So Many Names & Perspectives
No matter what you call it — Dot, Tom (time of the month), Cousin Ruby, Aunt Flo, Period, or even the old phrase “on the rag,” – it is still menstruation. If you are a woman, live with women, have daughters or sisters, work or interact in some way with females – chances are good that you are somewhat familiar with the basic details of the menstrual cycle.
Despite countless opportunities for learning about this incredible, natural and normal occurrence, many women of all ages – especially adolescents – are ashamed of it or find it awkward and embarrassing. The time has come for us to speak up and end any lingering traces of old societal menstrual taboos.
The best way to embrace menstruation –your own periods, your daughter’s periods, or those of your partner or loved one – is to deepen your understanding by learning the basic facts. Without this foundation anything seems plausible, especially the common cultural perspectives that offer negative and/or medicalized views.
Menstruation & Cycles
What Is It?
Menstruation is the monthly/cyclical shedding of the lining of the uterus. Menstrual fluid (blood, secretions, tissue) exits the uterus via the vagina and is captured in menstrual cups, or absorbed by tampons or pads.
Who Gets It?
Most girls start menstruating between the ages of 9 and 14. Women continue to menstruate until menopause, which occurs, on average, at 53.
Periods usually last between 2 and 9 days. The average menstrual cycle (counted from the 1st day of one period to the 1st day of the next period) is 28 days. While most cycle lengths fall between 21 and 35 days, some women (especially those close to the beginning and those nearing the end of this phase of life may regularly fall outside this range). Every woman has her own pattern, which may shift several times during her life.
What Happens When?
If you remember your school health textbook, the menstrual cycle is divided into phases that repeat over and over again unless you are pregnant: menstrual, follicular or proliferative, ovulatory, luteal or secretory. Most of us learned little more until we tried to conceive our first child. Now, as mothers, perhaps thinking hormonally will offer new insight. Gabrielle Lichterman, founder of Hormonology, suggests we think of the four weeks in terms of how the hormonal shifts impact us:
Week 1 – Optimistic. After the first few days of flow, hormone levels begin rising leading to higher energy and a better overall mood.
Week 2 – Excited. As estrogen and testosterone continue to rise so do confidence and libido. These two hormones peak during week two.
Week 3 – Mellow. Throughout the week rising progesterone leads to feeling sleepier and less interested in interpersonal interaction. Additionally, the week begins with what feels to many like a mild form of PMS then fades as estrogen rises.
Week 4 – Introspective. True PMS arrives as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone all fall. This causes you to have less energy, find it harder to concentrate, and need time to yourself.
What Is Typical?
Your periods may change a bit from cycle to cycle. And, they may differ significantly from those of other women. In terms of amount of flow they can be light, moderate or heavy or all three within a period (these three terms can mean different things to different women) and they can vary in length as well. For most, cycles will run between 21 and 35 days, but it’s not unusual for those new to menstruation to experience longer cycles.
What Problems Arise?
If unwelcomed changes persist for multiple cycles, please consult your doctor.
– Painful periods (Dysmenorrhea) – Some pain from uterine contractions during menstruation is natural. Pain/discomfort that prevents you from engaging in normal daily activities is not normal.
– Skipped/absent periods (Amenorrhea) – For young tweens/teens, and women in their 40s or 50s (who are not pregnant) a skipped period could simply be a normal part of their current life phase. Other likely reasons, at any age, include thyroid issues, weight (obesity or being underweight), stress, disease, breastfeeding and pregnancy.
– Spotting (light bleeding between periods) – Bleeding between periods is atypical for most women, while a few have spotting with ovulation. If spotting is not part of your normal cycle, but becomes the norm further attention is warranted.
– Heavy periods (Menorrhagia) – If your period lasts 10 or more days, occurs more than once every 21 days, or suddenly becomes heavy enough to soak one pad or tampon an hour for several hours in a row, you are at increased risk for anemia.
Women who are comfortable with menstruation and stay in tune with their bodies know what is normal for them and thereby protect their health – today and in the future.
Tara Bruley (Founder of Be Prepared Period😉 and Greg Smith (Director of Education for You ARE Loved) are partners in education who seek to empower parents to fulfill their roles as their child’s first and primary puberty educator.
Lichterman, G. (n.d.) Female Hormone Cycle. My Hormones Made Me Do It. Retrieved April 4, 2012, from http://myhormonesmademedoit.com/the-female-hormone-cycle/
Lichterman, G. (n.d.) The New Period Talk. In the Know Mom. Retrieved April 4, 2012, from http://intheknowmom.com/thetalk.htm