Navigating shift work and complex menstrual cycles: My experience

Maddi Munro RN
A note from Nurse & Midwife Support: Menstruation can be a sensitive topic for many, and we think it’s important to start with an acknowledgement: not all women menstruate, and not everybody who menstruates is a woman. Our friend and frequent contributor Maddi has shared her perspective on her personal thoughts and experiences of menstruation for International Women’s Day. We want to acknowledge that there are many diverse experiences of menstruation. If you have a different perspective you’d like to share, get in touch — your story matters to us!

menstrual cycle

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to highlight the importance of women’s health. My passion is to give hope to women like me who experience menstrual challenges and spotlight how shift work can affect hormones and — by extension — our experience as nurses or midwives. Underlying hormonal conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids can affect the ability to deliver optimal patient care during different times in the menstrual cycle.

Hormones and havoc

A hot — yet frequently unspoken — topic that we all need to hear: how hormones impact many working nurses and midwives.

According to, 1.53 billion women are living with gynecological diseases. Many females will experience a hormonal imbalance or gynecological condition/s that creates a cascade of symptoms and can wreak havoc. Although nurses and midwives choose our professions for a reason, we often aren’t prepared for the demands of shift work, especially night shift and how the irregular schedule can affect our health and wellbeing.

Many of us experience common symptoms of hormonal and gynaecological conditions including tiredness, anxiety, pelvic pain, burnout, PMS, cramping and fatigue. Combined with shift work and our caring nature, the symptoms can be exhausting especially during a pandemic. Crippling pain and struggling to function at work can lead to nurses/midwives exhausting sick leave. I have experienced all this and am motivated to share my story to create awareness surrounding this topic, which is unfortunately still treated as taboo.

What can we do?

Some of these conditions require support, understanding and symptom management such as dietary changes, lifestyle interventions and adequate sleep. I experience this firsthand most months. I want to spread awareness to those in similar circumstances that you are not alone! To prevent increasing levels of burnout in female-dominated professions, I seek to raise awareness. I’ve found education is vital to understanding the complexity of the issues.

I have extensively researched menstrual issues. Here are some interesting facts I’ve learned:

  • Cycle-syncing and roster-perfecting are some solutions that can help to resolve hormone-related burnout. As Alisa Vitti outlined in her book In the Flo, the four different phases in the menstrual cycle have different requirements — dietary adjustments, certain exercises and hormonal fluctuations must be reflected in our everyday practice.
  • Recent research has shown that exercise during menstruation can in fact ‘turn on’ fat storage, particularly HIIT training. I found this absolutely fascinating — that with all good intentions of working out, it can actually be bothersome and counterproductive for your body during this time of the month.
  • Women in the UK have founded a program called Red whereby women are entitled to menstrual leave when experiencing severe symptoms.
Prevention and Education is Key

I cannot stress this enough — PREVENTION AND EDUCATION IS KEY.

  • Research the facts
  • Find a mentor
  • Read books
  • Speak to friends — you will be surprised how many will have similar problems.
  • Go on social media – there are an abundance of educational videos and posts about the menstrual cycle.
  • Track your cycle with apps/journal – I personally use Flo!
  • Get to know what you are putting in your body — including hormonal contraceptives.
  • Attend educational seminars/conferences – they can even contribute to your CPD.
  • Talk to your GP, a gyno, or even an endocrinologist.

Your perspective and routines will change once you develop an understanding of how you can incorporate this information into daily practice. I have become more fascinated in learning about the intricacies of the menstrual cycle. I have delved deeper into how I can live life with abundance and treat my body as the divine feminine it is to me. I have practiced seed cycling whereby I add seeds as a source of fibre and nutrients to meals in accordance to which phase I am in, moon cycling depending on the moon phase, acupuncture, repose and renewal techniques, and meditation and deep breathing — all of which are forms of self-care.

Menstrual mindset

Be in the mindset that whatever you do, you’re always thinking: How does this best support me and my menstrual cycle?
•    If I am feeling tired, is the gym a good idea today? Should I perhaps go for a gentle walk or yoga session instead? 
•    I am craving sweets. Should I opt for fruit or something else instead to best support my hormones? 
•    Liaise with your manager to request nights that best suit you. Although difficult, expressing your needs to your manager to prevent sick leave on rosters may be an option. It is important for your manager to understand your situation.

Explore your sense of self

This phase of my life has birthed a new me — who I love. I am more aware of my body, listen to signals of symptoms, and am open to more opportunities. I have found that nurses and midwives find it hard to say no — but that sometimes we need to, to prevent burnout, fatigue etc. I create boundaries between myself and those people and things that don’t serve me. Sometimes it is important to politely decline the agendas and expectations of others and to ask for support when you need it. 

I want to share tips of menstrual cycle awareness and shift work with nurses and midwives. My goal is to grow a community of nurses and midwives to help us understand, love and respect ourselves.

Transition into a new version of yourself, conducive to your own needs, and into version 2.0 of yourself. I’m proof that you can be the creator of your own reality. Once you balance your hormones, like me, you will be inspired to do more and be more. 
Navigating your menstrual health and other health issues can be stressful. If you’d like to chat about it, reach out to Nurse & Midwife Support — free, confidential, 24/7. Give us a call on 1800 667 877 or by email.