Menstruation is a totally normal part of having a uterus. For many women, their periods come and go without much thought except “I hope I don’t bleed through my pants”, “Someone hand me a heat pack stat!”, and “Need. Chocolate. Now.”
What many people don’t realize is that within their menstrual cycle lies many clues and signs about their fertility, and overall health. Periods carry wisdom. They travel from the inner cavity of the body- the uterus, through the vagina, and out into whatever your receptacle of choice is. Within this excretion, and the many symptoms that may come with it, lies a lot of information about what’s going on in your body.
In western medicine, the body tends to be compartmentalized. Doctors isolate symptoms and body parts, without acknowledging that it’s meant to work in a harmonious system. Anything that is going on with your menstrual cycle and fertility, is a direct reflection of your overall health. Your period is a part of your health. Period.
I Red it on The Internet: Color
The color of your period may change throughout your cycle, as well as at different points in your life. There are some colors to watch out for. Dark or bright red, orange, or gray may mean an infection. Brown or pink could mean pregnancy spotting. Black or brown means old blood that has had time to oxidize. Pink may mean low estrogen.
How much flow are we talking about?
While all periods are slightly different, there are many who consider their flows “light” or “heavy”.
A heavy flow by medical standards is 80 ml or more of blood loss in one period. Although this could vary from person to person, and who’s measuring anyway? This is caused by an excess of estrogen, combined with low levels of progesterone. One risk of a heavy period is anemia. A condition that occurs when there are low iron levels in the blood.
Other more serious conditions that could be causing a heavy period are uterine fibroids or polyps, cervical or uterine cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as disorders of the kidneys, liver or thyroid.
On the flip side, a period that seems too light can also mean there’s an underlying condition. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is caused by the overproduction of male hormones in a female body. This may mean lighter, or irregular periods.
Other factors like pregnancy, menopause, ovulation (when the body does not release an egg), high-stress levels, drug abuse, or malnutrition could be causing a light, or irregular flow.
Oh My (Blood) Clots!
While some clotting can be totally normal, it’s important to have an understanding of what normal is for you. More clotting than usual, or clots that are bigger than a quarter, may be a red flag. Much like heavy flow, irregular clotting could be a sign of adenomyosis, uterine fibroids or polyps, or even miscarriage.
PMS is Normal- Until it’s Not
Cramps, acne, bloating, fatigue, irritability- we’re all familiar with premenstrual syndrome. Because it’s accepted as the norm, many women brush off symptoms that could mean something more serious, or ones that could be easily treated. Extreme PMS symptoms could potentially be a sign of one of the disorders we’ve previously mentioned like PCOS, thyroid disorders, endometriosis, or anemia.
If your PMS comes with serious mood swings, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, or suicidal thoughts, you may have PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. This is definitely a time to seek medical help.
Even if your PMS symptoms fall in the realm of normal, you still may have a slight hormonal imbalance. Thanks to overexposure to harmful chemicals and endocrine disruptors, combined with a diet that’s lacking in nutrition- this has become all too common. There are many things you can do to help regulate your period, and ease symptoms of PMS.
If you prefer to go the natural route, you could try switching up your diet, taking vitamin and mineral supplements, naturopathic, homeopathic, and traditional Chinese medicine, as well as yoni steaming.
What about birth control?
If you are on hormonal birth control (HBC), it can be difficult to get in touch with your menstrual cycle. HBC works by suppressing your natural cycle and hormonal fluctuations. This may make it tricky to notice any irregularities in your cycle, or even have an understanding of what regular means for you.
While the copper IUD does not use artificial hormones, it can potentially cause other issues with menstruation. Some women report an excessively heavy flow, or unmanageable cramps.
Getting to Know Your Cycle
Your hormone levels change throughout your cycle. As these fluctuate so will your mood, skin, and energy levels. By tracking these you can begin to notice patterns in your body. Knowing your cycle, means you will notice when things seem a little out of sorts.
Using a menstrual cup makes it easier to track the color and amount of blood that comes out during your period.
If this is new to you, it may take time to have an understanding of what a normal period is. Using tools like a journal or period tracking app can help streamline the process for you.
The information here is not enough to make any sort of diagnosis. If you have any concerns about your reproductive health, it may be time to consult your doctor.
Above all else, trust your intuition, and the wisdom of your body.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.