So, you think you know everything about your period?
Ok, so you probably know the basics when it comes to the menstrual cycle (if not, refer back to our useful understanding your period video). But here I present to you 15 interesting period facts that you probably didn’t know, but that could prove very useful.
1.You could have as little as 150 or as many as 450 periods in your life – Every woman has a slightly different cycle length; this can vary from every 21 to 36 days on average. However, this wouldn’t drastically change the number of periods a woman experiences throughout the course of her life, so what factors can influence this? Well, culture and way of life comes into it. Traditionally, (and still to this day in certain cultures and groups of people around the world), a woman would have a baby and continue to breastfeed her baby for several years – not just for the standard 6 months as is common practice in Western cultures nowadays. Interestingly, as a woman breastfeeds, it can serve as a natural contraceptive (due to the interaction of certain hormones) and therefore, she doesn’t get a period. Say this goes on for several years until the breastfeeding is reduced, then the woman falls pregnant once more and the whole cycle begins again. These routines mean that a woman can live with relatively few periods throughout her childbearing years. That is, if she chooses to breastfeed her child for long and often enough. Approximately every 3- 4 hours, even during the night, is required to have the desired effect. So, getting your baby to sleep through the night might be a bonus and a modern-day goal for many, but it will most likely result in the swift return of your period after giving birth
2. The average age of starting your period has also changed – Generally, the age at which women start their period is becoming younger and younger. A 100 years ago, the average age of a girl in the UK to have her first period was 16, now it’s around 12 years old with girls as young as eight years old starting puberty. This is thought to be due to a number of dietary and lifestyle influences; being overweight and living more toxic lifestyles (chemicals have a scary ability to mimic hormones) have a lot to answer for
3. You’re born with all your eggs – Yes, you acquire all the eggs you’ll ever need in life during your time in the womb – even before you’re born. More than a couple of million in fact – way more than you’ll ever be needing, that’s for sure! As you reach puberty and the menstrual cycle kick-starts, one of these eggs matures each month and is released. All of the extra eggs gradually die off as your biological clock ticks which is why you can’t have any more babies once you reach the menopause
4. Pregnancy and periods can go hand in hand – Many assume that you can’t get pregnant whilst on your period, and you won’t have a period if you’re pregnant. Well, I hate to break it to you but neither of these assumptions is true. First, let’s consider sex during your period. Ok, so it’s unlikely you’ll fall pregnant by having sex at this time but it’s not impossible, and it mostly depends on the length of your cycle. If you have a very short cycle (and typically heavier periods) then it is possible. Sperm can survive in the body for up to 5 or 6 days potentially. Then, if you happen to ovulate 5 – 6 days after your period – you could fall pregnant. So say you do fall pregnant. You won’t have to worry about another period for the next 9 months, right? Well technically speaking – it definitely won’t be a ‘true’ period but you could bleed a little – this is fairly common during the first few months of pregnancy and can happen for a number of reasons but it is always best to get this checked by your doctor or midwife
5. Some periods aren’t true periods – As you know, your period is the result of the lining of your womb shedding after it’s built up throughout the month as a result of a specific interaction of hormones. So this is a true period, but, at other times, you may bleed and it isn’t a true period. A perfect example the period you get if you’re on the combined pill– this isn’t a ‘true period’ but rather a withdrawal bleed from the high level of hormones due to the crash that follows when you stop taking your pill for a week – your body would eventually readjust or you start taking the pill again. As mentioned above there are other examples of periods that aren’t typical; early pregnancy is one or even as you fall pregnant – a so-called implantation bleed can occur as a fertilised egg imbeds in the wall of the womb. If you aren’t sure why you are bleeding outwith your regular menstrual cycle it’s always worth paying your doctor a visit
6. A missed period doesn’t always mean you’re pregnant – Another misconception is that a missed period automatically means you are pregnant. Actually, it can happen for a number of reasons, although I would advise you take a pregnancy test first just to be sure! Hormone imbalances, stress or even your body weight could be having a significant impact on your menstrual cycle so often it’s a case of considering your lifestyle and paying close attention to your symptoms in order to try and figure out what’s really going on
7. You don’t need to have a period whilst on the pill – So since the period you have whilst on your period isn’t a ‘true period’ does this mean you don’t need to have one? In theory, yes. The ‘pill-free period week’ was first introduced as it was thought women would prefer to have this – rather than to serve any physiological purpose. It seems more natural and can also be reassuring. Most of the safety studies on contraceptive pills have been done on trials with this break included, although it is considered perfectly safe to run up to three pill packs together without having the break. For some though, they find that they have worse symptoms after running pill packs together and it could potentially give rise to slightly heavier, more painful periods
8. You most likely lose a smaller amount of blood each month than you would expect – If you’re on hormonal birth control you’re likely to have very light periods anyway due to the more controlled levels of hormones, but even if you aren’t, you probably think you’re losing a lot more blood than you actually are. On average women lose between 10 and 35ml of blood throughout the duration of each period, that’s only around 1 – 2 tablespoons worth, and spread over 5 days on average, so it probably isn’t as much as you might think!
9. Heavy periods could mean you have a hormone imbalance – Some women experience heavier than normal periods, visit our heavy periods page to find out more as to what exactly is classified as ‘heavy’. If you suspect your periods are particularly heavy, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms – it could suggest you have a hormone imbalance
10. Anaemia can be a vicious cycle – Normally our body is pretty good at keeping us alive against all odds, but when it comes to anaemia it isn’t so up to speed. Anaemia usually involves a reduced number of red blood cells in your circulation. Even if you’re anaemic, your heavy periods are unlikely to cease and you risk losing more and more of these precious red blood cells. It can be a vicious cycle so you need to be careful – consider paying a visit to your doctor if you suspect you are anaemic
11. Your brain can be affected around the time of your period – Not drastically so not to worry! However, research carried out at the University of Bath suggests that cognitive functions and attention span may be affected as a result of period pain – that explains those episodes of brain fog and lack of concentration then – phew!
12. Your period could make you smell – Ok, so one last thing to make you aware of, you might smell a bit differently around the time of your period. Read my blog for some reassurance though, although there are a number of reasons as to why this might be the case, most women don’t notice anything different
13. Periods also have their perks – So for one, periods are a sign your healthy and fertile, this really isn’t something we should take for granted, also, interestingly you could see a spike in your libido around this time of the month. It isn’t the case for all women as any symptoms you might have could put a dampener on things but at this time of the month the typically male sex hormone testosterone is high relative to the hormones progesterone and oestrogen – this could make you feel a bit more, let’s say energetic. It’s nice to focus on the positives sometimes!
14. You could soon be entitled to period leave – Well, I’m not quite sure how many of you will consider this as a positive... personally I’m a bit worried it could be more of a negative. Some firms have already employed it and ‘Period Leave’ involves giving woman the option to take a special type of paid sick leave, specifically for period troubles. Click the link to read more on my thoughts on the matter
15. Body weight can have an influence – So, one of the reasons I believe that ‘Period Leave’ isn’t necessarily the way forward is that it isn’t really solving the problem at hand – if your symptoms are so severe that you require to take time off work then you could be suffering from PMS which really needs to be properly addressed. Did you know that being over or underweight could also be affecting your menstrual cycle? Fat cells in your body act as little reservoirs for hormones so having too many or too little could really throw you off balance. As could other lifestyle factors such as too much alcohol, or being stressed. It’s time to take control, pay close attention to your symptoms and stop your periods getting the better of you, good luck!
Keogh, E., Cavill, Ro., Moore, D.J. and Eccleson, C. (2014) The effects of menstrual-related pain on attentional interference. Pain, 155 (4), 821-827