Periods – What’s Normal?

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submitted by Andrea Empey

Like so many other teenage girls, I had no idea what to expect with my first period. I also did what so many other teenage girls do – I asked the women in my life. While this may seem like a good idea, it isn’t! If they don’t know what a “normal period” is, how can they actually answer this question?!

When I complained to my family doctor about cramps, I was given very strong painkillers. When I complained that the flow was too heavy, I was put on B12 supplements, told I was anemic and given the option of taking birth control pills (a nightmare story for another day). For the longest time, I accepted this as my lot in life. I didn’t know there was another option.

When I was first told what a “normal” period and cycle were, my jaw dropped. It shocked me to learned that my period and cycle was the furthest thing from “normal”, that it had never been “normal”.

What a normal cycle and period should be:

A normal menstrual cycle should be approximately 28 days, plus or minus a day here or there.  A normal period should be 4-5 days long.  It should start, peak and then taper off. It should be slightly darker than if you’d cut yourself and not too heavy or too light.

That’s it.

What an abnormal cycle and period might be:

For every woman, your cycle may a little different based on the symptoms you’re experiencing.  Your period can also shift and change throughout your life as well. 

An abnormal period and cycle might include symptoms like:

  • early, late or irregular periods
  • long periods (5+ days)
  • heavy periods
  • cramps
  • clots
  • PMS
  • depression, sadness, moodiness
  • migraines
  • acne
  • night sweats
  • insomnia
  • bloating
  • and more.

In short – a monthly nightmare for some, a pain in the butt for others and almost tolerable for a few. The good news – you don’t have to live with the symptoms you’ve struggled with! There are treatment options.

Timing

The timing of your cycle overall can be a challenge, especially when it’s irregular! One of my first suggestions is to track it. There are a ton of apps these days that can help with this. Also, pay attention to what your body is telling you throughout the month (not only during your period).

How long is your period? 

Anything shorter than 4 days is likely too short, especially if you’re trying to conceive. Anything over 5-6 days is too long. Ideally, you’re also not experiencing any spotting with your period.

This is a bit of a Goldilocks situation. Too long can lead to too much blood loss and too short can lead to either poor shedding of the uterine lining or insufficient blood creating the lining.

Is your period heavy?

Given the number of period products available these days, it’s hard to tell what a normal volume of blood loss actually is. If you’re relying on both tampons and pads on your heaviest day, you should get at least 5+ hours. If you’re changing more frequently, then you may have a heavy to extremely heavy period.

Period cups are a great way to tell exactly how much blood you’re losing month to month as they usually hold a specific volume of blood that can be tracked.

Is your period painful?

Cramping and clots tend to coincide.  Depending on the size of the clots, there may or may not be increased pain or cramping. This typically shows up as lower abdominal pain but can also be lower back pain. Ultimately, periods should be entirely pain free. This isn’t limited to cramps but also includes things like breast tenderness, pain and/or distension.

For easing clots, using a menstrual cup or pads only may help. I know that the idea of only using pads isn’t a very popular one; however, it’s the best option for reducing period pain and clots as much as possible before working on additional reasons why the pain and clots to be present.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

PMS is often associated more with emotions like anger, irritability, depression, sadness, anxiety and mood swings. PMS is occasionally associated with physical symptoms like fatigue, acne, migraines, breast tenderness, abdominal distension (bloating), insomnia, cravings, appetite changes, weight gain (3+ pounds) and more.

These are typically symptoms that start prior to your period and end the day before your period starts or on day one of your period. It’s important to know that these symptoms may start at early at 14 days prior to your period.  This is why tracking through the entire month is important!

Things you can do

There are a number of things you can do at home to help your period and your cycle.  This starts with tracking your cycle so you know what’s happening.

  • Movement is the next thing that can be very helpful. Getting out and moving gently daily for three weeks of your cycle is optimal. Be gentle with yourself when you’re on your period.  If you’re experiencing pain, getting up and moving may help even if it’s the last thing you want to do.
  • Eating magnesium, zinc and B6 rich foods all month can also help to alleviate pain. If you’re looking to improve your flow, eating iron and B12 rich foods may help.
  • Talking to your healthcare provider or seeing someone who works specifically with those who are struggling with their periods or cycles.

If you’re still struggling and want help figuring out your next steps, please contact me at Hello@DancingWillowWellness.com.

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