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Period Support Group with Dr. Corina Dunlap

Period Support Group with Dr. Corina Dunlap

Hi, I’m Molly, and I oversee community programming at LOLA. Usually my job involves meeting you IRL, but over the last two week’s I’ve been shifting my focus to connect with many of you in new ways.

When we created Period Support Group, we wanted to foster a space where the LOLA community could speak openly about their reproductive health Over the past month, connecting with our community has looked very different. With this in mind, we’ve adapted Period Support Group to come to you, wherever you are.

Introducing Period Support Group at Home: Fridays at noon on IGTV, the LOLA team, experts, and our community will be hosting an honest conversation on reproductive health and wellness fueled by your questions and stories.

Each week, members of the LOLA community submit questions for our expert guest to answer. This week, Dr. Corina Dunlap, a licensed naturopathic physician and medical researcher specializing in women’s health, joined us and spoke to the ways in which we can work to manage stress right now:

LOLA:

Thank you for joining us, Corina! We have some great questions from the LOLA community this week.

The first question is: “I am currently on the birth control pill and all of the sudden started bleeding on the second week of my new pack. It’s been on and off, but I am now entering my regular period week. This is the first time that’s happened to me on the pill. I can’t tell if it’s stress or something more. Some additional context: I’m still deciding if it’s safe for me to visit my OB/GYN as I live in New York City, the city most affected by COVID-19.”

Dr. Dunlap:

It’s understandable that this is a nerve-wracking time in general, especially if something changes with your health and your normal care providers aren’t able to see you immediately. It can be normal for stress to have an impact on our periods. We see this even while women are on the pill.

What happens is that you may experience breakthrough bleeding, you may experience a delayed bleed, you may have a shortened cycle, you may not have a bleed at all, and all of those changes are actually very normal with stress. Stress can impact part of the brain known as the hypothalamus and, even while on the pill, the hypothalamus is contributing to cycle regulation. This can happen for 1-2 months, but if it does happen for longer than 1-2 months I would recommend getting a telemedicine appointment with your OB/GYN, or whoever prescribed the medication. They want to make themselves available and so many medical professionals are switching over to telemedicine right now.

LOLA:

I’ve heard that from a lot of people in the LOLA community that they’ve been reaching out to their doctors via Zoom or FaceTime right now. And they all say that it is awkward at first, it gets more normal the more you do it.

For our next question this person asks, “For menopausal dryness during sex, is using lubricant enough?”

Dr. Dunlap:

For some women using lubrication during sex is enough to help menopausal dryness, it depends on where they’re at in their menopausal, perimenopausal, or post-menopausal journey. For others, lubricant isn’t enough or they may experience dryness or tearing with various forms of sex. Dryness can really impact daily living and be bothersome.

During perimenopause and menopause, estrogen drops and it can change the entire microbiome. This may put women at risk for vaginal infections and UTIs. It’s worth having a discussion with your doctor about this because there are treatments: moisturizers are an alternative to lubricant, but also a local, low-dose estrogen can be extremely safe. It will be very local to the vaginal tissue and can be very helpful in these cases. Women don’t need to suffer and I really encourage you to chat with your doctor about it.

LOLA:

Absolutely. Also, we want to recommend LOLA’s personal lubricant, which is definitely a community-favorite.

Another comment from a member of the LOLA community: “This current situation is devastating, I have waited for so long to do IVF which is now postponed indefinitely.”

Dr. Dunlap:

Yes, this is the most heartbreaking thing for so many couples and individuals, and I have a lot of people I am coaching through this right now. The ASRM (American Association of Reproductive Medicine) made this regulation, so this is coming from top down, and all ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) clinics are abiding by this regulation. There are some exceptions: people who are mid-cycle or who are waiting for chemo treatment are going to be pushed forward in their care. It’s a little bit clinic-by-clinic in terms of who is finishing up cycles, but most are really trying not to start fresh cycles right now, and that recommendation is very hard.

What I encourage people to do is to dial in all of the lifestyle and dietary things that we see in the research can help with fertility, though I know that in many fertility journeys these things will not make a significant difference. No one wants to be told to lower their stress right now, but stress really can have an impact, as we know, so I am doing a lot of coaching on that right now, both on Instagram and through physical appointments.

LOLA:

Definitely, and we want to assure people that while this was one question, we’ve heard from so many people about this. You are definitely not alone if you’re going through this, and we offer spaces for you to connect and have conversations with other people who might be experiencing this same delay and anxiety.

Now, onto our final question or comment. As some of you may know, March was Endometriosis Awareness Month, and we’ve heard from a lot of members of our community that this is a really difficult time for that community in particular. We are planning to do a month of content surrounding issues like this on our community platform called The Spot, but we heard this comment from a LOLA community member, “It’s rough right now within the endometriosis community, because so places are cancelling surgeries. These ladies have waited years to find a doctor that actually believes them, and then wait typically several months to find surgery because we have so few excision surgeons. It’s a stressful time to find out if you’re going to be cancelled next.”

Dr. Dunlap:

I agree, this is another incredibly heartbreaking situation. With Endometriosis, the other symptoms that come with pain is inflammation, and the inflammation makes us more anxious due to certain hormones. It is a heartbreaking situation, so just don’t hold back on reaching out to your physician, either the person who referred you for surgery or the person who you’re planning to do surgery with, and find out if there are any recommendations in the meantime to help decrease that inflammation and anxiety. They might be able to give you options while you wait. It is incredibly stressful, and doing everything we can to bring down stress is really the message we want to get out right now.

LOLA:

Right, and we know it’s so hard to be told to lower your stress, but even little things we can all do throughout the day. Someone recommended taking even just ten minutes to focus on your breathing.

Dr. Dunlap

There is some really good research on the things we can incorporate day-to-day. I had a conversation with one of my colleagues and we were talking about the research on laughter, on going outside and getting fresh air, and on doing visualizations and meditation. Just one thing can help really lower that stress, that anxiety, and that will actually help with inflammation. With these activities, the effect lasts longer than the length of the activity you’re doing. For example, playing board games, just anything to take your mind off of what it wants to ruminate on.

LOLA:

And we saw a question come through the comments, so if you have time we would love to answer that question. Somebody wrote, “I’ve been on the Nuvaring for years but notice recently I have terrible mood swings the week prior to my period with a crazy appetite for carbs and salt. Is this normal?

Dr. Dunlap

Yes, it can be. Again, this can be so normal, so don’t feel like is this me or is there something wrong with me? Absolutely not, this is very common.

We want to hear from you! Comment below what you would like to see from the LOLA community at this time: what questions do you have about your reproductive health? What kind of experts would you like to hear from?

 Check out LOLA’s IGTV channel to see more Period Support Group At Home!

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