WHAT IS A PERIOD?
What exactly is a Period?
The Period is part of the Menstrual Cycle. Every female starts to go through these when her body grows and matures enough to produce certain levels of hormones. The average age of the first period (“Menarche”) is 12.5 years old in the US and 14 worldwide. Some can have it earlier, and some later. Genes, diet, and body weight can all affect it. Periods thankfully don’t last your entire life. The usual age of the last period (“Menopause”) is 51 years old.
When a female is born, her Ovaries are filled with eggs. These eggs are not ready/”ripe” enough to make a baby yet, until it receives the right cocktail of hormones. If we go back to the Uterus-is-a-pear analogy, the Fallopian tubes are vines and the Ovaries are clusters of grapes hanging at the end of the vines.
Each grape needs to grow and mature to a certain level before it is “ripe” enough to drop down from the cluster. Technically, it leaves its skin behind, so it spits out its inside, while its skin shell slowly rots and dissolves away.
It takes a lot of work to ripen a single grape, a whole month usually. There are many hormones working hard, and they follow a pattern like this every month, assuming you don’t get pregnant (the egg does not get fertilized by a sperm):
The “grape” is at the top, with its technical names.
The bottom part shows how thick the lining of the uterus is during the cycle (called the “Endometrium“). It gets thicker to prepare for a fertilized egg to implant/stick to it and start the process of growing a baby.
In the middle of the cycle, Ovulation happens (when the egg is ripe enough and is released). Ovulation is when you are most at risk of getting pregnant. The egg’s journey from the ovary to the uterus takes several days, and at any time, if it meets a sperm, they can combine, forming a fertilized egg, or “Zygote.” This cell will multiply and eventually grow into a baby! It needs to implant/stick to the uterus lining.
“Menses” is the fancy medical term for your Period, when you bleed out from your vagina. It is because your uterus needs to get rid of the unused egg and extra cells of the thickened uterus lining. Some women see it as a monthly cleansing ritual. However, now thanks to many birth control options, we don’t need to bleed every month! It’s not unhealthy at all to skip periods! You can choose to bleed only once a year, or not at all!
Estradial (Estrogen) and Progesterone are the hormones in birth control pills and other products that are used to mimic a “fake period” (since there is no egg involved). Birth control medicines changes your hormones in a way that prevents you from maturing and releasing an egg (Ovulation). As you saw above, the process of ripening and releasing a single egg/grape is hard work. Because you are giving your ovaries a break by using birth control, it actually DECREASES your risk for ovarian cancer!!!!
A period usually lasts 5-7 days. Some women have shorter ones, and some have longer ones. The typical menstrual cycle is 28-35 days, but again these are just averages. Stress, diet, exercise, body weight, and many other factors can affect your cycle.
Women usually suspect they are pregnant when they miss a Period. Sometimes your period is just late due to stress or other reasons, but sometimes it’s because of pregnancy (you don’t bleed because the egg and uterine lining are actually being used to nurture the growing baby). You can buy home pregnancy tests at pharmacies, some of them work even before your expected missed Period date!
There are many great apps to track your cycle. I recommend everyone try to do so, especially if you are not using birth control. The sooner you find you if you are pregnant, the sooner you can make plans. Whether you plan on continuing the pregnancy or not, you have more options the sooner you find out. SO many women are unfortunately not taking Prenatal Vitamins or Folate, which are important for the growth of the baby’s organs, and by the time they typically find out they are pregnant, about 6-8 weeks along, some damage has already been done if they were not taking those Vitamins!!
Periods can be painful! It usually feels like a crampy pain in the lower belly area. For some women, it is so painful that they have to miss school or work. You can help the pain by using a heat pad or hot water bottle on the area or taking over-the-counter medication in the “NSAID” category – such as Ibuprofen, Motrin, or Naproxen. (Tylenol can help, but NSAIDS work a LOT better!!) Some women have signs that their Period is coming, such as sore breasts or back pain. If you start taking medication when you see those signs, it can help greatly with the pain and even decrease how heavy the flow is.
Heavy flow is another problem for many women. Leaking through pads and tampons can be so embarrassing and disruptive to daily life. Thankfully nowadays we have birth control options that let us CONTROL our bleeding or even STOP them completely!! Some women don’t use them for birth control at all! Young girls, older women who are close to Menopause, and non-sexually active women still use birth control options to control their Periods, or to help with acne/pimples, or for many other reasons! If you don’t want to take medication, there are also more hygiene product options now, such as THINX (underwear that absorbs blood but stays dry and odor-free!)
Don’t ever be ashamed of your Period!! The Menstrual Cycle is a natural part of being a woman!! Without Ovulation and Periods, our species could not reproduce and live on! Society is slow to catch on, but we’re getting there! And remember, if you don’t like bleeding once a month, YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Talk to your doctor about birth control options used purely for Period control!