Career and Jobs

Spain May Legislate Menstruation Leave—Do Women Still Need Their Periods?

Spain has announced legislation suggesting that women (and anyone with a uterus) may be able to take time off from work for period pain, and gaming platform GOG announced in late April that it would allow employees menstrual leave. Two weeks ago, professional golfer, Lydia Ko flummoxed a male reporter when she described how back pain due to her period impacted her game. Once a taboo topic, women are becoming more open about their periods and voicing how menstruation impacts their work. Now, a period expert says that most women can safely turn off their periods—and it may improve the women’s long-term health, their productivity at work and even their math ability.

The number one cause of missed school and work for women under 25 in the United States is painful or heavy periods. One survey of over 30,000 women found that 80% had decreased productivity at work as a result of their periods and that productivity loss summed to over 23 days a year. In one study of school-age girls, menstrual disorders prevented 43% of adolescents from participating in activities and 21% from attending school for at least one of the previous 30 days. Those offering menstrual leave from work have been lauded for recognizing the serious physical toll that menstruation can take.

Dr. Sophia Yen, founder and CEO of Pandia Health, believes talking about menstruation at work is a good thing, but she wants women and everyone with a uterus to know there’s no need for so many to suffer in silence. “I want people to know that if you’re missing work or school, please see a doctor. You might have endometriosis, you might have polycystic ovarian syndrome or you might just have extra heavy or extra painful periods. We have medicine and technology that can help you,” Yen says.

Yen says that many women believe period pain is genetic, and nothing can be done to help. “What I hear a lot is it runs in my family. ‘My sister has it. My mom has it. My grandma has it. It’s just something we have to suck up.’ No longer do women have to suck it up or endure the pain. There are medications,” Yen explains.

Most Women Can Safely Stop Their Periods

What are these treatments? One solution that Yen advocates is for women to use birth control to eliminate their periods. Many women, she says, don’t realize that periods are optional. According to research conducted by Pandia Health, 66% of women have never been informed by a doctor that they could safely stop their periods. This is despite the fact that reducing the number of lifetime periods may improve women’s overall health.

According to Yen, our bodies were not intended to have 350 to 400 periods in our lifetimes. Reducing the number of periods also reduces the chances of some types of cancers. In general, the birth control pill also reduces the risk of several types of cancer. “The research has shown that if you go on the birth control pill, patch or ring for five years, you decrease your risk of ovarian cancer by 50%. And there’s also evidence that the slight potential increase in breast cancer is outweighed by the decreased risk in ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancer,” Yen explains.

Yen is not alone in promoting the idea of optional periods. In gynecologist Dr. Elsimar Coutinho’s book entitled, Is Menstruation Obsolete?, Coutinho answers his own titular question affirmatively. He describes the health benefits of eliminating periods and also suggests the historical reasons why many birth control pill regimens didn’t eliminate periods. Contraceptive manufacturers, he argues, thought women would feel unfeminine without their periods and also thought that without their period, women might fear they were pregnant. Therefore, according to Coutinho, the pills were engineered to ensure the continuation of women’s monthly cycles. In other words, there is no good reason why many birth control pills provide a week off for menstruation.

Reducing cancer risk and eliminating period pain aren’t the only pluses of skipping periods. There’s no more worrying about embarrassing leaks, or the iron deficiency and anemia which can result from blood loss. Iron deficiency, which can result from periods can have an impact on cognitive ability. One study found that iron deficiency (even without anemia), which is found in about 9% of adolescent girls, impacted their ability to solve math problems. Yen says, “As a feminist, a mother of two daughters and as a Tiger Mom, I like to ask, is your daughter going to do better on the SAT bleeding or not bleeding? On that sports competition, bleeding or not bleeding? On finals, bleeding or not bleeding?”

She notes that birth control shouldn’t be started until two years after the beginning of menstruation (or it may stunt growth), and birth control is not appropriate for others including smokers who are over the age of 35, those with high blood pressure, those with blood clotting disorder and those who currently have breast cancer or had it in the past. There are more contraindications, which is why a physician needs to prescribe birth control. However, some people who cannot take estrogen may still be eligible for progesterone-only solutions, according to Yen.

For women too busy to seek traditional in-office care, Yen’s company, Pandia Health provides asynchronous telehealth to women seeking birth control options in fourteen states and delivers birth control right to their door. “One of the top reasons why women don’t take their birth control is they didn’t have it on hand. They didn’t have time to run to the pharmacy every single month from age 14 until 50. So we’re automating it, making women’s lives easier,” Yen says of her company.

If birth control is not the right option, there are other medical solutions to keep women from missing work or school due to period problems. Yen says that for those without kidney issues or allergies to ibuprofen, taking 600 milligrams of ibuprofen three times a day with food will decrease the amount of blood and decrease menstrual pain by about 30%.

With regard to menstrual leave from work, some women worry that it may backfire by creating a perception that women are weak. They feel it could potentially create a setback for women who have fought hard to be treated as men’s equals in the workplace and create an excuse not to hire or promote women. Yen says, “I definitely hope no one is using this as a reason not to employ women.” Instead, she sees the increasing awareness of period pain as an opportunity to advocate for menstrual leave as necessary, but also to educate women who are suffering that they should seek medical attention and realize there are alternatives to pain.

Pandia Health’s research found that 58% of women say they would turn off their periods if it could be done safely. For most women, it can.

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