Signs of a healthy period
What should a healthy period be like?
This is something I get asked about a lot and of course we are all different but we can tell a lot about what is going on with us by our period health, plus the physical elements of our periods can have an impact on our hormones. There are a few stages that your body goes through to reach your period, read on to find out more.
How long should a cycle be?
An adult’s menstrual cycle can last between 21 – 35 days, 28 days is the average but it is important to note that not everyone has that 28 day cycle as we are led to believe.
Teenagers cycles can be longer due to an extended follicular phase which can last up to 32 days. This means that a normal healthy cycle for a teenager can be anywhere between 21 to 45 days. If you have a teenager its worth remembering this before deciding to put them on the Pill with the sole purpose of regulating their periods. By the age of 19 their period should settle down into a more regular pattern on its own and be less long. And if it doesn’t homeopathy can help.
Do you know what the length of your cycle is? Day 1 is the first day that you notice proper/heavier bleeding and it is also the start of your follicular phase. And the total length of your cycle is the number of days between day 1 and your next day 1. It’s easy to track your periods with app’s these days, I particularly like Kindara (I am in no way affiliated with them) but I have also heard good things about the Natural Cycles app too.
Stages of the menstrual cycle
Before talking about what a healthy period looks like we need to uncover all of the stages your body needs to go through to bring about your period. Below are some pointers as to what the menstrual cycle phases should be like and things to look out for.
- Follicular phase – lasts from 7 – 21 days
- Ovulation – lasts one day
- Luteal phase – lasts 10 – 16 days
1. Follicular phase (7-21 days)
This begins when ovarian follicles (the sac that contains an egg), enter the race to ovulation. Follicles live for much longer than the 2 – 3 weeks of your follicular phase and it takes around 100 days for your follicles to mature from dormant to ovulation. If your follicles are unhealthy for any part of this time it can have an impact on your period months later.
A follicle is the part of your ovary that produces oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. When it enters the final stage of its maturity – the follicular phase – follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which is produced in the pituitary gland, helps the follicles to grow. It also makes oestrogen and moves you towards ovulation. There are a few types of oestrogen produced, estradiol is the type that improves libido and mood, promotes good sleep, strong bones, heart and muscles. It really is a wonder hormone. Estradiol stimulates your uterine lining to thicken in preparation for a baby, makes your periods heavier and stimulates a type of vaginal discharge called ‘fertile mucus’.
“What is this fertile mucus”? I hear you ask. Fertile mucus is stimulated by oestrogen and is one of the indicators of good Estradiol production. It is a discharge that looks and feels like clear raw egg white, its job is to help sperm survive the journey to your uterus and fallopian tube to find the waiting egg. Progesterone only birth control methods such as the Mirena Coil work by preventing the formation of fertile mucus.
When I have clients that are actively trying for a baby one of the things I discuss with them is to look out for this fertile mucus as it is a good indicator that you are coming up for ovulation.
Other signs that you might be ovulating include:
- Breast tenderness
- Mild pelvic pain or twinge
- Increased libido
- Cervix changes
- Temperature changes
- Ovulation (1 day)
The release of the egg is ovulation, and typically this happens around day 14. However if you have a longer cycle then you will ovulate later too. To work out when you might ovulate next count back approximately two weeks from the first day of your next predicted period. This is where the apps I mentioned above come in handy too as they do this for you.
At the end of the follicular phase one or sometimes two of your follicles (the sac that contains the egg) swell and ruptures to release the egg. This is triggered by the production of luteinising hormone (LH) which you might be familiar with if you use ovulation sticks. This process does not take very long and some people notice a mild pelvic twinge as their egg ruptures out of their ovary. After the egg releases it is moved into your fallopian tube where if sperm is present it might be fertilised. The follicles that did not make it to ovulation are re-absorbed by your ovary.
After ovulation you will either get your period about two weeks later or you will be pregnant. This is why I ask my clients to look out for ovulation signs so that they can track their fertile days and estimate when their next period is due.
- Luteal phase (10-16 days)
This is the final phase that occurs after ovulation until your next period. After the follicle has emptied it re-forms into a temporary gland called the corpus luteum within the ovary and it secretes progesterone.
Healthy ovulation is a precursor to healthy progesterone production. This is an essential hormone for healthy periods and holding onto pregnancies, good progesterone levels also help us to feel good. Progesterone aids restful sleep, calms the nervous system and protects against heart disease among other things.
The length of the luteal phase is determined by the lifespan of the corpus luteum and this temporary gland takes just one day to form and grows to around 2-5cm in diameter! Remember I said earlier that it takes 100 days to create healthy follicles? Well the health of your corpus luteum is also a reflection of the health of your follicular cells during that time. If you do not become pregnant then your corpus luteum only survives 10-16 days. But if you become pregnant it lasts for 3 months until your placenta fully develops.
