If you’ve ever sat down with your friends to complain about your period, you already know that everyone has a completely different experience. Some women have their period for days and days, while others are finished with the whole matter in under 72 hours. There are light flows, heavy flows, and flows that relegate you to bed for the duration of your menstrual cycle. So with all this variation, what is a normal period, if any such thing exists?
It’s a good question, but unfortunately, like so many other things about our menstrual cycles and reproductive systems, a pretty complicated one.
While it might seem like common sense at this point, Dr. Mark Trolice of the IVF Center in Orlando, Florida explains to HelloGiggles that our periods happen on a monthly basis when our hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decline due to a lack of pregnancy and our uterus sheds its lining. This happens every 24 to 34 days, give or take a day or two, according to Dr. Trolice.
“Ultimately, what is ‘normal’ is usually the duration of menses a woman has always experienced,” Dr. Trolice says. So really, if your bestie is shocked at what you describe as your normal period, tell her not to worry. Everyone’s period is different and most of them are normal.
But just in case you need convincing, here are some signs that your period is normal and there’s nothing to worry about.
1It shows up every month.
As long as your period is coming every month, even if it’s a little late because you’re not getting enough sleep or are super stressed out, that’s a normal period. Dr. Antoinette Nguyen, an obstetrician/gynecologist and family planning specialist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells HG that menstrual cycles happen every 28 to 35 days, so even the professionals aren’t in total agreement about the timing of our menstrual cycles.
However, Dr. Alan Copperman, medical director at Progyny and ob/gyn at Mount Sinai Hospitals in New York City, tells HG that while on birth control, it’s possible to skip periods, but if they stop coming completely, you should talk to your doctor.
This is exactly why you shouldn’t lose your mind if your period is a day or two early or late. But if your period doesn’t come at all for a month or two, you should definitely check with your doctor and make sure they know you’re worried about it. You’re the expert on your own body and periods, after all.
2And it’s basically always been that way.
Your period will even out after a while when you’re younger, and then it will tend to follow the same pattern for the rest of your reproductive life (unless you start some form of birth control that changes your natural cycle, such as if you get a copper IUD and notice your periods become longer). It might not be the same every month, but you’ll start to notice that you go through one or two light or short months, and then a heavier or longer one.
Dr. Nguyen tells HG, “Variations in menstrual flow and cycle length are common at the extremes of reproductive age.” She adds:
Another sign that you might not have a normal period is if your flow changes in color, according to Dr. Copperman. “If the period discharge suddenly looks darker or smells bad, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to rule out the presence of an infection.”
3You’re losing the right amount of blood.
During a normal period, a woman will lose anywhere from 20 to 60 ml of blood, with 70 to 80 ml being at the high end. However, Dr. Nguyen tells us, “This is not easy for a woman to measure on her own.” Because really, who has time for that?
But if you use a menstrual cup and are into tracking it, you can measure it more easily. A DivaCup, for example, holds about one ounce of menstrual blood, or 30 ml, so you can make an estimate every time you take it out for a rinse.
4Heavy periods are normal, too.
Dr. Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow of Extend Fertility in New York City tells HG, “Clots are very normal, and many women will experience them at least once in their lifetime. Using the right menstrual hygiene product can play a significant role in alleviating this problem.” She adds, “Furthermore, it’s perfectly normal if your flow is heavier or lighter from month to month.”
But if you show signs of “anemia, such as lightheadedness, dizziness, or shortness of breath,” it could mean that you’re losing too much blood with each period. So just keep checking in with your body.
5It’s not messing with your life.
Dr. Trolice tells HG that “menorrhagia, or excessive menstrual flow, is mostly subjective.” He adds that the “woman usually complains of a change in her flow consisting of clots [or] a duration more than seven days.” Dr. Nguyen reminds us, though, that “clots can be normal for some women,” but if you’ve never had them and then start to, you should talk to your doctor about it.
Also, figuring out what’s “too heavy” is not a perfect science. She adds that, “clinically, a heavy period is generally one where the woman is soaking a pad or tampon more than every two hours, or has a volume that interferes with the woman’s physical, emotional, and social quality of life.”
Remember, when it comes to your period, you always know best. So don’t be afraid to question any changes and bring them up with your doctor. If things aren’t “normal” with your flow, you’re the one who’ll know first.