By Melissa Lawlor, CNM, IBCLC, Robin’s Nest Midwifery PLLC
Illustrated by Tatyana Starikova
Our society freely discusses puberty, fertility and pregnancy.
However, from my discussions with women, the symptoms of peri-menopause are endured secretly. Menopause is just not discussed. Women are embarrassed and made to feel like “something is wrong with me” or “I’m crazy.” It is time to open the dialogue surrounding peri-menopause/menopause and set limits to the shame, isolation, fear and sadness. We deserve to enter our next life chapter as wise, strong women with the freedom to be ourselves.
Peri-menopause is the gradual, normal, physiological process of decreasing hormones that occurs over four to ten years, sometimes even more. Peri-menopause most commonly begins during one’s 40s and leads up to menopause. Menopause is confirmed when menstrual cycles have ceased for 12 months. The average age of menopausal women in the United States is 51 years old.
Common symptoms of peri-menopause include: weight gain, depression, anxiety, hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia, irritability, vaginal dryness, painful sex and loss of sex drive, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, thinning hair, menstrual irregularities, migraines, heart palpitations, dry skin and urinary urgency. Post-menopausal women lose the protective properties of estrogen, which increases the risk factors for osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Hot flashes/night sweats affect approximately 75 percent of women in the United States. These vasomotor symptoms are a poorly understood etiology between declining levels of estrogen and the thermal regulation system. Quite suddenly, an intense flush of heat is felt in the face, neck and chest. Perspiration quickly follows, which leads to rapid cooling, chills and shivering. These uncomfortable hot/cold sensations cycle in less than four minutes. Hot flashes/night sweats can occur multiple times daily and throughout the night. Nighttime hot flashes disrupt sleep, which can lead to daytime fatigue, foggy brain, irritability and depression.
Integrative therapies have proven effective for relief of peri-menopausal symptoms. Below are several general suggestions. █
• Drink waterand avoid spicy foods
• Use cotton—wear it in layers, sleep under it
• Keep a small personal fan bedside
• Take a cool shower before bed
• Practice good sleep hygiene
• Drink herbal teas containing lavender, chamomile, valerian, passionflower (unless contraindicated or allergic)
• Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol
• Quit smoking
• Eat a diet rich in legumes, vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, seeds, flaxseed, olive oil, whole grains
• Reduce simple carbohydrates, added sugar, soda, saturated and trans-fats
• Exercise daily, including strength training, weight bearing and aerobic
• Do yoga, tai chi, meditation and deep breathing
• Decrease stressors
• See a chiropractor
• Have acupuncture sessions
• Practice self-care: massages, pedicures, aromatherapy, music, dancing, reading, journaling, learning a new skill or craft
• Try light therapy—experiment with a variety
• Seek counseling
• Take supplements: multivitamins, vitamin D3, CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids
• Make an appointment with your family practice for a comprehensive medical exam to discuss treatments such as antidepressants (SSRIs) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)