We’ve roped in the expert help of two gynecologists to answer all the questions you’ve probably always wanted to ask
Can you still have a period while pregnant? What is the normal menstrual cycle length? Does your period stop in water? These are just three of the most Googled questions surrounding the menstrual cycle.
And it’s no wonder. Your period is one of the most natural processes of the human body—but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Yes, over the years and especially in the West, periods have become less taboo. But it seems there’s still more work to be done surrounding education.
According to research by WaterAid, one in eight women in the UK didn’t know about periods until they started menstruating. While, “a worrying number” still believe you can’t get pregnant while on your period, the charity says.
But that’s why we’ve called in the experts, to help settle the facts from the fiction and debunk everything you thought you knew about your periods. Keep scrolling to find out the answers to the most Googled menstruation questions.
1. When does menstruation begin?
Dr Ayanthi Gunasekera, Specialist Registrar in Gynecology at London Gynecology explains: “The first occurrence of the menstrual period is known as menarche. Most girls start their period between the ages of nine and 15 with 12 being the average age in the UK.
“There are many factors that have been shown to affect the age of starting your period including genetic factors, race, nutrition status, physical activity, urban or rural residence, health status and body mass index (BMI).”
2. How many stages does the menstrual cycle have?
Dr Gunasekera says: “For most women, the cycle occurs between 21 to 35 days. Broadly speaking there are two phases to the menstrual cycle, the ‘follicular’ and ‘luteal’ phases, the first day of the cycle is the first day of your period.
3. What is the normal menstrual cycle length? Can it vary?
Dr Caroline Overton, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, explains: “The average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days, though what is a regular cycle can vary from person to person. You are still ovulating even if your cycle varies from the 28 days. The normal range is 21-35 days counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next.”
4. What causes a late period?
“A late period is very common and often nothing to be worried about,” Dr Gunasekera says. “Anything beyond a week and you could consider your period as ‘late’.”
As stated by Dr Gunasekera, common causes of a late period include:
- Polycystic ovaries
- Hormonal imbalance
- Eating disorder
- Extreme exercise
- Perimenopause or menopause
- No obvious reason/cause—Sometimes, periods can be late due to no obvious reason.
5. Can you have a period without ovulating?
The simple answer to that question is: yes.
As Dr Overton explains: “In some menstrual cycles, the egg does not release and ovulation doesn’t happen. It is possible to still bleed. This is called anovulation, and can be caused by a one-off problem in that particular cycle or a hormonal imbalance such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).”
While Dr Gunasekera confirms that in situations where ovulation doesn’t occur, it is more common with in girls who have recently started their period and in women close to menopause.
6. What is Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)? And what are some of the symptoms?
Most women experience some physical and/or emotional changes in the two weeks before a period. PMS is the name given to these symptoms.
As Dr Overton tells us: “The most common symptoms include feeling emotional, tiredness, headaches and breast tenderness. It is fluctuating levels of hormones oestrogen and progesterone, particularly progesterone produced in the second half of the month that is thought to be linked to PMS.”
7. Can you still have a period while pregnant?
“With regards to bleeding in pregnancy, it is not possible to have ‘periods’ through the pregnancy,” Dr Gunasekera says.
“However, some women can experience bleeding which may look like a period during the pregnancy. Bleeding in pregnancy needs to be investigated further to rule out any serious underlying causes.”
8. Does your period stop in water?
“Having a hot bath can help period cramps, but your period does not stop in water,” Dr Overton confirms.
9. When should your period come back after coming off birth control?
“Most women would return to their ‘normal’ menstrual pattern straightaway with no long-term effect on fertility,” Dr Gunasekera says. “Some (very few) women may not ovulate and may miss periods due to long term suppression of pituitary (that is how the pill works) even after coming off the pill.”
10. When should your period come back after having a baby?
“Your period usually returns about six to eight weeks after you give birth,” Dr Gunasekera explains. “If you breastfeed, the return of your period can vary.”
11. When should your period come back after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy?
Dr Overton says: “Periods normally return by six to ten weeks after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy and they should return to the same pattern they were before.”
If you are worried about your period, Dr Overton and Dr Gunasekera recommend speaking to your GP, gynecologist or a healthcare professional
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