Your period is calling! What will it tell you?

We covered ovulation—now it’s time to move on to the sequel (or the prequel, depending on how you look at it): menstruation.

Surfing the crimson wave, on the rag, that time of the month, the “girl flu,” lady problems—there are as many nicknames for periods as there are eggs in an ovary (okay, maybe not quite). But none of these euphemisms really capture the process in all its inconvenient-but-kinda-amazing glory. Let’s review:

Menstrual blood isn’t your average everyday blood.

Remember the uterine lining we talked about a few weeks ago? Thanks to hormones produced by the ovary as it develops a mature egg, that lining, also known as the endometrium, develops as well, thickening to accommodate increased blood supply and fluid-secreting glands. All of this activity preps your uterus to be the coziest, most nourishing place possible for an implanted embryo, allowing a pregnancy to flourish.

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If no pregnancy occurs, that cozy lining has to go somewhere, and so does the unfertilized egg. Enter the menstrual period. In addition to blood, the menstrual flow contains disintegrated endometrial tissue, vaginal secretions, cervical mucus, and the unfertilized egg—all the good stuff that your body sheds to get ready for a new cycle of ovulation.

There’s a reason for that annoying cramping.

Did you know the uterus is one of the strongest muscles in the body? That’s why it’s so adept at causing cramps! In order to help push everything—all that good stuff we talked about above—down and out, your uterine muscle contracts, like it would during childbirth (but on a much smaller scale). Especially strong contractions can momentarily constrict the blood vessels around the uterus, causing pain that we feel as “cramps.”

It’s comforting to know that everything, even the unpleasant stuff, that happens during your period has a higher purpose, isn’t it? No?

It’s not actually a lot of blood.

Each cycle, most women lose around 4 tablespoons of blood over 3–5 days (though up to a third of a cup is normal, as are week-long periods and even small blood clots). That’s less than the amount of chocolate syrup we drizzle on our ice cream on our worst PMS days.

Pay attention to your period!

Your visits from Aunt Flow could be cluing you into some important facts about your health—don’t ignore ‘em! Here are a few things to pay attention to:

  1. How much blood you’re losing and what it looks like. Women often don’t talk with their doctor about the signs of abnormal menstruation because their periods have always been that way—it’s their version of normal. But if you’re soaking through more than one pad or tampon every 1–2 hours or passing blood clots bigger than a quarter, see a doctor to check out what’s up.
  2. How much pain you’re experiencing. Yes, we talked about the fact that slight cramping during your period, known as “dysmenorrhea,” is normal, as are mild joint or muscle pain, headaches, breast tenderness, and bloating. (Hooray for premenstrual syndrome!) But severe pain or cramping that interferes with your everyday life, suddenly gets much worse, can’t be relieved with over-the-counter or at-home methods, or occurs throughout your ovulation cycle could indicate endometriosis or other disorders.
  3. The length of your cycle. Your cycle is measured from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. A typical ovulation cycle last about 28 days, but as we’ve talked about before, every cycle is a little different—for adult women, cycles can range from 21 to 35 days. Tracking the length of your cycle is important for two reasons, besides just helping you predict the date of your next one: firstly, the length of your cycle will affect the day you ovulate, which is important when or if you want to get pregnant; and secondly, irregular cycles or cycles that change or stop suddenly can be a sign of something gone awry.

Getting your period doesn’t necessarily mean you can get pregnant.

    Yes, a regular period is great—but it doesn’t give the whole story about your fertility. Women often get a period right up until menopause, but thanks to a combination of low egg quantity and poor egg quality, their fertility typically starts to decline steeply nearly a decade earlier, between 35 and 40. Even if those women are getting monthly periods, they may still experience infertility. And if you’re using hormonal contraception like the birth control pill, the NuvaRing, or the Mirena IUD, you’ll probably keep getting a monthly period, even though you’re not ovulating (which is the primary way these methods prevent pregnancy).

    Still have questions about your period? Reach out—we’re on Facebook and Twitter and we’d be happy to help!