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Redefining Menstrual Health Conversations with Angelina Das and Melanie Philippou

Interviews

Menstrual health education initiative peried co-founders Angelina Das and Melanie Philippou share their journey to break the period taboo and promote informed conversations about menstrual health.

 

Name: Angelina Das and Melanie Philippou – co-founders of peried
Job: Marketing executive and communication strategist by day, entrepreneurs on the side, menstrual health advocates at all times (disclaimer: not medical professionals)
Location: Sydney

 

How did peried come about?

Mel: We started peried during our final semester studying a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation at UTS. Ang and I met during our third year at uni and we bonded over similar experiences of debilitating periods and frustrating medical journeys. When we had the opportunity to pursue a passion project as part of our capstone subject, creating a solution that tackles the period taboo was a no-brainer.

We’ve had such a welcoming response from the wider community, from being recognised by leading not-for-profits in the menstrual health space, to receiving the Blackbird Foundation Protostars grant last year.

Ang: peried was organically born from our shared frustration with the lack of education supplied at school, coupled with our own menstrual health struggles. Our goal is to build understanding of ‘normal’ and ‘not normal’ symptoms and encourage open, informed conversations about menstrual health. Since starting peried, we’ve already seen great progress within our growing community when it comes to knowledge and understanding of menstrual health, as well as informed conversations on symptoms and conditions.

 

How can we support people better when it comes to menstrual health?

Ang: It all comes back to education. From our own research, as well as that of academics in this space, we know that teachers feel uncomfortable to teach these topics or lack adequate knowledge.

Mel: Be direct and ask the person who is menstruating what they need - whether that’s a period care product, a hot water bottle or aid to help with pain, or maybe just an ear – and listen to their answer, judgement-free. The more we allow these conversations to occur openly, the more we can encourage and facilitate menstrual health education, which all together can lead to a more supportive community when it comes to periods.

 

Tell us about your own personal menstrual health experience?

Mel: I’ve experienced debilitating menstrual pain since age 13. When I was in high school, the pain was often so intense I couldn’t concentrate or sit still in my classroom chair. My mum knew this pain was not normal and so I started consulting my GP about the pain. I was advised to take ibuprofen every four hours to manage the pain, and when that was not working, told to start taking ibuprofen two days before my expected period and take paracetamol two hours after the ibuprofen. It didn't help. When I was 18, I started educating myself on menstrual health - what the pain could be a sign of and different pain-management options. This began my holistic health journey where I have seen a naturopath, functional medicine doctor and acupuncturist. I currently manage my dysmenorrhea with a cycle syncing approach that involves weekly acupuncture sessions, Chinese herbs, regular exercise and an anti-inflammatory diet.

Ang: From my second period, I was plagued with debilitating pain that was barely manageable with painkillers, heavy periods that would last up to 10 days, and a cycle of around 2-3 weeks in length. By 14, I had already tried a range of medications, the most memorable of which was tranexamic acid with a dosage of 2 tablets, 4 times a day for the first 4 days of my period. Fast-forward to today - I am suspected to have endometriosis, though this cannot be confirmed without a laparoscopy which I am yet to have. Until then, I manage my periods with a Mirena® (hormonal IUD) in combination with the pill. I still experience dysmenorrhea, and occasional instances of fainting/blacking out from blood loss and/or pain, though I have a much lighter period and am no longer anaemic.

  

What are some of the most common misconceptions about menstrual health?

Mel: That pain is normal. Any pain that interferes with daily life is never normal and should not be endured without seeking medical help.

Ang: For too long, we’ve been told that period pain is normal and that we need to “suck it up” and “get on with it”. But with all that we know now, it’s these exact sayings that contribute towards lengthy diagnosis journeys for menstrual conditions that have been presenting symptoms for years.

Yes, period pain is a commonly experienced symptom, but pain that interrupts your day-to-day lifestyle, that doesn’t respond to painkillers and that means you curl up in a ball on the floor or pass out is under any other circumstance, far from normal.

 

What exactly is a ‘normal’ period?

Mel: Some normal symptoms are fatigue, bloating and mild abdominal or pelvic cramping. On the other hand, not normal menstrual symptoms are those that should not be accepted as common and may instead point towards an underlying problem or condition – for example cramps that interfere with day-to-day life.

