How to Embrace Self-Care During Your Period

It’s no secret that our bodies don’t always feel the greatest while we’re menstruating and during the days prior. From cramps to bloating, fatigue, mood swings, and more, this can be a tough period of time to get through. Even worse is that it happens each month, making it feel as though there’s no end in sight. The good news is —you may be able to minimize some of the discomfort you experience during your menstrual cycle and premenstrual period with a few self-care and wellness tactics.

Here are some of the best ways to treat yourself with a bit of extra care while on your menstrual period and in the days prior. While none of these are a cure-all, we hope a few of them will leave you feeling a whole lot better than usual when that dreaded time of month rolls around.
How to Embrace Self-Care During Your Period

Make a priority of eating right
It’s pretty common to crave carbs and sugary foods as your period nears, but these can cause your energy levels to crash while also contributing to mood swings, bloating, and water retention. Instead of reaching for cookies, bagels, and other empty carbohydrates, focus on protein and healthy fats to keep your blood sugar levels stable and decrease inflammation, fiber to encourage healthy digestion and reduce bloating, and plenty of water, which can help with digestion, hormone regulation, and hydration.

You also want to make sure to consume a varied diet that’s high in all recommended vitamins and minerals. Some vitamins, such as riboflavin and thiamine from whole food sources, may reduce your risk of PMS. Meanwhile, iron is important as some women experience iron deficiency during menstruation.

Make sure you’re well rested
Notice that you feel fatigued or have trouble sleeping when your period is present or near? You’re not alone. Getting enough sleep during your period and your premenstrual period may leave you feeling more energized and help stabilize your hormones. To create an environment that encourages you to stay well rested, make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, power down screens a few hours before you want to fall asleep, and try to set a schedule where you’re waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day.

Stay active
A little bit of exercise can go a long way to ease some of your PMS and period symptoms. A yoga class might ease stress, bloating, and cramps, while a walk or run may encourage your body to release mood-boosting endorphins. Keep an eye on your energy levels and choose a workout that feels good, keeping in mind that just because you have your period doesn’t mean you need to shy away from high intensity workouts at all times. In fact, at the start of your period you may have more energy and strength than usual, thanks to a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels. That said, if you’re feeling tired, be sure to listen to your body and do a workout that’s light or restorative.

Take a bath or use a heating pad
Heat, whether from a heating pad, warm bath, or hot shower, is one of the best ways to ease tension and reduce pain associated with cramps or muscle soreness. Plus, it may help you feel more relaxed and comfortable in general. Try adding some Epsom salt to your bath for an extra boost of pain relief.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Understanding the Female Sexual Response Cycle

As you become sexually aroused and partake in sexually stimulating activities, your body responds by going through a series of changes known as the sexual response cycle. This cycle consists of four different phases: desire, arousal, orgasm, and resolution. With each phase comes a bunch of physical and emotional changes, which are outlined below. Men also experience these phases of sexual response, but the timing and specific characteristics may be different.

You may feel like you already know everything you need to know about sexual response, but learning about these phases can be helpful for understanding what’s going on in your body, improving your sexual experiences, and reaching climax. It’s important to keep in mind that these phases aren’t the same for everyone—the amount of time spent in each phase can be different from woman to woman, the order can vary, and you may not experience all the phases. That said, here’s a bit more information on what changes are common during each phase:

Woman playfully flirting with a man

Desire
The desire phase can last anywhere between minutes and hours. You can expect that your heart and breathing rates may increase, your nipples may become hard, your clitoris and inner vaginal lips (the labia minora) may swell, your skin might become blotchy or flushed, your breasts may become more full, you may experience muscle tension, and your vagina will likely become lubricated.

