Often women are under the impression that menstrual cycles should be regular, predictable, and similar from month to month. While irregular periods can be a sign of a medical issue, the truth is that periods are unique to each woman and that many women do not have cycles that they can set their clocks — or calendars — by.
So how can you best understand your cycle?
What is an “ideal” cycle, anyway?
Many people believe that the average length of an ideal cycle is 28 days. This means that there are 28 days from the beginning of one flow to the beginning of another. However, though the 28-day cycle is considered ideal, cycles vary greatly from woman to woman. They can range from 21 to 35 days and still be considered regular.
As far as what is ideal: Your body is the best judge of that. While an irregular cycle can sometimes alert you to a sign of something amiss, you can learn to tune into your body’s natural rhythm. For example, if you tend to have a 33-day cycle and suddenly it extends into a 40-day cycle, or you have spotting when you normally don’t, you should talk to your doctor because something could be awry. Anything from stress to hormones can impact your cycle, so make sure to keep track of your periods on a calendar and look for sudden changes or irregularity.
What is the average length of a period?
Most women have periods that last anywhere from four to six days, although some women experience a longer or shorter flow. The quantity of your flow might also change from month to month, although within one cycle most women find that their periods are heaviest at the beginning and lighten up as they near completion. Period color also varies during your cycle. As you near the end of your period, you might notice the color of your menstrual blood becomes darker or almost brown-looking. This is because the blood has been stored in the body longer and is older than the rich, red blood that comes out at the beginning of your cycle.
Are clots normal?
When most people hear the term blood clot, they tend to think of a severe health issue. However, not all blood clots are problematic, especially when it comes to your period — as long as they are infrequent. It’s not abnormal to see one or two clots of thicker material in your menstrual blood, but if this happens on a regular basis and if the clots are bigger than the size of a quarter, it might be a sign of a medical problem like endometriosis. Talk to your doctor to rule out any serious medical issues.
The bottom line is that your menstrual cycle is not an illness. It’s a healthy, normal, and important part of being a woman. As long as you monitor your cycle and keep your eyes peeled for potential warning signs, you can safeguard your reproductive health. Remember, it’s just your period…not the end of the world!