For some women, their period is the most dreaded time of the month — filled with menstrual cramps, migraines, and heavy bleeding that hinders their daily activities. Having a heavy flow can be especially hard when you are at work. You might experience anxiety about potential leaking or maybe even embarrassment that you are not feeling yourself or working up to your typical standard. 

Don’t worry, though. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We’re here to listen, support, and acknowledge what you’re going through. We’ve also come up with some ways to help you better cope with heavy periods when calling out of work isn’t an option

What constitutes a heavy period? 

If you have a heavy period, then you probably already know the signs. It can be incredibly inconvenient and sometimes even painful. If you are unsure if your flow would fall under the “heavy” category, here are some ways to analyze it: 

  • You have to change your pad or tampon — or rinse out your cup or disc — every one to two hours

  • You have better results using two types of sanitary products together, such as a tampon and a pad

  • You bleed through most sanitary products and blood saturates your clothes or bedding

  • You bleed for more than seven days, on average

  • You regularly feel tired or out of breath and avoid your regular activities, such as working out

  • Sometimes taking off work is your only option

What causes heavy periods?

There is no one right answer to this question. Some women experience period changes after having a child and notice an uptick in their bleeding. Other common causes of heavy periods include — but are not limited to — uterine fibroids, endometriosis, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, an enlarged uterus, or side effects from intrauterine devices. Perimenopause, or the transitional phase into menopause, can also cause an increase in your flow. 

Some women, however, simply just have heavy periods with no real underlying cause.

How can heavy periods affect your work?

Because heavy periods can cause a serious drop in your energy levels, many women experience a simultaneous dip in their productivity levels at work. Additionally, you might be mentally distracted by your anxiety and stress about bleeding through your clothes or the pain from menstrual cramps or other potential symptoms. Period pain and profuse bleeding might even require you to call out of work for a day or more. With solid planning and preparation, we hope that your heavy bleeding doesn’t have to affect your daily life as much. 

Here's how to prep for your work day with heavy periods

1. Be prepared with supplies and pain relievers

Even if you have a regular menstruation cycle, your red friend can always come earlier than expected. Make sure your desk or cubicle or work bag is always stocked with plenty of sanitary care and protection so that you are never without! 

Making sure you have access to your preferred over-the-counter pain relievers is also important. They might not fully alleviate period cramps, but they can help take that edge off. 

Your period prep might even include an extra pair of underwear that you discreetly keep in your work bag. Some women might even find that keeping a small electric heating pad in or under their desk — or wherever you keep their personal belongings — for those pesky cramps is also helpful. 

2. Plan ahead

If you do have a fairly regular menstrual cycle, planning ahead to avoid dealing with major meetings or presentations during your bleeding is a great option. Being proactive and prepping your work days can help you avoid missing important days and have less on your plate. 

3. Eat well and stay hydrated

You should prioritize foods with a lot of iron while on your period. This will help your body produce enough red blood cells to replace the ones you are losing from bleeding heavily. 

Foods high in iron include red meat, green, leafy vegetables, lentils, and fortified cereals.

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Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water will also help you feel more energized than caffeinated drinks. 

4. Take breaks

Informing your employer or your direct report about your current situation is always an option. If you feel uncomfortable doing so, just know that you can always take frequent, short breaks to prioritize your well-being. 

These might include short walks in or around the office, using the bathroom as frequently as you need to change your sanitary care, or stepping outside during your lunch break for fresh air.

Prioritize YOU!

Heavy periods can be a real hindrance to your daily life and routine. From painful cramps and low energy to leaking sanitary products and frequent bathroom breaks, dealing with a heavy flow is no small feat. Taking precautions to prevent it from interfering with your work can make a huge difference. While coping with a heavy period can be very difficult, there are certainly ways to alleviate pain and anxiety while also, hopefully, improving energy levels.

For more information on diagnosing and treating endometriosis, listen to this podcast episode.

Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.