Apparently, they can take your period from painful to care-free, but is that too good to be true?

By Gabrielle Kassel
October 23, 2020
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Hey menstruators, hand up if "painful" or "debilitating" is the adjective that comes to mind when you think about your period. Sadly, data suggests that around 80 percent of you will have a hand up right now.

But it doesn't have to be that way. "Your periods can be easy-breezy and painless with the help of a period coach," says Vianney Leigh, the founder of Flow Zone Academy and the Period & Power Moves Podcast.

You read that right: period coach. Never heard of one? Here, your period coach crib sheet.

Wait, What Is a Period Coach?

"Period coaches are like doulas for your cycle," explains holistic menstrual health educator and certified functional nutritionist Berrion Berry. Basically, they help people with periods manage and better understand their cycle.

But beyond that, exactly what a period coach does/provides/teaches varies based on that coach's specialty and training. Leigh, for instance, works exclusively with folks with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), while sexual health expert Calee Shea, creator of the Get Cliterate Podcast, specializes in helping women with painful periods transition off the hormonal birth control pill.

In other words, to know what a particular period coach does, you'll have to ask them. (Or, you know, scour their website and social feeds).

Why Are People Seeking Out Period Coaches?

Well, because the medical care available to women and menstruators is falling short.

While ob-gyns are incredible in their own right, there's actually a shortage of them in the U.S. You know how difficult it can often be just to get an appointment — and once you're there, your doctor is often running from patient to patient at a breakneck speed. This makes it difficult to consult your doctor for seemingly "unimportant" issues or to get their perspective on your lifestyle as a whole.

In the medical system, "there really was no one for people to go to between their annual gynecological exams for menstrual and/or hormonal help," says holistic health coach and functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti, H.H.C., and founder of FLO Living, a virtual online health center dedicated to hormonal issues. This gap leaves folks who experience chronic cramps, period-induced brain-fog, and other periods mishaps more or less on their own.

Worse yet, when folks do tell their doctors what they're experiencing, their symptoms can be brushed off as being normal, adds Vitti. "On a medical level, there's this widespread belief that periods are just painful and cause unfavorable symptoms," she says.

Problem is, periods actually should not be as debilitating as you may assume. During your period, your uterus expels the old, dead uterine lining to make way for a new one — and for this to happen, some uterine contractions take place, explains Felice Gersh, M.D., author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist's Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness with dual board certifications in ob-gyn and integrative medicine. So "some slight and occasional cramping is normal, but it should not be painful or debilitating."

Unfortunately, when periods do wreak havoc, many doctors turn to hormonal birth control to manage symptoms. (Both Leigh and Berry report doctors offering them hormonal birth control prescriptions as a solution to their period woes.) Birth control, however, isn't actually a solution for most menstrual issues.

Dr. Gersh explains: Through a combination of progesterone and estrogen (or sometimes just progesterone), hormonal birth control (the pill, IUD, patch, Nuvaring, etc.) inhibits the release of the egg from the ovaries (aka ovulation, the part of the cycle when pregnancy is possible). Basically, hormonal birth control shuts down the body's natural cycle. And as a result, going on hormonal birth control can successfully cover up unpleasant symptoms, she says.

But here's where it gets tricky: "While you may get a dramatic decline in the pain associated with these symptoms, you are not actually addressing whatever underlying condition might be causing them," she says. Underlying conditions that could result in painful periods include: estrogen dominance, PCOS, endometriosis, PMDD, fibroids, nutrient deficiency, and chronic stress, to name just a few.

Unfortunately, because research on menstrual abnormalities is still in its infancy, many doctors simply weren't taught about these conditions or the extent to how they affect menstruators' bodies in medical school, says Dr. Gersh. Plus, sad as it may be, the medical system tends to lean more toward a "treat the symptoms, not the cause" mentality. As a result, many of these conditions are overlooked during the initial diagnosis, she says. So instead of receiving a diagnosis for WHY their periods are the way they are, menstruators receive a quick fix: the pill.

These days, some menstruators who aren't satisfied with this solution — or for one reason or another don't want to take birth control — are turning to period coaches. As Vitti puts it: "People are coming to us because they're not satisfied with the medical care they're getting."

How Does a Period Coach Help, Exactly?