Ang: At peried we talk a lot about how the taboo, myths and lack of comprehensive education have led to the normalisation of not normal menstrual symptoms. The very real consequence of this is menstruators not recognising when they need to seek help and instead continuing to endure unnecessary suffering and pain while unknowingly delaying diagnosis. That’s why one of our core focuses is to push education on identifying normal versus not normal symptoms.

peried co-founders Angelina Das and Melanie PhilippouDo you think there’s a relationship between overall health and menstrual health?

Ang: I like to look at my overall health as being very intertwined, with all aspects always influencing each other. Whether that be my mental health affecting my menstrual health or my menstrual health affecting my physical health and vice versa. Stress has always been something that affects my menstrual health and has often delayed my cycle or increased the severity of premenstrual symptoms.

Mel: I like to go by a quote in naturopath Lara Briden’s book, Period Repair Manual which is that your period is your monthly report card on your overall health. Cycle syncing is a practice that helps me manage my symptoms throughout different stages of my menstrual cycle, which at the same time has helped me become more aware of my own body overall and any other symptoms that I may be experiencing health-wise.

 

What’s in your toolkit for managing pain and discomfort?

Mel: We’re both big fans of heat therapy, so that means utilising hot water bottles or wheat bags to place over our abdomen and drinking lots of herbal teas to warm our bodies internally.

Ang: There’s also pain-relieving medication, such as naproxen, paracetamol, or medication that inhibits prostaglandins that can be used when the pain becomes too intense for heat to help. For me, stretching and light exercise also helps keep my cramps manageable. It’s important to find pain relief and management techniques that work for you and to consult with medical professionals, whether that be a GP and/or gynaecologist – especially if the pain experienced is debilitating and interfering with daily life on a regular basis.

 

What should a healthy period look like?

Ang: On average, most menstruators will have a period every 28 to 35 days that lasts between 4 and 8 days, and involves a loss of approximately 3 tablespoons of menstrual blood (this will vary for each person).

A few normal symptoms include bloating, headaches, increased bowel movements and pelvic pain that responds to painkillers. A few not normal symptoms to look out for and track are pelvic pain that interrupts your day-to-day life (dysmenorrhea), heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia, which calculates as greater than 80ml or ⅓ of a cup), and skipped periods (amenorrhea is defined as 3+ months without a period).

 

What do different period blood colours mean?

Mel: Period shades that range from light pink and bright red, to dark brown or black are considered normal for period blood. Pink blood often signals the beginning or end of your period, bright red is the freshest (often on the heaviest day of your period), while black or brown reflects old blood that has become oxidized. Period orange or grey-like blood is considered uncommon, usually indicating something is wrong - consult a doctor or gynecologist if you experience this.

 

Do you track your cycle and energy throughout?

Ang: Yes, this includes tracking all types of symptoms throughout each stage of our cycle including energy levels and mood changes, any physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, pain, bloating) and menstrual flow (i.e. heavy, light, spotting etc.).

Mel: Keeping track of your period and the different symptoms you experience can help one develop better awareness of your body and menstrual cycle. Not only does this then allow you to identify recurring and/or irregular symptoms, but it can most importantly highlight any not normal symptoms that may need medical attention.

 

Ang’s period, summarised...

  • My period in 3 words: Painful, long, bloated
  • Best period hacks: Cycle tracking! Knowing the typical routine during each phase helps me prepare and respond to the changes I’m experiencing, and to keep track of any not normal symptoms that I should be discussing with my gynaecologist.
  • Period tracker of choice: Notes. It’s a bit old school but I have every cycle tracked back for 10+ years in one place on my phone including dates, symptoms and all sorts of specifics.
  • Self-care toolkit: Chamomile tea, hot baths, wheat bags, stretching and naps
  • On day 1 you can find me: Eating everything in sight, drinking chamomile tea, and taking it easy.

 

Mel’s period, summarised…

  • My period in 3 words: Painful, bloated, tired
  • Best period hacks: Cycle syncing! Being aware of each phase of my cycle and adapting my exercise, food, work, and self-care routine to match my energy
  • Period tracker of choice: Clue app for date and cycle predictions. Notes app for symptoms
  • Self-care toolkit: Calming essential oils, Spotify, my journal
  • On day 1 you can find me: Drinking cups of chamomile tea, hugging a hot water bottle, breaking from exercise and hopefully having a chill workday.
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