What is a normal period? And is there any such thing as a textbook menstrual cycle?
Unfortunately periods are not yet a topic of everyday conversation, so it can be difficult to determine what “normal” is. I know I certainly didn’t discuss this with my mum and for a long time I thought it was “normal” to have heavy, painful periods.
So what do you need to look for when determining if your period is normal? In this article we’ll walk through exactly that and cover: irregularity, irregular length, heavy periods, clots and unbearable pain. We’ll also cover when you should be concerned about your period. But to start with I’ll go through what a healthy period looks like.
What are the signs of a healthy period?
- Your periods are regular;
- Your cycle length is between 21-35 days;
- You bleed between 3-7 days;
- You’ll experience little to no PMS or pain – that’s right, she just shows up;
- Your flow will be:
light – heavy- moderate -light – very light or
heavy – heavy – moderate – moderate – light
- You’ll lose around 50ml of menstrual fluid, with no more than 80 ml and no less than 25ml;
- You’ll have minimal or small clots;
- The colour will be red – brown – when blood is exposed to air it turns darker. Your menstrual fluid will be bright red when flowing and turn darker as your flow slows down;
- You ovulate!
So let’s take a closer look at the factors that make your period healthy (or normal).
Is my period normal? 5 Signs to look at:
1. How Regular is Your Menstrual Cycle?
The first thing to look at when working out if your period is normal is how regular your menstrual cycle is. The length of your cycle may change slightly depending on a number of different lifestyle factors such as stress, diet and other influences, however they should remain relatively consistent.
It is commonly taught that the menstrual cycle is 28 days in length, but this is not as common as you might think. While the prototypical 28-day cycle is a useful tool for charting chronological order and biological cause and effect, it is not the cyclical experience of most women, most of the time. Less than 15% of women have a 28 day cycle.
Typical cycle lengths vary among women from 21 to 35 days. If you’re unsure if your cycle is regular tracking your cycle is a great place to start. While everyone will have a slightly different experience, there are some red flags to look out for, we’ll look at these next.
2. Irregular Length of your period
Periods can last for 2-7 days and typically last between 3 and 5 days. Periods that last for fewer days may be related to a number of systemic conditions including thyroid disorders, anaemia and low body weight.
Longer periods may be an indication of hormonal imbalance, specifically a failure to ovulate, as progesterone normally helps to stop excess bleeding because of its effect on the uterine lining. Very long periods can be a sign of other gynaecological conditions, please consult your healthcare practitioner if you have any specific concerns.
Early period (< 23 days):
Either a shortened follicular or luteal phase. The luteal (post-ovulatory) phase is remarkably consistent , usually not varying more than a day or so and is almost always 12 – 16 days in length. The follicular phase (phase before ovulation) however, can vary widely.
- Short follicular phase under 45 years – usually due to stress or illness;
- Over 45 years – may be peri-menopausal;
Late period (> 35 days):
Commonly anovulatory or not a long luteal phase, but also check for possible pregnancy.
Long cycle but < 35 days:
Long follicular phase
- Usually due to physical, mental or emotional stress or illness;
- Over 45 years with long follicular phase can be a sign of peri-menopause;
- Also consider PCOS and your thyroid health;
3. Heavy Periods
Heavy periods are defined as losing 80mls or lasting longer than 7 days.
How much blood lost during your period varies from woman to woman, and can change slightly each month. Usually, your period will be heaviest in the first one to two days, but should never be so heavy that you’re running to the bathroom every hour.
If your period is heavy, work out why. It may be due to an anovulatory cycle, too little progesterone or too much oestrogen. Also consider insulin, inflammation (prostaglandin imbalance), hypothyroidism, iron deficiency, fibroids, sexually transmitted infections, endometrial polyps, intrauterine devices (IUD), an ectopic pregnancy, or endometriosis.
4. Clots in your period
Small, wet clots in your discharge can be common. They form when the anti-clotting factors normally present in menstrual blood are unable to keep the blood in a fluid state because of the volume of loss. They can indicate the need for improvement in uterine tone with specific herbal allies. However, large, dark coloured clots are not normal and need further investigation.
5. Painful periods and unbearable pain
It may be common for some women to experience mild cramps at the onset of their period, but it is certainly not desirable and often not normal. These cramps are often due to too much oestrogen, inflammation caused by prostaglandins or magnesium deficiency.
Severe or prolonged cramping is not normal and is an indication something has gone wrong. If cramping is so painful it interrupts your day-to-day activities, talk to your health practitioner for further investigation. Cramps also shouldn’t ever feel like a stabbing pain.
Remember, there’s no one or “right” way to experience your cycle, and hormone fluctuations and symptoms can change from cycle to cycle. There are a lot of factors, including exercise, weight loss or gain, and stress can all affect menstruation. Everybody has a different experience and version of “normal”.
Where to next?
- If you have concerns about your period health please see your health practitioner for further investigation. This may involve blood tests, imaging such as ultrasounds and in some cases a referral to a gynaecologist.
- The good news is that specific nutrients and herbs can play an important role in improving your period health. Book an online appointment. If you are struggling with PMS or experiencing heavy painful periods or other hormonal imbalances it is important to understand and address the underlying cause/s. With a naturopathic consultation I provide you with a clear strategy tailored to your individual needs. This helps you fast forward your health journey and remove any confusion.
- Start tracking your period with my pen and paper charts. If you’re struggling with PMS or you’d like to get to know your individual menstrual cycle patterns and symptoms this is a great place to start.