There’s a running joke that I know more about the period cycles of the women I work with than they do. It’s literally my favorite topic to talk and study about. I mean, how can you not be fascinated about the complex coexistence of your endocrine and reproductive organs?
It’s only fitting that my first blog post is about the magic that the menstrual cycle is.
Before I get too excited and jump many steps, I want to go back to the basics a bit and establish what a ‘normal’ period is. I find that women are either constantly and overly concerned about their menstrual cycle or don’t give a damn at all. You won’t believe the number of women who casually tell me they’ve not had a period in 6 months. It’s scary.
I think there are two very important parts to establishing what a ‘normal’ period is:
- Everyone’s normal is going to be significantly different.
- Introspective awareness is the key
Let’s start with awareness.
I mean, how many times have you been confused by a sudden emotional outburst, unexplained craving for a very particular type of chocolate ice cream, or the unexpected desire to watch an especially sappy Grey’s Anatomy episode (Cue: “Chasing Cars”)? It’s distressing to say the least, but most times, we’re immediately reassured and roll with the punches when we realise we’re probably just PMS-ing/ going to start bleeding soon.
Without going too much into the idea of period trackers (you’ll see an entire post dedicated to that in the coming weeks), I want to discuss the idea of self-surveillance when it comes to staying on top of our period data. Even though it isn’t a completely new concept when it comes to menstrual health (I’ll always remember running to my mum’s kitchen calendar to check when to expect my period next), period tracking apps have been a game-changer for most of us over the last few years.
Some commonly tracked parameters range from period and ovulation dates, sexual activity, how often orgasms are achieved, moods associated with cycles, breast tenderness, incidents of cycle-related acne, vaginal discharge consistency – that varies from sticky, creamy to egg white – training routines, travel history, stress levels and alcohol consumptions.
That’s a LOT of data. While it’s not important to track all of these parameters, having access to certain factors that influence your menstrual cycle is important to establish what ‘normal’ is for you.
Let’s talk PMS
Most of us experience some amount of discomfort not just during the first few days of our period but also on the days leading up to bleeding. A tolerable amount of cramping in the lower abdomen and back that doesn’t interfere with day to day activities is considered normal. Dysmenorrhea, which is described as severely painful periods, is usually characterized by an evident stabbing pain that can last upto 3 days. This is the kind of pain that makes you want to sleep in and gets in the way of daily life. But with some lifestyle changes and smart supplementation, can still be managed and therefore be considered ‘normal’. Any kind of pain beyond this can signify an underlying medical condition such as endometriosis and requires medical intervention.
What about cycle lengths or how many days you bleed for?
Research shows that both of these factors are highly individual and varies from person to person. There’s no “correct” number of days you’re supposed to bleed. Most average women bleed anywhere between 30 – 60 ml per cycle and can expect slight differences in this number cycle to cycle. As long as you’re bleeding the same number of days and the same amount of blood 90% of the time, you’re good.
Does your vagina smell and eject bodily fluids? It better!
No two vaginas smell the same. How we smell down there is heavily influenced by factors including but not limited to our natural bacterial makeup, what we eat, the kind of clothes we wear and how tight they are, how much we exercise, how much we sweat, if we use feminine hygiene products or oral contraceptives. While some women have completely neutral smelling vaginas, others experience fishy, metallic, musky, rotten or bready smells (again, borrowed from my period tracker).
Getting to know what your vagina smells like usually, just before your period, a few days after your period is an important step toward awareness. Understanding these smells will let you know when something is off and then troubleshoot. With respect to discharge, the same rules apply. If you notice something off, there’s rarely a situation when you need to panic, unless these symptoms are accompanied by indicators such as itching, swelling or pain during urination or sex, for example.
Look for consistency of symptoms across cycles.
If you notice something new – maybe you’re in an unusual amount of pain one cycle? Or your discharge is suddenly grey, perhaps? Compare these new symptoms across subsequent cycles. If everything is back to normal, move on. Still experiencing pain? Not sure what’s going on? Seek medical intervention.
There is one BIG step between seeking medical intervention and troubleshooting your irregular period symptoms and that’s addressing lifestyle factors.
On my next blog post, I will address some of the biggest lifestyle factors you can address with actionable takeaways to help recalibrate your menstrual cycle!