Redefining Normal Periods
Period problems do not have to be an expected part of your life journey as a woman.
Women have been told that the menstrual problems they experience - moodiness, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, period-related problems in general - are just “how it is.” And then, over time, we began to mistakenly translate this to mean “normal.”
When a teenager inquired about her cramps, I overheard one mother tell her young daughter “That’s just the way it is. It’s part of being a woman, so you’ll learn to deal with it.”
This mother wasn’t being mean or rude. It was just that her 13-year-old daughter was beginning to have the same pattern of problems that the mother had experienced with her period her whole life. The mother just thought that was normal. The mother had not been taught differently by the females in her lineage or circles. All her life, the mother “had to deal with it” as best she could.
The way your period is now, does not mean that’s the way it has to be forever.
“Familiar” and “frequent” does not mean normal.
Experiencing period problems is not the way your body was designed to function, and it’s not the way it necessarily has to be.
With the easily accessible information in today’s world, you can more easily research, understand, and take ownership of your body and your menstrual health.
Back in 2008, I, Melinda, had the privilege of meeting and hearing Dr. Christiane Northrup speak. I received a copy of her book “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” - it forever altered my relationship with my health. I was no longer coming from a place of being a victim to my own body and health issues, but rather was now empowered by my body - to learn more about it, to learn to listen to the ways it would get my attention with various symptoms and to better understand how to support my body so it could function as it was designed to.
That began my journey of redefining what “normal” meant for me, for many aspects of my health, and for my periods.
And it began with me first understanding
what is MY normal.
Many women are confused about what a healthy period actually looks and feels like. In many conversations that we have with women when they’re talking about their period experience and period issues, they will often ask “is that normal?”
Just like no two snowflakes are alike, and no two women are exactly alike (not even identical twins), no two periods are alike. Each woman has many variables that will influence how she experiences her periods - lifestyle choices, genetic make-up, daily stressors, diet, relationships, and environment, just to name a few.
Another period misconception is that every day of your cycle should look exactly the same with no changes in energy, mood, or physical sensations.
Women are often misinterpreting changes in their body from week to week or day to day as being bad or wrong, when in actuality it’s simply your body naturally flowing through the four stages of your menstrual cycle the way it’s designed to.
There is no way that one can say what a normal period should be for every woman. We can look at what an average cycle and period is like (duration, regularity, etc.), but we have to stop looking outside of ourselves to define normal according to what someone else tells us it SHOULD be like and start reclaiming our own health to understand what our periods COULD be like.
In order to determine what YOUR cycle and period could be like, start with a simple understanding of your menstrual cycle, a basic understanding of your hormones, and know what you should aim for.
So, what ARE you aiming for?
A consistent pattern to your cycle and period that doesn’t disrupt your life.
And, through conscious choices, making that possible because of balanced, healthy hormones - specifically estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Many women are confused about what a healthy period should actually look like and what balanced hormones can feel like.
Here’s what a typical cycle of a healthy period could look like:
- Healthy Cycle 25-35 days
- Healthy period 3-7 days
- Spotting is okay for1-2 days leading up to period
- An average cycle is actually 29 days (not the 28 we’ve heard so much about)
Typically, the amount of blood shed during a period is 60ml or less (4 tbsp) and about 6-10 pads or tampons per period (light is 1-5 and heavy is 16+)
Here’s a basic understanding of how your hormones ideally behave in a typical cycle that Gabrielle Lichterman diagrams in Hormonology, and the potential impact they’ll have on your body and emotions:
Week 1 Follicular Phase (menstruation/your period):
- Steady body temperature
- Initial estrogen and progesterone levels dip, then estrogen steadily rises, while progesterone and testosterone remain steady
- Time of renewal and visioning
- Preparing to “give birth” to someone or something
- Increased desire to help others
Week 2 Follicular Phase (post-period):
- Slight dip in body temperature
- Estrogen rapidly climbs, testosterone climbs and progesterone steady
- Feelings of outgoing and upbeat
- Time of enthusiasm and new ideas with peak expression in the outer world
- More energy to act on ideas for new experiments
Week 3 Ovulation (mid-cycle):
- Slight rise in body temperature
- Estrogen levels are at their highest, then estrogen drops upon ovulation with a peak in testosterone
- More receptive to others
- More relaxed and content and receptive to being cared for by others
- There’s a rise in left-brain activity (logical and verbal functioning) with a decline in right-brain activity (creativity).
The peak in testosterone leads to enhanced visual-spatial ability.
Week 4 Luteal Phase (leading up to your period):
- Progesterone peaks in week three, then drops in week four. An initial dip in estrogen then levels out with a slight rise before dropping off. Testosterone also drops.
- More inward and reflective with tears and emotions flowing for things that matter most.
- Time is spent contemplating what needs to be changed or adjusted in your life
- Focus on routine tasks that don’t require much input from others or deep thinking
- Time needed away from daily tasks and to be alone and rest
- Intuition is increased - information often comes in dreams and quiet times
We’re not showing you this because we expect you to understand the nuances of each hormone and what it does and how it affects your body (that’s for a different article). We’re showing you this to demonstrate that with each phase of your menstrual cycle, there will be a natural ebb and flow to each of your hormones. These natural and normal fluctuations bring about a natural rhythm physically as well as emotionally.
YOUR chart may not look exactly like this, but know that there is a rhythm that can flow naturally for each of us.
Understanding this at a basic level can bring about a sort of permission that you can give yourself to help identify what is YOUR natural, normal, ebb and flow throughout your cycle. Giving yourself permission to be at home with your body’s natural rhythm can help you stop working against yourself or judging yourself as being wrong because you think things don’t look a certain, expected way that you might think is considered “normal.”
When your body deviates from these natural rhythms (because of stress, toxins, diet, etc), that’s when potential negative impacts on your health, moods, cravings, emotions, and other unpleasant physical sensations during your cycle and period are more likely to occur.
So, when we talk about “balanced hormones,” it doesn’t mean equal parts of each hormone at the same time. It simply means that each hormone is fluctuating as it's designed to in relation to the other hormones during each phase of YOUR menstrual cycle.
When that happens you are much more likely to have a happy, healthy, easy period.
What is predominant today, however, is that external influences such as perpetual stressors and poor nutrition all drastically impact the behavior of these hormones, which can then negatively impact your cycles and period problems each month can become more probable.
Having this basic understanding, and knowing what you’re aiming for with both your cycle and your hormones, prepares you to define YOUR normal.
It equips you to make different, better choices in your life that promote healthy hormones and happy periods.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach - remember, no two periods are identical.
Just like I learned with Dr. Northrup’s book “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” - I am in charge of my health. And so are you. The more educated you choose to be, the more informed and prepared you will be to call upon the products, resources, and health care practitioners to support you in making smart, conscious decisions to create your normal period.
This basic awareness, combined with tracking your own cycle, is the effective and easy way to intimately know what is going on with your body throughout your cycle.
It brings awareness to patterns, changes, improvements and potential issues. Increasing your body awareness through regular tracking is the first step to understanding YOUR normal.
Remember, what has been your typical or familiar period experience does not necessarily mean that this is your normal. Understanding what has been typical or familiar for you can help pinpoint where external influencers are disrupting your body’s natural ebb and flow during your cycle.
Increased awareness will help you create the normal YOU want to experience with your periods.
Click here to learn how Perfect Period can help you or someone you know create a happy, healthy period.