8 Things Every Woman Should’ve Learned About Her Period (But Never Did)

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Menstruation is a part of most
women’s lives for years (and years): Menopause typically begins around age 50, and girls tend to get their periods somewhere between 12 and 13 -although puberty is beginning at younger and younger ages. Which means, women generally deal with their periods for roughly four decades
(and use around 11,800 tampons,
according to some estimates
floating around on the Internet).
But how much do we really know
about menstruation? Between
botched sex-ed classes; rushed
doctor’s visits; pop culture portrayals that make our periods seem epically icky; and Dr. Google being a notoriously unreliable source, many of us have significant gaps in our
menstruation know-how. And it matters. “I think it’s good for women to know about how their bodies
function,” explained Lois McGuire,
a women’s health nurse
practitioner and instructor in
obstetrics and gynecology with
the Mayo Clinic, It helps us know
what’s typical, personally, and
what’s not, so we can flag their
health care team if something’s
off.
Here, in no particular order, are
just eight of the things we should
all know about our periods, but
that nobody bothered to tell us.
Huzzah, to period wisdom!

1.There Is Such A Thing As Too
Much Flow.
“A lot of adolescents get these
‘blow out’ periods, and they have
no idea that they’re too heavy —
or that there are things they can
do to help control them,” said
McGuire. “They just assume that
everyone’s [period] is this way.”
While having a heavy flow is
relatively common (and most
women tend to bleed more in the
first few days), if you find yourself needing to change your pad or tampon more than every two to three hours, or if your period lasts longer than seven days, it’s likely time to talk to a health care provider about your
options. Hormonal birth control
can help decrease the amount of
flow a woman experiences, as
can certain pain relievers. There’s
also a small chance that heavy
flow is a sign of menorrhagia, a
term used to define periods that
are so intense, they keep a
woman from doing her usual
activities. The bottom line — if
you think your flow is
abnormally heavy, ask!

2. Pain Relief Requires
Foresight …
For women who have painful
periods (and evidence suggests
there’s a lot of us out there),
getting relief from cramping and
other common physical
symptoms often requires taking
over-the-counter pain relievers
before any bleeding even starts.
“If you take [medication] when
the symptoms are already bad,
you’re behind the ball,” said
McGuire. “If your periods are
pretty regular, and if you know
you start on a Wednesday or
Thursday, for example, I might
start dosing on a Tuesday.”
Research also suggests that
certain lifestyle changes — like
getting plenty of exercise and
sleep, eating healthy foods and
finding ways to relax — can help
provide some women with some
relief.

3.And Your Period Shouldn’t
Mess Up Your Life.
“In most instances, your period
should not keep you from your
normal activities,” said Dr. Mary
Rosser, an assistant professor
and attending physician in
obstetrics and gynecology at
Montefiore Medical Center in the
Bronx. “Studies have shown that
90 percent of women will
experience some symptoms,
[but] mostly mild. And 10 to 20
percent will have symptoms that
interfere with normal activities.”
Those symptoms can crop up
when you’re actively bleeding, or
as a part of PMS, which occurs
because of hormonal changes in
the week or two prior to your
period. See your doctor if you
have you have cramps that keep
you from doing your normal,
daily activities, or PMS symptoms
that interfere with your day-to-
day.

4. You Can Get Pregnant During
Your Period.
It’s highly unlikely, but it is
possible for you to become
pregnant during your period. As
Health.com explains, some
women have long periods that
overlap with the beginning of
ovulation — even though they’re
still menstruating. Or, as Dr.
Michele Hakakha, an OBGYN and
author of Expecting 411: Clear
Answers and Smart Advice for
Your Pregnancy, told
Parents.com: “A woman with a
shorter menstrual cycle (24 days,
for example), could have seven
days of bleeding, have
intercourse on her final day of
bleeding and ovulate three days
later. Since sperm live for three to
five days, she could definitely get
pregnant.”

5. You Have Your Own Discharge
Pattern — And It’s More Complex
Than You Think.
When it comes to the complete
menstrual cycle, every woman
has a slightly different pattern.
However, most women bleed,
then are dry for a few days, then
experience a light, mucus-like
discharge (pre-ovulation) that
becomes increasingly cloudy and
thick (a sign that ovulation has
likely ended). “What’s different
from one woman to another is
the quantity of discharge,”
McGuire said. “It’s just like how
some people have oily skin, and
others have dry skin.” Clueing
into your own pattern is just
good practice, namely so you
have a sense of what is
happening in your body and can
watch out for any changes.

6. Even If You’re Regular, You
Might Not Be Totally Regular.
First thing’s first: there is no one
typical cycle — cycles can range
from 21 to 35 days, said Rosser.
Teen girls’ cycles can last
anywhere from 21 to 45 days.
And “most women do not get
their period on the exact same
day of the month,” Rosser added.
“That is normal!” Think about it —
most months have 30 or 31 days
in them, so even if your cycle is
100-percent precise, your period
won’t start on exactly the same
day or date every month.
In addition, it is not necessarily
uncommon to have one or two
abnormal periods per year,
Rosser said, adding that irregular
or missed periods can come from
a variety of causes, including
illness, stress, significant weight
loss or gain, or pregnancy. If
you’re feeling totally fine
otherwise, but your period is
irregular, it’s typically OK to just
wait until your next period, she
said. But if that irregularity
becomes persistent, or if you
have any concerns, you should
see your health care provider.

7. How You Deal With Hygiene
Is Important.
Sure, movies and TV shows tend
to portray women’s periods as
somehow “gross,” but
menstruation is a perfectly
normal biological process and
women shouldn’t go overboard
in the hygiene department,
McGuire says. “Most patients are
too aggressive with cleaning,”
she said. “It’s good to use a soap
that has a pH that’s similar to
your own body’s … no douches,
no powders, no talcs, no perfume
sprays, none of the wipes that
are so popular now, because they
can cause irritation.” In fact,
McGuire said she frequently
encounters women who think
they’re having problems with
vaginitis or other bacterial
infections, but really, they’re just
being overzealous in cleaning
themselves with harsh soaps.

8. When Your Mom Stopped
Getting Her Period Matters For
You.
“In many cases, our moms never
talked to us about when they
went through menopause,” said
Dr. Shannon Laughlin-Tommaso,
an assistant professor of
obstetrics and gynecology with
the Mayo Clinic — but it has
implications for when you might
stop getting your period. In fact,
the age at which your mother
went through menopause is one
of the biggest predictors for
when you will, Laughlin-
Tommaso said. And that’s
extremely useful information to
have, because there’s significant
range — the average age at which
a woman has her last period is
51, but anything between age 40
and 56 is within the normal
range, she said.

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