Travelling on your period, level extra hard
February 13, 2021 5:27 AM   Subscribe

My husband's job is relocating us, and the flight falls on a day I will likely get my period. My periods are pretty awful (I have endometriosis), and I need ideas to make this suck less.

We cannot change the flight date (it was booked by his employer and not negotiable - government offices, difficulties getting flights at all due to covid, etc.). I know some people take hormones to delay their periods, but I am sensitive to many of those (I can take one specialized pill, which I'm currently on a break from, and it's not something you can just start and stop short term) and would like to avoid hormone (= emotional) chaos on top of an already stressful international move, if at all possible. I've never used anything to delay my period before, just my regular special pill to stop it altogether, and I'm not sure now is the time to experiment.

I do have pain killers that work to take the edge off the pain, and self-heating stick ons for my belly/lower back. Will wear loose pants and bring extra pads, especially since I can't imagine changing my menstrual cup in a tiny airplane bathroom. The flight will be 12 hours long, meaning 12 hours in the air, then a short transit and short connecting flight, so overall travel time is longer. Since we leave early in the morning, we'll stay at the airport the night before, and someone will pick us up once we get there, so I mostly have to worry about surviving the flight without being able to lie down. (We're also not allowed to upgrade - again, government stuff...) Anything else I should bring?

I'd also like to avoid looking too sick - we will take a covid test before we depart, as mandated (and I agree that's a good thing!) but I'd hate to worry the staff and other passengers. Even with a mask on, I look like a zombie when I feel unwell. Do you think I should wear some concealer and maybe some eyeliner and highlighter even though I try to fly barefaced for comfort/skin health reasons?
posted by LoonyLovegood to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd also like to avoid looking too sick - we will take a covid test before we depart, as mandated (and I agree that's a good thing!) but I'd hate to worry the staff and other passengers.

Just one data point, but I don't think I've ever noticed or worried about how well or unwell other passengers look. Coughing, sneezing, yes. Skin quality? No.

What do you usually use to deal with period pain? I don't know how strong stick-ons are; if you normally use heating pads and feel like the stick-ons wouldn't be enough, maybe you can still bring a hot water bottle (either ask the attendants to fill it for you or get hot water after you've gone through security) or a usb-powered heating pad that you can run on a portable battery (but check airport/airline regulations).

Sometimes I find pain patches like Salonpas help a little bit - maybe because they create an alternative sensation to focus on. I personally wouldn't/couldn't rely just on pads and would bring tampons, but yfmv. I'd also bring things to maximize distraction and help the time pass faster - music, really engrossing movies or shows, etc. And a good pillow and maybe a lightweight blanket.

I had to take a flight that length once while in very acute pain. Distraction helped, and mostly I just kept reminding myself it would be over.
posted by trig at 6:10 AM on February 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think some moisturizer and a cold pack (or just a cold bottle of water) applied to the face will be better than fussing with makeup to help you look less ill. Don’t add things that you’re not comfortable with, that’s setting you up for failure (or maybe just a breakout). I also want to say, flying is super high stress for pretty much everyone right now, and you will not be the only person who appears unwell. Worrying about how others perceive you is a burden you should try your best to relieve yourself of. Focus on yourself and your comfort foremost.

So let’s see, as far as heavy period while flying... layering. Wear soft but snug leggings and pack some extra in your carry on. The leggings will help keep your underwear and pads in place, so stuff won’t bunch up or move around. You can wear soft pants on top, or my personal preference of a jersey dress or elastic waisted skirt. But if you can get leggings (or maybe bike shorts!) they can really help you feel secure and also give an extra layer in case of accident/turbulence keeping you stuck in your seat way too long.

Toilet paper on airplanes is awful. If you can find them they make little packs of TP that you can keep in a purse much like tissues, take a few of these. Also while I normally hate them for the waste they create, this is a situation where wet wipes are okay by me, just don’t flush them. I can often find individual packs of them in the travel accessories section of my drugstore. You might want to pack an extra plastic bag that you can keep your used pads and wipes in so you can dispose of stuff when you land instead of jamming it in a tiny slot.

