A lot of people don't feel comfortable talking about periods. I, for one, will quite happily mention to anyone about my period and the fact I am on it. It may make them feel uncomfortable and grossed out, but I feel that as this is something I and many others who have a uterus go through on a monthly basis, it is my duty to inform people that I am on my period.
I have been getting periods every month since the age of eleven. For those of you that are interested, that means I have had 114 periods so far in my life and I am likely to have many, many more. It has actually been estimated that on average, we are likely to have around 450 periods in our lifetime, which equates to spending ten years (or 3500 days), of our lives with blood coming out of our vaginas (HelpingWomenpPeriod.org, 2019).
I am by no means qualified to talk about periods, however, I am more than aware that there is a lack of education surrounding periods and I wanted to create something that (hopefully) has all the information you could possibly ever need to know about periods. So, first of all, let's start with what a period is and why we have them.
What is a period?
A period, as I have already briefly mentioned, is something almost anyone with a uterus will experience monthly in their lifetime. It is where the uterus lining breaks down, leaving the vagina, and normally lasts between two and eight days. It is a part of the menstrual cycle, which is a monthly process your body goes through and on average lasts twenty-eight days (I'll get into that more in a minute). There will be some days where your period is 'heavy', which means that you have a lot of blood leaving your body, and there will be other days where your period is 'light', which means that you won't have as much blood leaving your body. For example, my periods normally last about five or six days, the first and fourth days tend to have a medium flow, the second and third days are a heavy flow, and the fifth and sixth days are a much lighter flow. It is important to note that everybody's period is different and just because your period lasts shorter/longer than mine or you experience different flow levels on different days to me, doesn't mean your period isn't normal. Over time you will begin to notice what does and doesn't look normal for you, and if you ever experience anything that is abnormal for you, or just, in general, doesn't feel right, you should go to your doctor. It's probably nothing to worry about, but it's important to check these things out, just in case (and remember, Google is NOT a doctor).
What is a menstrual cycle?
As you can see from this diagram, the menstrual cycle can be broken down into four simple parts: menstruation; the follicular phase; ovulation; and the luteal phase. Menstruation is essentially a posh word for period, which, as I have already explained above, is where the uterine lining breaks down. Next is the follicular phase, which is where you have finished menstruating and your uterine lining slowly starts to thicken again. Ovulation occurs at the end of the follicular phase, which is where an egg is released from your ovaries, ready to be fertilised by a sperm. It is where you are most likely to fall pregnant, so if you are trying for a baby this is the perfect time to do so. If not, it is best to avoid having sex during this time (and of course, use protection). Once the egg has been released from the ovary, it has a lifespan of about twenty-four hours and if it has not been fertilised during this time, the body starts to shed the egg. This then leads to the luteal phase, which involves the uterus lining continuing to thicken and if you have a fertilised egg, this will implant in the lining and you will produce hormones that maintain the corpus luteum, which includes the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, which is the hormone that leads to you being able to get a positive pregnancy test. However, if there is no fertilised egg, the corpus luteum will wither and die towards the end of the cycle, leading to the uterus lining beginning to break down again, which signals the beginning of a new cycle. (Menstrual Cycle).
What is PMS?
You may or may not have heard some people talking about PMS and wondered what they're talking about. PMS is also known as pre-menstrual syndrome and is essentially the symptoms you get in the days leading up to your period. These symptoms can include bloating, headaches, cravings, nausea, mood swings, tender breasts, tiredness, insomnia, spots, greasy hair, loss/gain of appetite, lower/higher sex drive, and menstrual cramps. The image above displays what a uterus looks like normally (white) and what a uterus looks like during your period (red) and as you can see, it pretty much doubles in size, which is why you get the cramps. Some of these cramps are manageable and you can still go about your day-to-day life and won't have to think too much about it, other than possibly taking some paracetamol. Other times, they may be painful enough for you to need a hot water bottle and a little lie-down in bed for an hour or so. Alternatively, they may be so painful that you can barely move and have to spend the day (or days) in bed. The latter could be a sign of endometriosis, so please go and see a doctor if you believe this could be the case. I am fortunate enough that I either don't get period pains or I get them but I am still able to go about my life as normal, just at a slightly slower pace. You may get some of these symptoms, you may get all of these symptoms, or you may get none at all, it is just about knowing what is/isn't normal for you.
What period products are there?
There are a lot more period products around now than there were back when I started my period. Back then, it was just sanitary pads or tampons and as far as I'm aware there were no eco-friendly options. I would say if you are just starting out on your period, it is best to go with the non-reusable options first, just so you can get a feel for what you prefer. I would also add that you should always start off with sanitary pads first, just because they're a lot easier to deal with than tampons. You might find after one use that you would rather use tampons and that's perfectly okay. You might start off preferring sanitary pads and then over time might find you prefer tampons; or you might find you prefer tampons and then move back to sanitary pads. The types of period products you might use are: sanitary pads; tampons; menstrual cup; period pants; or reusable sanitary pads. I currently use a menstrual cup, which took me about six months to actually figure out how to insert, but now I cannot imagine myself going back to anything else (I'm going to do a separate blog post to review it in the next few weeks, so look out for that). I have never used period pants or reusable sanitary pads, but if any of you reading this have and want to share your thoughts on them, or have written a blog post on them, then please feel free to leave that in the comments below.
I'm fairly certain I have covered everything in this post, but if you feel there is something I have missed, then please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Or if you have any questions about periods (or anything in general) then please feel free to either leave those questions in the comments below, DM me on Twitter or Instagram, or you can email me. You'll find all my contact details in the contacts tab at the top of the page.
Love Beth xx