You probably understand the frustrations of getting your period if you have ovaries. It’s not fun. It’s so not fun that the phrase “period problems” is used in everyday conversation and is even a popular hashtag on Twitter.
Despite the collective groan from period-havers across the globe when they know their time of the month is coming, everyone’s experience with their period is different. Some periods cause no pain, while others are bedridden due to cramps. Sometimes period side effects only last a couple of days, but sometimes people have to endure them for over a week. Just like everyone’s body is unique, so too are their periods.
That being said, people with periods maintain certain expectations for what our experiences should be like. For example, if we bleed heavily for two weeks, that might cause an alarm. Likewise, if we don’t have our period for three months in a row (and we don’t take a form of birth control that would cause this), we might be worried.
But how do we know what’s considered “normal” and what should raise concerns? Here are the facts.
First: Why Does This Matter?
It’s so essential for people of all genders to have basic knowledge of the menstrual cycle. Even if you don’t go through it yourself, odds are you know someone who does. Especially if you are in a romantic and sexual relationship with someone who has periods, you need to understand the way their body works so you can be a responsible, responsive, and respectful partner.
If you have periods and think something is not quite right with yours, you must talk to your doctor. Either your general physician or your gynecologist is a good person to talk to. They are the experts! At the same time, researching on your own to be informed when you speak to a doctor is also essential.
Want to get in the know? Read on!
Keep reading to learn what’s considered “normal” and not for periods.
The Basics of a Period
A person’s period is part of a larger body cycle called menstruation. Menstruation typically operates on a 25-30 day cycle, though it can be as short as 21 days or longer than 35. For most people, a period lasts for three to seven days. The color of the blood that comes out will vary from red to brown, depending on the Day. The consistency will also change over time.
Even if your period isn’t necessarily regular, there are often signs that it is coming. These signs include cramping, bloating, tender breasts, and breakouts—these symptoms are commonly referred to as PMS. (And no, going through PMS does not necessarily make you crabby, weepy, or overly emotional in any way, though it definitely can, and that’s OK!)
Irregular Periods Are OK
Many people’s bodies don’t have a menstrual cycle that is entirely regular. Sometimes, your period will come in exactly 28 days; the next time is 23 days later, and then it takes 30 days. Occasionally, you might even skip a month. You are not alone if this is characteristic of your body’s schedule. And the timing isn’t the only thing that can fluctuate over time. The amount and texture of the blood that is discharged can also change.
Skipping a month here or there, having a heavier or lighter flow, or being early or late by up to a week is not necessarily cause for alarm. However, suppose you haven’t had your period for several months or noticed any other significant changes. In that case, there are many possible causes, not all of which automatically mean trouble. For example, you might be stressed, have significantly lost or gained weight, changed your diet, or have started exercising more. If any of these have happened to you, then it’s common for you to skip a period or two.
However, if you’ve gone several months without having a period, that might be cause for concern. To ensure the irregularity is not a symptom of a more significant issue, consult your doctor. To learn more about this, we have a whole section later in the article!
How to Track Your Cycle
If you want to be more attentive to your cycle, I highly recommend getting the Period Tracker: Menstruation Journal. Even if you don’t have an irregular period, it will help you get more in tune with your body! You can use this same journal for four years for only $7. Of course, if you’re not a paper and pencil person, you should buy the Period Tracker App instead!
Warning: This Next Part is All About Period Blood
Did you know that people only lose about one cup of blood during their period? It’s true! We’ll discuss what you need to know about period blood.
OK, so it’s Day Six, and you’re still bleeding heavily. When is this torture going to end?
Also called menorrhagia, a heavy flow can manifest in two different ways. One way is when you bleed excessively for the usual period. Another way could be an extra-long period. Neither is fun.
Some people bleed more during their period than others, and that’s completely normal. Also, the amount you will bleed from Day to Day fluctuates naturally. Just because you have a heavier flow than someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you have menorrhagia.
However, if you’re bleeding much more than you usually do for an extended period, you might be bleeding too much. Another sign is if you’re changing your period products much more frequently than you should. If you think either of these applies to you, it’s worth checking with your doctor to ensure everything is OK.
While some blood clots are not caused for alarm, if yours are the size of a quarter or more significant or you’re passing clots frequently, you want to get things checked out.
What causes blood clots? Little contractions form blood clots! For example, those period cramps you experience are from your uterus contracting. If that happens enough, the blood cannot thin out before being discharged, and you end up with clots.
Blood clots can be symptoms of a few different period-related issues, so monitoring your bleeding and checking for those is essential. But, again, if you have a few small blood clots, that’s nothing to worry about. It’s those big ones that you want to be on alert for.
Breakthrough bleeding is when you take birth control that regulates your period, yet you still have an entire period at the wrong time. Spotting here and there between periods is normal—whether or not you take birth control—but breakthrough bleeding is much more significant.
Several things can cause breakthrough bleeding. If you are on the pill and do not take it regularly, this is likely the cause of the irregularity. Another reason could be that the specific type of birth control you’re on doesn’t work well with your body. If this is the case, switching to another one will likely solve the problem, though you might have to try a few until you find one that works.
Never changing your birth control would be best without consulting a doctor first. A quick visit to the gynecologist will solve this problem for you. They will be able to help you figure out what method will be a perfect fit for you.
Breakthrough bleeding may also be a symptom of pregnancy or an infection. But, again, you want to see your doctor if this is the case.
But That’s Not All
If worrying about the blood coming out of our vaginas was all we had to do during our periods, they wouldn’t be as bad. But, alas, there are all these other things we have to go through that make periods so so much worse.
Don’t forget that even if you don’t get periods, it’s still important to know about them and their side effects because they affect many people.
If it seems like you get the stomach flu every time your period comes—don’t worry; you’re not alone. It sucks, but some people’s bodies deal with their periods differently than others. So feeling ill doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. However, if your PMS symptoms interfere with your life, your doctor can help you find ways to lessen the pain. In the meantime, grab a heating pad on your stomach, back, and elsewhere if you’re experiencing pain.
Lowered Brain Function
Studies have shown that people who experience significant period pain have reduced cognitive ability—including lower attention spans and less of an ability to multitask—during their time of the month. So if you frequently become forgetful, unable to concentrate, or all-around spacey when you’re on your period, it’s not your fault!
Just like during pregnancy, some people experience cravings when on their period. It’s because your hormone levels are rapidly changing, and your body has different needs! You might be hungry all the time and not be hungry at all. Don’t feel bad if you want to eat the entire Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory during your period. Treat yourself… you’re going through a lot right now.
To Sum It All Up
As I discussed earlier, what is “normal” for a period will vary from person to person. However, these are general things to look out for that might help you determine if you need to consult a medical professional about your period. In some cases, irregularities may be symptoms of a health problem you want to deal with. Often, though, it’s just a result of the uniqueness of your own body!