I would maybe talk to your doctor about getting something to just knock you out for a while, or just work more effectively on the pain. This is unique to every person, but since presumably you will be traveling alongside your husband he can keep an eye out for you, and you’re already dealing with a painful medical condition. It is at least worth asking about your options.
posted by Mizu at 6:12 AM on February 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I like the period underwear by Modibodi, and you can layer a pad on top of that for extra security.
posted by ellieBOA at 6:24 AM on February 13, 2021 [13 favorites]

* Herbal tea bags and a travel mug so you can have soothing hot beverages
* In addition to painkillers, consider a mild sedative or sleep aid
* Contoured inflatable or memory foam neck pillow
* Pocket sized packets of kleenex
* Small packet of wet wipes
* If you have room in your hand luggage maybe bring a light blanket, or bring an overcoat to use as a blanket
* Bring your own food for a meal if you can, and definitely pack some snacks you'll find comforting and appetizing. Airplane food hasn't gotten better during COVID.
posted by 4rtemis at 6:29 AM on February 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd definitely invest in a pair of period underwear and combine it with a pad. They absorb a surprising amount without any added discomfort, and then you don't have to worry at all about blood sliding off the pad edges when you're reclining etc. You could also wear them just in case if your period hasn't arrived yet, and avoid the discomfort of a pad.

The rest of your plan seems good. I wouldn't worry about your skin/concealer - in my experience a lot of people on flights look terrible (myself included), due to stress, exhaustion, etc, so I really doubt you'll stick out enough to worry anyone.
posted by randomnity at 7:32 AM on February 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, you have all my sympathy for this situation! I have endo too and planning for something like this is hard. I would only add to the great advice above to absolutely not put one of the sticky heating pads on until you are through security. The scanner will show it as a suspicious metal object in your pants and you do not need that level of hassle.
posted by corey flood at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Tranexamic acid worked for me to lower severe bleeding.

I would actually go with a cup, personally. Or tampons along with pad and period underwear

So embarrassing to bleed on to the seat- something to sit on?

The take off/landing was a bad time for shifting blood around for me, and you can't get up during them, so being prepared with a fresh pad before hand.

Maternity pads for sure.

With everyone wearing masks people aren't going to look you much.

Ugh flying with period is such an annoying thing, it sucks.
posted by freethefeet at 8:19 AM on February 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Get Always incontinence pads (the super heavy highest rating) instead of regular pads. They work a lot better & hold a lot more, and they're longer for better coverage, but Always brand is also comfy & not like the big fluffy diaper style of incontinence pads. I would try to just sleep as much as you can. I like to listen to an audiobook that I can drift in & out of, if you can keep your eyes closed when you wake up bc you're listening to your book it's easier to fall back asleep again. I also wear sunglasses on the plane so if I do open my eyes the light doesn't wake me up. If I do wake up too much I remember it's just a temporary moment in time & things will be better again relatively soon.
posted by bleep at 8:20 AM on February 13, 2021

Definitely good period underwear. Bring an extra pair in case you have to wash one out or-- wasteful but just this one time-- throw it away. Dark colored cardigan to tie around your waist will double as something to keep between you and the seat.
posted by BibiRose at 8:27 AM on February 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Have you tried night-time pads? They're like the incontinence pads mentioned above but designed for periods. I throw too many clots for incontinence pads to work great but the absurdly giant extra long night-time pads are good for when you need protection and won't have a lot of chances to change.
I don't have endo but am in perimenopause which is its own journey of suck. I get no help for pain from THC and/or CBD but regular Advil does make the pain bearable.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:32 AM on February 13, 2021

In addition to what has been suggested above, I always carry an extra pair of pants/leggings & underwear in my carryon in case I have a leak & need to change. A travel-pack of wet wipes can also be very handy for cleanup. (One one horrible plane trip I wore Depend undergarments + pad + ultra tampon; period underwear would probably be a much nicer option, but this was what I could get. The combo contained all leaks, but I would have had problems if I'd gone with just 2 of the 3 things.)
posted by belladonna at 8:42 AM on February 13, 2021

Best answer: I'd add that when I was unexpectedly stuck flying with endo cramps I went to the gate agent and asked to be seated early for unspecified "illness." I'm sure I looked grey and they asked no questions and let me on the flight immediately, so at least I got to skip the whole "everyone stands so you feel like you have to stand even though they haven't even called your seat range yet" thing. You could just tack on "I promise it's not anything respiratory." That's also a vote against concealer!