Generally speaking, the number one goal of a period coach is to help folks who are experiencing painful menstruation. Exactly how they do this, however, depends both on the menstruator's specific symptoms and the coach's certifications, degrees, training, and specialty within the period space.

That said, a period coach will use some combination of the following to help patients find physical, mental, and/or emotional relief:

  • Menstrual education
  • Period tracking
  • Bowel movement tracking
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Supplement support
  • Mental health support
  • Exercise programming
  • Stress management
  • Self-pleasure
  • Goal setting
  • Hypnosis
  • Acupuncture

Vitti, for instance, uses a combination of education, supplements, period tracking, food, and exercise to help folks manage their cycle. Leigh, on the other hand, primarily uses hypnosis and period tracking to help her clients find relief.

Meanwhile, period coaches with a therapy background may do emotional healing work like help people repair their relationship with their body or overcome traumatic memories surrounding their periods. This could help, say, if you identify as transgender, and still get a period each month. If you were ever shamed for getting your period at a "young" age, for bleeding through your pants, or perhaps even by a partner regarding period sex, a period coach could help you unpack those experiences and understand it isn't you who's at fault, it's society. (See: Why You Absolutely Need to Care About Period Poverty and Stigma)

Whatever field your period coach draws on, make sure they're certified in that field. So if, for example, your period coach uses acupuncture to relieve symptoms, make sure they're a licensed acupuncture specialist. And if they're giving your nutrition advice, double-check that they're a registered dietitian or certified nutritionist.

So, Do Period Coaches Help?

They can! Because so much of their coaching is centered on general healthy living practices, "period coaches are doing things that are likely helpful to people's overall health status, and as a result helpful to their cycle." Proper stress management, nutrient intake, and exercise, after all, have all been linked to improved period symptoms.

And according to client testimonials, period coaches don't just help — they change lives!

"It really helped me become more present and increase my productivity throughout my cycle," writes one woman who worked with Pirita Martikainen, a certified yoga instructor and period coach, in a testimonial on her website. "The sessions always [brought] new energy and joy to my weeks."

"I wasn't able to look at my body with respect or admiration because I felt like it was failing me. I only had energy seven days a month — how could I accomplish anything like that?" shares one client in a testimonial for the Flo Living program. "After going through the [Flo Program] I suddenly was able to re-identify what gave me pleasure... It totally swung my life around."

But Period Coaches Are Not Medical Doctors

As a result, they only do so much. "If you're experiencing pain, you need to get evaluated by a doctor to make sure there's no underlying conditioning like endometriosis, adenomyosis, PMDD, or fibroids," says Dr. Gersh. A period coach cannot diagnose these issues.

Period pain can also be caused by a number of nutritional deficiencies (including magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and calcium), an immune system dysfunction, or hormonal imbalance, which a doctor should be able to identify — but a period coach likely will not, she says.

That's why Dr. Gersh recommends meeting with your doctor before you seek out a period coach.

After that, she recommends asking your practitioner if they'd be comfortable tag-teaming with a period coach. (She notes that a doctor who markets themselves as being an integrative, holistic, or functional M.D. or ob-gyn will be most likely to agree to this since they usually look at medical care in a more holistic way.)

"Working with a functional M.D. or ob-gyn and period coach will ensure that the patient is getting the best of all worlds," she says.

How to Find a Period Coach That's Best for You

Google, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are your friends. Even a few minutes perusing "period coaches" on Google or #periodcoach or #menstrualcoach on IG will bring up a whole slew of potential coaches.

Because you want to work with a coach you're aligned with, as you begin your search, ask yourself ask the following questions, says Leigh.

  1. What is my preferred learning style? If you're self-motivated and enjoy a self-paced program, the coaching style you need will be different from someone who enjoys the consistency of a weekly one-on-one call.

  2. What are my goals? Obviously, if you're hiring a period coach there's a particular reason. So, make sure the coach you're thinking of hiring is qualified to help with that particular goal. Again, period coaches get pretty damn niche with their specialty.

  3. Is this coach explicitly trans-inclusive? Has this coach worked with non-binary or trans menstruators before? Unfortunately, the period coach space is very cis-centric. If you're a vagina-owner who does *not* identify as a woman or is non-binary, these questions will help you determine whether or not the coach can be affirming.

And when picking a period coach, remember to trust your gut! "You want to feel good about the person you're hiring to help you feel good about and during your cycle," says Leigh.

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