient and use tracking and body observation to navigate your cycle until it becomes more predictable.
On Stress and Menstruation
stress Has A direct Effect: Stress impacts our mensural cycle and bodies in general because when the stress hormone cortisol is running the show, the nourishing reproductive hormones take a back seat. Erica recommends reducing stress with daily exercise, guided meditation, massage, acupuncture — all proven to reduce cortisol.
women need fat + carbs: Our cycles are directly affected by our diets as well. Erica explained that a lot of the most popular diets are designed for male physiology, and we have to remember that as people who cycle we need more calories and more carbs to do the work our body is designed to do. Carb and calorie restricted diets really impact periods because when you’re not getting enough it can start off a starvation response in the body. This tells the body that there isn’t a safe environment to release an egg, which will interrupt the hormone that signals the release of lining and can cause missed periods.