You didn't mention worries about navigating the airport but that would be one of my biggest worries because I tend to find walking/standing upright very difficult. Consider renting one of those little motorized carts to get you to your gate and your connection?

Also, YMMV but personally I would MUCH prefer a cup with period underwear/pad backup to just a pad in this kind of situation. Granted none of this is as bad for me post-surgery and I didn't use a cup before, but I find I can just about go 12 hours even on heavy days if I have to.
posted by babelfish at 8:46 AM on February 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don’t think you should worry about how you look to anyone else during all this. You have enough to deal with other than giving other people the false comfort of “looking well.”

If you don’t already wear cloth pads—in my experience they’re more comfortable particularly if it’s a backup/waiting for a period to start situation, when disposables can be more...abrasive and drying.

Softdiscs (formerly “Instead”) are disposable menstrual cups which could be useful here, although they are an entirely different shape than the reusable silicone ones so might be an adjustment or not work as well for you. (They’re disk-shaped and sit higher up near the cervix like a diaphragm vs the bell shape of the Divacup et al.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:03 AM on February 13, 2021

Another vote for a combo approach - a menstrual cup + a heavy duty pad (with some extra pads in a purse as backup) is how I handle long-travel on heavy days. You don't need to change your menstrual cup during the flight - that's what the pads are for - but the cup will cut down on the work the pads need to do.

And of course, black pants or a skirt. Like others have mentioned, a like a tight under layer to hold the pad in the place (spandex-like yoga shorts can be good for this), but nothing too stiff overall - assuming it will be winter temps, I'd go for sweatpants.

I also wouldn't worry much about what you look like - as long as your not coughing/sneezing, I don't think anyone is going to notice.
posted by coffeecat at 9:15 AM on February 13, 2021

How often do you need to empty your cup? If you can go 3+ hours I would absolutely still use the cup. I find the angles on airplane seats to be very incomparable with pads, even long ones.
posted by jessica fletcher did it at 9:19 AM on February 13, 2021

In my experience, it's the washing part of a cup that's the most hassle because either you're working with some stopgap protection while you wash, or getting by just wiping it out. Someone suggestion a magical (and obvious, in hindsight) solution that a lot of that can be solved by getting 2 cups so you can take one cup out and just insert a fresh clean cup and deal with washing afterwards.
posted by platypus of the universe at 10:30 AM on February 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

When are you set to move? If you have a full cycle to try out tranexamic acid, prior to this big travel day, it is definitely worth a trial run. Nowadays, a tranexamic acid prescription and being able to plan around heavy flow days means I haven't flown during the worst of my period in a few years; I do still carry medical paperwork with my fibroid and menorrhagia diagnoses to help soothe my anxiety about ever having to explain bloodstains on my clothes or on a blanket to concerned staff.

I also vote no to using a menstrual cup on the plane. There are cleaning and positioning issues in a small space, plus turbulence can put on crimp on bathroom access.

I mostly have to worry about surviving the flight without being able to lie down. [...] We're also not allowed to upgrade - again, government stuff -- if there's a fully-reclining seat available on the flight, a sympathetic gate or flight attendant might be able to switch you.

[Lastly, and please understand that this is a truly out-there idea, with so much depending on your specific medical history and endo presentation, your doctors, the access to care you have, etc.: a D&C or menstrual extraction medical procedure (NOT a diy) 10 days before the flight could lessen any flow the day of travel. Speak with your physicians and/or your local medically-staffed women's health clinic about your options.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:09 AM on February 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

If the flight isn't full, it's worth asking people (check-in desk, gate attendant, flight attendant) to seat you and your husband in a three or four seat row without other people so you can stretch out with your head in his lap.

And make sure you use the first airport bathroom after landing. There's something about the pressure change of landing that always triggers bad bleeding for me - I usually bleed very little on the plane, then all comes out once on the ground.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:14 PM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I used to have endometriosis and also used to have a job where I traveled all the time.

Bring twice as much of everything as you think you will need in terms of menstrual supplies and keep them in your carry-on luggage. You do not know if you will have a delay, especially with two flights. See if you can get heavier pain meds if that appeals to you, or something for anxiety if that will help. If you have issues with nausea, ask your doctor for some zofran. Honestly with a 12 hour flight and endometriosis I'd probably try to take cannabis edibles right before boarding, but this may not be your thing.

