If you did, we’re happy for you! You’re in the minority, as most of us were handed a book or an instruction pamphlet on a tampon box and told “Good luck.”
We’re here to give you the information we all need but rarely get. Let’s break it down.
What is a menstrual cycle?
It is the process of our bodies preparing to become pregnant. We count our cycles over a 28 day time period. Over 28 days (give or take a few days) our bodies go through three phases: Follicular, Ovulation, + Luteal.
Follicular phase is day 1-13 of the month, and is marked by the first day of vaginal bleeding. Vaginal bleeding occurs when the uterus sheds its lining, signifying that a pregnancy did not occur. After bleeding has finished, your body begins to prepare an egg for ovulation
Ovulation is the release of an egg to meet a sperm and become fertilized. This usually occurs around day 14 of the cycle, or 14 days after the first day of bleeding.
The luteal phase is spent preparing the uterus for the embryo. If you become pregnant, the luteal phase will continue and you will not have any vaginal bleeding. If you do not become pregnant, the follicular phase begins and vaginal bleeding will start, signifying Day 1 of your next cycle.
The health of a woman’s cycle is considered her fifth vital sign, and can be an incredibly helpful insight into how her body is performing. At the clinic we see women all the time with long, heavy, painful periods. Since we mostly get our period information from our health teacher in high school (eye roll emoji) or the internet, it’s hard to know what is normal and what isn’t. Especially if your mom, aunt, or grandma also have problems with their cycles, it can feel like what you’re experiencing is the norm.
So…what is normal?
Your full cycle could be between 21 - 40 days and be considered normal.
The amount of time you spend with active bleeding can be anywhere between 3 - 7 days. According to the CDC, if you bleed for longer than 7 days that is considered abnormal. If you need to change your tampon or pad after less than 2 hours or you pass clots the size of a quarter or larger, that is heavy bleeding and you should see a doctor.
If your period symptoms keep you from going to work, school, or social activities you are experiencing an abnormal period. Period pain should not make you bed ridden, or cause you to need strong prescription pain medication. If this is you, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist.
When it comes to period management, there is no wrong choice. Options include tampons, pads, or menstrual cups. Choose whatever option makes you feel most comfortable, and handles your amount of bleeding best.
Pain while placing or removing menstrual products is NOT normal. If you have anxiety or pain surrounding your menstrual care, talk with your doctor and see a pelvic floor therapist. It does not have to be your normal!