By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath
Some people get squeamish when I start asking them about their cycle, but the fact of the matter is that I ask every single female patient (in epic detail!) about their periods. And it shouldn’t be any weirder to talk about than the symptoms you get when you have a cold. In fact, not talking about periods openly is one for the reasons we have so much uncertainty around what a “normal” cycle looks like.
So when I ask a patient how long their period lasts and they say: “you know, just the normal amount of time” I always get them to clarify. If they have only ever had periods lasting 10 days, that is normal to them, and they may not realise that in actual fact their periods are lasting longer than average. Then there are patients that think their heavy periods are normal, or their period pain is what all women experience.
So what does a normal cycle look like?
Firstly, and perhaps confusingly, there is a broad range of “normal”. But here are some guidelines:
· Most women get their first period between the ages of 13 and 16. If you are 16 years or older and have never had a period, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for some investigations.
· It is normal to have longer cycles for the fist couple of years of menstruation, and then to see your cycle get more regular.
· Your cycle is counted from the first day of your period. A normal cycle is anywhere from 21 to 35 days.
· A normal period lasts two to seven days. Most women will fall in the 3-5 day range, with the last day or two being light.
· A normal cycle can be amazingly punctual (exactly 28 days every time), or vary slightly (27 days one cycle, and 29 days the next).
· With healthy hormonal balance there should be minimal pain or cramping with your period. A sense of heaviness in the pelvis can be common and natural. Mild pain just before and during your period can be completely benign (though we can improve it!), but more severe pain should be investigated, as it can be a sign of endometriosis.
· Light spotting at ovulation is common and normal. Spotting at other times, like just before your period, can hint at a progesterone deficiency or something more serious. Either way, it’s a good idea to get some investigations done to understand the cause.
· With a normal flow you shouldn’t need to change your pad or tampon more than every 2 hours. If you do need to, or if you are waking in the night to change pads, you should speak to your GP or naturopath.
· A few small clots in your flow can be normal, but larger clots suggest your flow is too heavy to be managed by the anti-clotting agents your body releases. Heavy flow can be caused by a number of things, including fibroids, high oestrogen, and iron deficiency, and should be investigated.
· You should get your period 11-14 days after you ovulate. If you are ovulating and then getting you period only 7 days later, it can impact your ability to conceive. To find out when you ovulate, look for fertile mucus (an eggwhite consistency), a rise in basal body temperature, or use one the ovulation test kits available at chemists like the Maybe Baby Ovulation Tester.
· PMS is incredibly common but should not negatively impact your life. It is especially important to seek help if you have major mood changes leading up to your period. PMS suggests you may have too much oestrogen or not enough progesterone, and there’s plenty in the herbal and nutritional tool kit to help with this.
· Menopause most commonly occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average being 51. Early menopause occurs between 41 to 45 years, and usually makes me wonder about stress and adrenal function. Premature menopause occurs before the age of 40, and requires proper management to prevent osteoporosis.
If you have no idea how long your cycle lasts, download one of the many period tracking Apps. They are a fantastic and simple way to get to know your cycle.