If you have a way to let yourself sleep on the flight, I'd recommend that with the caveat that you don't want to pick benadryl: it's a nasty diuretic and you really don't need that on top of cramps.

Bring snacks. If there's something you particularly crave when you're bleeding, bring extra of that - airplane food isn't great at the best of times. Take an empty water bottle through security and fill it when you're inside. Bring media to distract yourself.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2021

I used to have really painful cramps and have had to fly a few times with them - my deepest sympathies!

In addition to painkillers, I have found raspberry leaf tea helps (it has to be raspberry leaf, not just flavored), as does abstaining from caffeine (which may or may not be worth it!).

Stretch your legs as often as you are able, even if it's just standing up in the aisle. Every two hours or so if possible.
posted by lunasol at 12:49 PM on February 13, 2021

Is your husband willing to train himself in massage techniques? A few YouTube videos and conversations could help a lot.

I would also look into a personal travel humidifier; I find these help with my generally feeling bad. There are models that attach to the top of a plastic water bottle and run on USB power.

It's possible (I haven't checked) that social distancing could get you seat(s) on either side of you which will allow you to lay down some of the time.
posted by amtho at 1:14 PM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure which countries you're flying from/to, but the US TSA webpage says that you're allowed to bring electric heating pads in a carry-on, so, if your flight has plugs in the seat you could do that.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:53 PM on February 13, 2021

Best answer: (We're also not allowed to upgrade - again, government stuff...)
I realize this is a minor element of the question, but it's the only portion I can answer. The airline will be used to this situation. Many companies have similar policies, where they will pay for an economy fare, but the employee is free to upgrade out of their own pocket (whether using points or cash). The amount the airline wants may be out of your budget, but will almost certainly have a way for you pay for the upgrade separately from the base fare.

And seconding the idea to ask the airline staff, especially if they aren't dealing with line of people. If the plane isn't full, they have incredible latitude in what they can do, especially as it gets to be a few hours before the flight and they know that they aren't going to sell any more upgrades. A lie flat bed on a 12-hour flight is a big ask, but you never know what a sympathetic employee might do--and in this case, looking miserable could work to your advantage. They could absolutely move you to an empty row.
posted by yuwtze at 6:16 PM on February 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone!

We'll be flying from Japan to Europe, so I won't have access to a lot of the things mentioned here - definitely no cannabis! Endometriosis care here is... even worse than in the West, and I'm currently dealing with my issues on my own until I can see my specialist in Europe again, so getting prescriptions for anything will most likely not happen. The sedatives are a good idea though, thank you! I still have some I can take so I won't have to try to find a new doctor here and convince him that I need something that might end up not working for me anyway. (Meds here are notoriously weak, so no getting extra strong painkillers either - I actually have to import my naproxen from home.)

The stick on heated pads get very hot and stay hot for long - if you ever see something called kairo in stores where you are, do try them! And thank you for pointing out that they might confuse the security cameras!

(As an aside, rasberry leaf tee seems to be somewhat counterindicated for endo because of its possible estrogen-like effect - and never did anything for me. I hope this helps the next person who finds this thread.)

I'll use my cup and some period underwear in my next period and see whether I can stand not changing it for 12 hours even if it's full. Thank you very much!
posted by LoonyLovegood at 6:18 PM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know how much endometriosis changes the equation, but something that used to help when I had consistently appalling cramps was to start taking ibuprofen regularly (as in, at four-hourly intervals until the max. permitted daily dose) a few days in advance of the period, rather than waiting for the pain to start and taking it in response. I still had pain, but it was at a manageable level rather than "all I can do today is curl in a ball and cry".
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:24 AM on February 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I suffered from severe bleeding from fibroids up until recently (when I had uterine artery embolization). If you can’t get a hold of Tranexamic acid to lessen the bleeding, I’d give ibuprofen or naproxen a try. I found high levels of it would help delay my period for a few days and lessen the bleeding a bit. You could try about 800 milligrams of ibuprofen, every six hours, or 500 milligrams of naproxen, three times a day. Start 2-3 days before your period and continue for a day or two after it starts.
posted by batonthefueltank at 8:11 PM on February 15, 2021

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