Arousal
The arousal phase typically occurs just before the orgasm, and might occur as a result of desire or stimulation. During this time, you can expect a continuation of the bodily changes that started in the desire phase, along with some other physical and emotional changes. The vagina will continue to swell, the inner sections of the vagina may lengthen, dopamine levels increase, the clitoris will become very sensitive and may retract from the clitoral hood, muscle tension will increase, the vaginal opening may become smaller, muscle spasms may occur in various parts of the body including the hands and feet, and the vagina may turn a deep purple color.

Orgasm
Though the orgasm phase is typically the shortest phase in the female sexual response cycle, but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. It’s seen as the climax and tends to be the most pleasurable phase of the sexual response cycle. During this phase you may experience muscle spasms and contractions, contraction of the vaginal, pelvic, and uterus muscles, high blood pressure and heart rate, a sudden release of tension, and a release of feel-good endorphins. If you experience a rash or blotchy skin during this phase, you’re not alone—this is fairly common.

Resolution
The resolution phase is when the body returns to its baseline, unaroused state. This means that your heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal levels, swelling will diminish, and your muscles will return to their relaxed state. It’s common to feel tired, fatigued, and calm during this phase. You may find it easy to orgasm again from here, but this will vary from woman to woman. Even if you don’t experience an orgasm, the resolution phase will still occur as your body returns to baseline.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What to Expect If You Stop Taking Birth Control Pills

Women decide to stop taking birth control pills for many reasons—some are trying to get pregnant; others have a medical reason such as experiencing adverse side effects, and some simply want a change after taking the same pill for years. Regardless of why you decide to stop taking your birth control pill, you should be aware of some changes to your body that may occur. Here are some of the most common:

Birth Control Pills

It may take a while for your menstrual period to get on a normal schedule
Some women experience irregular periods or no periods at all for a few months after going off of their birth control pills. This is normal, as it can take your body a while to adjust. If you don’t have your period for a few months after you stop taking birth control pills and you’re not pregnant, you should see a doctor to learn more about what’s going on in your body.

You might experience breakouts
Hormonal birth control pills can suppress your natural hormones, so it’s common to experience hormonal acne or more oily skin after you stop taking the pill. The duration of these changes will vary from woman to woman, but these breakouts typically only last a few months. In the meantime, you can care for you skin by sticking to a healthy diet, staying hydrated, minimizing your stress levels, and maintaining a regular skincare routine.

You may experience hair loss
Hair loss is a rare side effect that can be brought about due to hormonal shifts that can occur after women stop taking birth control pills. Meanwhile, some women experience the opposite—an increase in hair growth, typically on the chin, back, and face.

Your menstrual period may be different
If you stop taking birth control pills, you may notice that your menstrual period is different than it was while on the pill. The pill often makes women’s periods shorter and lighter, so it’s common to experience more bleeding or heavier bleeding after stopping birth control pills. You may also experience a return of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms like bloating,  tender breasts, heavy cramps, headaches, and mood swings.

You may see an increase in your sex drive
Some women experience a low sex drive and vaginal dryness while taking birth control pills, so it makes sense that you may experience an increase in your sex drive and more pleasurable sex after you stop taking the pill. Alternatively, some women experience a lower sex drive after they stop taking the pill.

You could get pregnant
After taking birth control pills for a long period of time, it’s easy to forget that you can easily become pregnant after stopping. It’s possible to get pregnant soon after you stop taking birth control pills, so make sure to use alternative methods of birth control if you’re not trying to get pregnant.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

How to Know If You’re Normal Down There

If you’ve been wondering if your vagina is “normal” in appearance, you’re definitely not alone—this is a common concern among numerous women. One reason behind this lingering question is that there isn’t much discussion of female sexual anatomy in general day to day life or in medical literature. But many women will find it reassuring to know that no two vaginas are the same and that many shapes, sizes, and variations are healthy. While a “normal” vagina doesn’t exist, there are some common similarities.

woman holding heart shape object in front of her vagina

But before we get into that, it’s important to make sure you understand the basic anatomy. To start, you should know that the vagina is defined as a muscular canal that extends from the cervix to the outside of the body, according to the U.S. government’s Office on Women’s Health. The vagina is technically part of the vulva, which is the part of your genitals that exist outside the body. Many people say vagina when they mean vulva, but the vulva also contains other parts of female sexual anatomy including the clitoris, labia, vaginal opening, and urethra opening.

