Since the day we hit puberty, they are a necessary evil we have to endure once a month. Over the years, we can average approximately 450 periods during a lifetime. That would make us experts, right? Quite the contrary.
With all of the time and energy we’ve devoted to our periods since puberty, there is still so much about our cycles that we may not understand. After all, everybody is different and no two periods are the same. We’ve rounded up some not-so-obvious things you should know about your cycle that will help you to understand your body better and make those monthly visits more bearable.
1. PMS can be more than cramps and moodiness
While many women get cramps during their period (due contractions in the uterus), some women experience pain that is beyond the scope of what an over-the-counter pill or a heating pad can help with. If you find that pain associated with your period is getting worse each month, it may be time to see a doctor. This is also true if you don’t usually get cramps or experience very mild menstrual pain, and then all of a sudden you’re in agony every month. Extreme pain during menstruation could be a sign of something more serious, such as endometriosis.
Hormonal changes can also lead to mood changes, giving us highs and lows in the weeks leading up to our periods. However, a small percentage of women may experience extreme lows or even thoughts of suicide during this time. If your PMS is keeping you from living life as you normally would, or if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, you may have a more serious condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
2. Popping pills for pain isn’t your only option
For those who want more natural ways to curb pain during PMS, there are a few options that have been proven to help. Acupuncture appears to reduce the intensity of physical symptoms (including headaches, cramps, backaches, breast pain, and bloating) by as much as 50 percent, while practicing yoga twice a week is found to dramatically reduce PMS symptoms as well.
Food also plays an important role in reducing pain during our periods. According to Nat Kringoudis, author of Well & Good: Supercharge Your Health for Fertility & Wellness, staying away from sugar (an inflammatory) and cold and raw foods can dramatically ease pain during your period. Foods that are inflammatory can aggravate PMS symptoms and heighten menstrual cramps.
3. There are eco- and budget-friendly options for periods
The average American woman goes through more than 10,000 pads or tampons during her lifetime. That accounts for a lot of waste and money.
Reusable menstrual cups and period panties are great options for mitigating your period in an eco-friendly way while also saving you money. Menstrual cups are made of flexible silicon and sit in the vaginal canal to collect blood instead of absorbing it. Most cups can stay in for up to 12 hours, and reusable versions can be kept for years.
Period panties can hold up to three times the amount of blood that one tampon can absorb and are reusable after washing. You can even pair the cup and the panties together for extra heavy days.
Many more companies now are offering sustainable and toxin-free options for pads and tampons as well.
4. Ovulation and LH surges indicate your fertile times
On average, ovulation occurs midpoint in your cycle. This is when you’re most fertile and the best time to try to conceive if you are planning on getting pregnant.
Luteinizing hormones (LH) stimulates the ovaries to produce oestradiol, and midpoint into a woman’s cycle, an LH surge causes the ovaries to release an egg during ovulation. According to hormone.org, “If fertilization occurs, luteinizing hormone will stimulate the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone to sustain the pregnancy.”
The LH surge begins around 36 hours before ovulation, and for couples trying to conceive, this is the best time to have unprotected sex. You can track ovulation and LH surges with ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) or by tracking the first day of your last period on a calendar.
5. Thick discharge is normal
During ovulation, you may notice that you’re producing thicker discharge than normal – about the consistency of egg whites. This is nothing to be alarmed about. Your body is trying to help the sperm get through the cervix and up to the uterus and fallopian tubes, where it can connect with the egg for conception. This thicker discharge helps make the journey for the sperm that much easier.
6. Cycle lengths vary
The average cycle is 28 days, however, some women can experience cycles that can last up to 36 days or just 22 days. This is completely normal and can vary from time to time. Being on the pill or any other type of contraceptive (like the ring or an IUD) will significantly regulate the timing of your cycle, however, even for women who are using birth control, a cycle that varies a day or two is to be expected.
7. Blood loss also varies
It may feel like you’re losing tons and tons of blood every month, but on average, women lose four to 12 tablespoons of blood and fluids during every cycle. Women who experience heavier menstrual bleeding may have something called menorrhagia, a condition that’s often led by painful cramps and can lead to anemia if left untreated.
Always let your doctor know if you feel something is not right.
8. Your cycle can change after pregnancy
Some women may experience heavier, longer, or more painful periods after having a baby and some women notice an improvement in the lengths or symptoms of their periods. There is no telling how pregnancy will affect the future of your periods, however, the average woman’s cycle will go back to what it was like pre-pregnancy.
9. You can get pregnant on your period
Although highly unlikely, getting pregnant while on your period is possible. Women typically ovulate about 14 days after the start of their period, but some women have an unpredictable cycle, and in rare cases, this can lead to pregnancy.
Sperm can live inside a woman’s body for up to five to seven days. So if you have sex on the last day of a seven day period, and the sperm lives for an additional seven days, then it’s quite possible that it’s still alive when you’re ovulating. Many factors have to be in place for this to happen, and it’s a rare occurrence, but it’s important to note that it can happen.
10. Your cycle is a barometer for your health
Your monthly cycle can be a great barometer for your overall health, so you should always make note of any significant changes you may notice from month to month. Speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing irregularities, pain, or if your cycle just seems off to you.