At the end of your luteal phase your corpus luteum decays and your progesterone levels dip which in turn stimulates your uterus to contract and shed its lining, bringing about your period.
Other things that affect our periods
Taking the pill means you have no follicular phase, no ovulation, no corpus luteum and no progesterone production, this is often why when people come off the pill it takes their bodies a long time to figure out how to do these things again naturally. Homeopathy helps bring all of these phases into balance again over time. Also pill bleeds are actually chemical withdrawal bleeds and not real periods.
Good nutrition is so important and nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, zinc and selenium help provide the body with enough energy for healthy follicular phase and corpus luteum development and are important for period health.
Being on hormonal contraception for an extended length of time robs our bodies of some of these essential nutrients which is why good nutrition and supplementation is important when we do get to the stage that we wish to try for a baby or even just create a healthy menstrual cycle.
Hormonal birth control also strips you of progesterone and its mood enhancing effects. Birth control that contains chemical progesterone (for example to mini pill or mirena coil) is not the same as the progesterone that we naturally produce and often people on this type of birth control can have anxiety as one of the side effects. Alongside using Homeopathy to help balance your hormones and period cycles I might recommend talking to a good nutritionist if you are wishing to try for a baby.
If you have made enough progesterone your period should not be too painful and there should not be a lot of spotting before it starts. A healthy corpus luteum and good progesterone production links to a smooth period and easy shedding of the uterine lining.
The colour of your periods can vary between dark and bright red, reddish brown and some clients have even told me their period looks almost black. This is probably because it has been a heavier, slower flow with some clotting. Flow can be heavy or light or somewhere in-between and some clotting can be normal (up to 2cm in size). Menstrual fluid is not just comprised of blood; it also contains the uterine lining (endometrial tissue), cervical mucus and secretions from the vagina.
Blood loss is considered heavy if you lose more than 80ml, light if you lose less than 25ml and average if you lose around 50ml. If you use a menstrual cup it’s easier to see just how much you lose. If not, a super tampon or pad holds about 10ml to help you work out the volume of your flow. Periods tend to be heavier for the first few days then light or spotting for the last day or two. They also last on average 5 days but can be 2 – 7 days depending on your norm.
I ask my Homeopathy clients to track their periods in the following way so that we can track changes:
- Day 1 – when is the first day of heavier bleeding
- Length of cycle – noting the number of days between day 1 and your next day 1
- Number of days bleeding
- Amount of blood lost
- Any spotting or clotting
- Any pain during period
- What is mood like before, during and after period
Sometimes you can still get a period but you did not ovulate this is called an anovulatory bleed. Your follicles still tried to ovulate but did not, no corpus luteum was made and you did not make progesterone. In essence your follicles still make oestrogen, which produces cervical mucus and thickens your uterine lining. This lining needs to shed and hence you get your period.
You possibly have oestrogen dominance as you are not making progesterone, and as there is no progesterone there is also no corpus luteum or luteal phase. If you have low or no progesterone the chances are you get PMS, irregular periods, disturbed sleep, hormonal headaches and possibly bloating too. Sometimes people with PCOS have anovulatory bleeds and they can also occur during Peri-menopause (that stage of up to 10 years before you actually hit the menopause).
Anovulatory bleeds are also common with women that have been on the implant or injection because these hormonal contraceptives supress ovulation but allow oestrogen. I have found in my homeopathy practice that when women have been on this form of chemical contraception for years, it can take their bodies a long time to ovulate naturally again after coming off them.
It can be normal to have the odd anovulatory cycle even in healthy women, but it is not normal to have them every period and you should pursue this further if you believe this is the norm for you. If you believe you might be consistently having anovulatory bleeds please go to your GP and ask them to test your oestrogen, progesterone and FSH levels.
So I hope that you found that useful, let me know what you think. What are your periods like? Do they follow a “normal” pattern, or are they more irregular? Do you know if you are ovulating? If you would like some help balancing your hormones and periods you could consider some Homeopathy sessions with me.
I have devised a Healthy Hormones Package to help you if you can relate to any of this blog. What better time of year to put your self-care first; I love working with women to help them feel calm, centred and balanced again. I only have capacity for 5 lovely ladies to sign up to my healthy hormones package before Christmas! I’d love it if you would like to start your journey to good health with me. You can find out more about the package and its benefits here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07387 553140.
I have seen homeopathy help my clients balance their PMT symptoms, end hormone related anxiety, re-establish ovulation and bring their periods back into a predictable pattern. I’m always happy to have a free 30 minute discovery chat if you would like to find out more about Homeopathy and how it could benefit your health and wellbeing.
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