So, what are some similarities and differences in women’s external sexual anatomy?

Shape
There’s a great amount of diversity when it comes to vaginal shape, and much of this is due to the shape of the labia. The outer lips are known as the labia majora, and the inner lips are the labia minora. Both vary widely in shape and size. Here are some of the different shapes that may describe your vagina or that of another woman:

  • In some cases, the inner lips (labia minora) are long and dangling, with part of them exposed and/or protruding past the outer lips.
  • For some women, the outer lips (labia majora) will completely cover the clitoris and inner lips (labia minora).
  • Sometimes one of the inner lips is longer than another, giving an uneven appearance to the labia.
  • The outer lips may be small and separated a bit, making the inner lips very visible.
  • In some cases, the inner and outer lips are a similar length.
  • For some women, the clitoral hood is visible. This is often the case if the inner and outer lips are on the smaller side.

Size
Vaginal size will vary from woman to woman, but the average depth is just under four inches. However, among some women, the vagina can be as short as two inches or up to seven inches deep. Clitoris size will also vary from one woman to another, ranging from .1 inches to 1.3 inches, and often swelling larger with arousal.

Color
Most women’s vulva appears to be some shade of red, pink, or burgundy, but this will vary from woman to woman depending on skin tone and other factors. The color will often change over time, such as after puberty, following sexual intercourse, or with arousal.

The important takeaway is that female sexual anatomy varies a great deal, and you’re not “supposed” to look any one particular way.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Now’s the Time to Get Your Flu Shot

It’s officially Influenza (flu) season, and most of us probably don’t need any reminders that coming down with the flu is no fun whatsoever. But there is one thing you can do to reduce your odds of getting sick this fall and winter—get a flu shot ASAP.

Vaccination healthcare concept. Hands of doctor or nurse in medical gloves injecting a shot of vaccine to a man patient

For most people, getting a flu shot takes barely any time at all. And by late October, the flu shot will be likely available at local pharmacies, physician’s offices, and even in some workplaces. Sometimes it’s even free. No matter how easy getting a flu shot may be, many people put off the task until their friends, family, and coworkers start to get sick. Unfortunately, by then it could be too late to avoid. Procrastinating your flu shot isn’t the greatest idea because the longer you wait, the longer you’re going without the flu shot’s protection. Getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu, and the vaccine is known to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of related complications.

Here are some other important details you need to know about the flu shot:

What is the flu?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.” The effects can range from mild to severe, sometimes even leading to death. Flu spreads extremely easily, likely through small droplets released when people sneeze, talk, or cough.

Some common flu symptoms, which you’ve probably experienced at one point or another, include fever, fatigue, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, achiness, headaches, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting.

Is the flu shot effective right away?
Here’s another reason to quit procrastinating that flu shot—following vaccination, It takes about two weeks for your body to develop antibodies that protect you against the flu.

Can anyone get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends that everyone who’s at least six months old should get a flu vaccine each year prior to the start of flu activity in their region, and by the end of October, if possible.

Infants under the age of six months are too young to be vaccinated, but studies show that if the mother is vaccinated during pregnancy, this can offer some protection for the baby for a number of months after birth. Because infants under six months are at high risk, the CDC says it’s important for people who live with or care for infants to be vaccinated.

People with an allergy to the vaccine or any of its ingredients should avoid the vaccine or at least speak to their doctor to see if getting the flu shot is safe. The CDC recommends that people with the following conditions speak with their healthcare provider to see if vaccination is advised: those with an allergy to eggs or any other ingredient in the vaccine, people who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and people who are not feeling well.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.