Today I want to talk to you, the concerned mom who is worried about her daughter. Perhaps she is struggling with painful or heavy periods, embarrassing acne, or her cycles seem irregular. I’m a mom, too and I know you just want to help her.
But what if I told you that if you put her on birth control now, that she will probably stay on it for the next decade? Would that make you pause and reconsider?
I can say with confidence that this is a likely scenario, because I’ve seen it so many times. I have this really unique job where I teach women to chart their fertility cycles using the Creighton Model. When they are getting started with this, I have them fill out a health history that includes all of their past use of birth control. I often see women who are in their late 20’s or 30’s, and when I ask them how long they were on the birth control pill (or have had an IUD), they answer 10, 15, or even 20 years. Yes, I really did have a late 30’s woman who reported to me that she had been on the pill since she was 16. Usually they started it for acne, or to “regulate their cycles,” or for painful periods. But then it just became all they knew and all they trusted when it came to their bodies. It became a way of life and they just stopped thinking about it.
So what’s wrong with this? A few things:
#1. The woman is afraid of her natural fertility and her own body. She doesn’t trust it at all. To her, it’s this scary, unpredictable thing that she really knows very little about. She is a 28 year old remembering her 16 year old body and how terrible those periods were and she’s convinced that if she comes off the pill, it will be right back to that. The pill is a crutch to help her feel like she’s in control of something that feels out of control.
#2. She’s now a 30 year old woman that literally has never had a cycle that wasn’t altered by hormones. At the initial appointment I ask, “How long are your natural cycles?” (A cycle is that length of time from the start of one period to the start of the next period) I get blank looks. Or she says, “Oh, my cycles are always 5 days long.” The woman may not even know that your cycle is not your period. The woman has no idea if she has short, regular, or long cycles because she hasn’t had a real cycle in 10 years. She has now missed out on 10 years of learning to understand her body. The menstrual cycle can now be understood as an important vital sign of health. Imagine what information we’d miss out on if we couldn’t periodically take our blood pressure or step on a scale. Not having a cycle is the same thing. What if the issue that she is currently having would have naturally corrected itself over time? It often does. Young women do tend to have more irregular cycles. To some degree, this is normal. They may have more painful periods, as they tend to have a higher amount of prostaglandins in their endometrial fluid, which can cause painful uterine contractions.
#3. The overall health risks of hormonal contraception. A recent, large scale study linked the use of hormonal contraceptives with an increased risk of breast cancer. This risk goes up the longer the woman has been on hormonal contraception. Another study indicated an increased risk of suicide in teen girls who were on hormonal contraceptives. Birth control pills are a class 1 carcinogen as defined by the World Health Organization. Do you really want your daughter to be exposed to substances that are known to do these things for the next 10 or even 20 years?
So what can you, concerned Mom, do instead? You’re doing well to take her to the doctor in the first place. Good job, Mama. You’re doing well to take her issue seriously and not shame her for being one of “those women” that constantly whines about her period. That’s my personal experience talking.
Here are some steps you can take:
#1. Ask questions. Ask your doctor WHY your daughter’s cycle is so irregular? Ask your care provider about the risks of any suggested treatments. If they tell you, “None. They are perfectly safe!” Grab your daughter and run. Ask your doctor what the cause of the pain is. Ask what treatments they have for your daughter BESIDES contraception. They are out there even if they aren’t presented to you as options. You are her best advocate and you will be teaching her to advocate for herself.
#2. If #1 is a bust, find another doctor. Find a doctor that doesn’t rush to using birth control to solve every gynecological health issue. Find one that wants to get to the root cause of the issue. Don’t women deserve better than this one-size-fits-all option we’re always given? A NaPro Technology trained doctor is an excellent choice for any woman with a gynecological health concern.
#3. Learn about your own cycle so you can teach her not to be so afraid of hers. If you’re kind of clueless, that’s ok! Now is as good a time as any to learn. If you don’t know what a luteal phase is, and about different types of cervical discharges and what they mean, you might need to read up or take one of our intro sessions so you can help your daughter. If you can get your daughter to chart her cycle, she may be able to be proactive in managing some of her own symptoms. She may start to realize that her diet is impacting her period pain, she may start to realize why she’s more irritable at certain times of the month, or she may start to see that there really is a predictable pattern to her period that she (and you) didn’t recognize before. Sometimes starting anti-inflammatory OTC medicine prior to the onset of the period can help tremendously. Charting can help her know when her period will show up every month so she can get ahead of it.
#4. Keep talk about periods and things like vaginal discharges positive! It’s not gross or dirty, it’s not “the curse,” and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Without cervical mucus and periods none of us would even be here. If there’s been no real talk at all, then it’s time to schedule that conversation with her.
I hope this provided you with some food for thought. I love to receive your comments and feedback! Thanks for reading!