What is a normal period?
A period is the number of days spent bleeding during your menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the length of time between two periods. Menstruation is characterised by the rise and fall of hormones which leads to the discharge of blood and mucosal tissue that sheds from the lining of the uterus (known as the endometrium) out through the vagina.
This shedding occurs every month (around every 28 days) when a pregnancy has not occurred, and it usually lasts anywhere between two to eight days, with an average of four-six days. Some people may choose to use menstrual products such as sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups or re-usable period underwear to collect the blood.
Typically the period can vary in length, colour, flow and timing depending on the person, their age and whether or not they are taking contraception.
A period can start at any time, but it should be regular and consistent, and it shouldn’t interfere with your day-to-day activities.
Starting your period
Starting your period is a sign your body is maturing. Leading up to this you will notice physical changes with your body as your breast begin to develop and under arm and pubic hair starts to grow. You may pass a white or yellow-ish fluid -known as vaginal discharge. Don’t panic! This is a sign your first period is on its way.
You might also notice changes in your skin and your mood - you may find you feel more irritable than normal, these are all positive signs your body is developing in the right way.
At what age do people start having periods?
The average age for periods to start is twelve, however starting your period anywhere between the age of ten to sixteen is considered normal. Typically, periods will begin around a year after your breasts first start to develop.
If you have not yet started your period by the time you reach the age of sixteen, or if after two years your periods are irregular -meaning your period hasn’t regulated into a typical 28-day cycle, it is a good idea to make an appointment and discuss this with your General Practitioner (GP).
How much blood is normal?
It is normal to pass between 20-60ml of blood during a period (this is equivalent to between 5-12 teaspoons of blood) and anything more than that (more than 80ml) is considered ‘a heavy period’ (known as menorrhagia).
For those who experience heavier or faster bleeding, there may be some small blood clots, this is common. You may also experience some general discomfort, feeling tired, breast pain, changes in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea) and headaches.
These symptoms are normal, and they will usually disappear on their own once your period ends and they should not interfere with your day-to-day life and activities.
Are periods supposed to be painful?
Whilst periods can take a while to settle and regulate, anywhere between 1-2 years is not uncommon to experience some irregularities and mild pain. However, once things have settled, your periods should be manageable, and they should not interfere with your everyday life.
Periods can be uncomfortable, but they should not stop you from doing things you enjoy. If you’re experiencing unusually painful periods (known as dysmenorrhea), and your periods are stopping you from attending work, going to school or socialising, regardless of how long you’ve had them, this is not normal.
How much bleeding is too much?
Heavy menstrual bleeding (known as menorrhagia) is defined when a person bleeds abnormally heavy or experiences prolonged menstrual bleeding. Heavy menstrual bleeding is common, but it’s important to talk to your doctor to rule out health conditions like Adenomyosis.
To define heavy bleeding, you will find you soak through a tampon or pad every 2 hours or less, you may need to change your sanitary products during the night, or experience bleeding for longer than 8 days.
When should I seek help?
If you’re experiencing pain around your periods that is affecting your day-to-day activities like attending school or work, or if you have noticed changes around your periods, such as irregular bleeding or your period being delayed or more painful than ‘your normal’, this could be a sign of Endometriosis, or it might be the reason for something else, such as stress, pregnancy, the menopause, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), or something else. At this point it is important to make an appointment and discuss this with your GP.