Periods: What’s the deal?

Periods. The favorite topic for women everywhere (and a favorite thing to talk about on our blog, since we get asked about them on a daily basis). That time of the month so lovingly nicknamed “a visit from aunt flo”, “crimson tide” (or “surfing the crimson wave” for all you Clueless fans), etc., etc., etc. If advertisements were to be believed, it is the time during every month when women feel like swimming in a white bathing suit or doing gymnastics in white leotards. While this may be the case for some, they aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. So is actually happening during your period? What is normal? When should you talk to your health care provider?

What are periods?

Periods (also called menstruation) are the time every month when the uterus sheds its inner lining. The shedding comes out through the vagina- this is what causes the bleeding. The uterus works on building up a lining every month to prepare a good environment for a fertilized egg (and eventually a baby) if a woman becomes pregnant. If she doesn’t become pregnant that month, the uterus will shed this thickened lining. This cycle is tightly controlled by a complex interaction of hormones. Even though periods can be scary are first, they are normal and healthy!

  • How long do they last: This bleeding, a.k.a. the period, typically lasts for 3-7 days.
  • How often do you get them: Anywhere between 21-35 days is considered normal, but this may not be the case when you first start getting your periods. It can take some time for periods to come at regular intervals.
  • What ages do you get them: From puberty to menopause. Puberty typically occurs between ages 9-15 years for girls. Menopause typically occurs around ages 47-55 years. It can be completely normal to start puberty/go through menopause outside of these ranges, but if you have questions, ask your doctor!
  • What symptoms do you get: Besides the bleeding, it is normal to experience some changes in mood or energy level, uterus cramping, tender breasts, or skin changes.
  • How can you manage it: There are a lot of menstrual products out there (e.g., tampons, pad, cups, panties). If you have cramping, it may be helpful to take ibuprofen, use a heating pad, or take a warm bath/shower.
  • Is it necessary to have one every month: No! There is no need to have a period if you are not trying to have a baby.

When should you talk to your health care provider?

  1. Anytime you have questions! We are here to answer any and all questions you have related to your periods. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to periods. I will say it again, they are totally normal and healthy!
  2. If they are really miserable! If your periods are really heavy (needing to change pads/ regular tampons more than every 3-4 hours), last a long time (more than a week), or come with symptoms that are not tolerable to you like bad cramping, acne, or mood changes, let your doctor know. There are things we can do to make them better!
  3. If you’ve stopped getting your periods. If you were having regular, monthly periods and now haven’t had one for 3+ months (and are not on birth control), it is time to schedule an appointment with your doctor! There are a lot of things that could be causing this change: pregnancy, stress, diet, exercise, or other body changes that affect the complex interaction of hormones that control your period.
  4. If you are 16 and have not yet gotten a period. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong. It could be that all the women in your family get their periods at age 16 or later, but it is still worth mentioning to your doctor! Again, many things can cause this to happen: genetics, other illnesses, slightly different anatomy, or different hormone levels.

The most important thing to remember is: there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to your periods! Periods are natural, normal, and healthy. If you ever have ANY questions, do not be afraid to ask your health care provider!