As women, many of us spend our lives as caretakers, mothers, lovers, and everything in between. It’s our primitive instinct to nurture others and sometimes this leaves us carrying the weight of the world on our back. But as you approach midlife, it’s important to be adaptable to changes in your body and listen to what they’re telling you and then there comes a point where you just have to slow down and take more care of yourself, not just others. A quintessential point in a woman’s life when this is necessary is perimenopause. Some of you may be hearing that phrase for the first time, while others may be nodding their head in agreement at its importance.
So, what is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause, often referenced as the menopausal transition, it’s the umbrella term for the years our bodies undergo abundant changes— hormonally, physically, and emotionally—to shift into menopause.
Perimenopause is the time where your ovaries start winding down as your body approaches menopause. Your fertility system is slowly saying goodbye to your reproductive years, and this can cause abundant changes in how you feel. Many of us would agree that female hormones can feel like the angel and devil on our shoulders sometimes. We’re constantly wondering, “are you going to behave today?” These are the years when estrogen and progesterone fluctuate the most in a female’s brain, and it can have a huge effect on your system as a whole.
Some Common Perimenopause Signs & Symptoms:
- Irregular Periods
- Brain Fog
- Night sweats
- Disruption to sleep
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Low libido
- Bladder Incontinence
- Headaches or Migraines
- Decreased bone density
Great news, if you are really ambitious, there are approximately 34 common symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause to look out for! However, the perimenopausal timeline looks different for everyone, some women can start feeling the effects in their mid-thirties, and others are well into their forties. Some will experience very obvious changes, for others it may be more subtle. This process can last for years, and for some up to ten years, so it makes sense that the conversation around perimenopause is something that should be normalized and more accessible, but yet there is still that stigma that’s hard to shake. The reality is Perimenopause shouldn’t be taboo, it’s an inevitable part of a woman’s life and beginning to understand perimenopause and how best to manage it can help you ease into those years of your life with peace of mind.
What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
Oftentimes you hear people say they’re in menopause, but the truth is perimenopause is responsible for a slew of symptoms many women are referring to. Once you have gone twelve months without a period, you have reached menopause, or are post-menopausal. It’s a prime time to lean into your body’s signals, flow with the natural changes you are undergoing, and seek ways to help lessen the negative side effects of perimenopause and embrace a healthier midlife.
Perimenopause and your Pelvic Floor
You may have heard a lot about the hormone estrogen, and so you should, it packs a pretty big punch. Estrogen affects the reproductive tract, the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, the brain, and pelvic muscles, so overall, it plays a pretty big role.
Where your pelvic health is concerned, estrogen is critical to keeping your pelvic floor muscles strong and elastic, which is a big deal considering the pelvic floor supports your bladder, bowel and uterus. As women age, levels of estrogen naturally decline (typically during perimenopause), causing pelvic floor muscles to weaken, and the lining of the vagina to become dry.
Estrogen deficiency can result in:
- Urinary frequency and/or pain with urination
- Loss of bladder control, leaking of urine when you cough, sneeze, or exercise
- Vaginal dryness or burning
- Painful sex
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Being Proactive in Perimenopause
A Balanced Diet
Going through perimenopause can make you feel out of control—in mind, body, and spirit. Eating a whole food diet with the proper nutrients your body needs can help lessen the blow of your hormonal changes. Focus on proteins, healthy fats, high fiber foods, probiotics, and omega-rich foods. This is a time where your weight might fluctuate, your hunger may change, and your cravings may spike. Be sure you’re getting everything your body needs to fuel you and support your body through these years.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but exercise can help with sleep quality, bone density, boosting your mood, and keeping your blood flowing. Don’t let the word exercise intimidate you. The goal is not to put extra stress on your body, but to move in a way that makes you feel good. This may mean you change the way you exercise, such as a brisk walk, swimming, pilates or yoga.
Supplements and Herbs
Everyone’s body is different, and you may have different areas of your body that need more attention. Some women need iron, to support rapid blood loss. Others need calcium to support their bone density. Make sure you do your own research, consult with your doctor, and address what’s best for you.
Stress is the secret culprit behind a lot of the world’s health problems. If you are constantly sending your adrenals into overdrive, your body has no time or energy to heal. Perimenopause is a big transition, and in a way your body is healing. It’s adjusting to a completely new way of operating. You might think going into damage control mode will help your symptoms, but sometimes the best medicine is learning how to genuinely relax. Take time for yourself, maybe try out some breathwork exercises, and do your best to keep your cortisol low.
Getting Proper Rest
Sleep plays a huge role in our health and encourages the body’s balance of hormones. Perimenopause can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, and this only wreaks further havoc on how you feel. Try Epsom salt baths before bed, turning down the temperature in your room, and taking a natural magnesium supplement. You can even do a calming meditation or yoga before bed to help you unwind, and fall into a rested state easier.
Keep Track of your symptoms
Keeping a journal or using an app to track your symptoms, in particular the frequency and severity of them, can be a great way to build up a picture of your stage in perimenopause and better communicate this with your physician/doctor.
Speak with a Pelvic Floor specialist
A Pelvic Floor physical therapist is just there to help when there is a problem, they can also be a great source of information and guidance, supporting you with ways to strengthen your pelvic floor.
Many cultures see Perimenopause as the start of a period of transformation from our old self into the most powerful versions of ourselves yet to come. Perhaps its time we ditched the fear of the onset of Perimenopause, worrying how our bodies will change and cope, and instead embrace it as a process of regeneration or renewal, ready for the next stage. Boom!