How Do Periods Work?

Bleeding once a month can be a pretty weird experience when you first go through it. Here, Fumble talks about the mechanics of having a period

When girls and people who are born with female reproductive systems begin to go through puberty, their bodies start to change.

As the hormones that trigger puberty start to take effect, your menstrual cycle, or period, will begin. This usually happens around the age of 11, and most people’s periods will start by the age of 14 – but it could happen at any point between the ages of 8 and 17 years old! Let’s look at this in more detail. 

What is a menstrual cycle? 

The term ‘menstrual cycle’ refers to the journey your body goes through every month. It’s sometimes used to describe your period itself, because that is what begins the cycle, but this is just one stage in a process that lasts an average of 28 days. 

In the middle of your menstrual cycle, your body ovulates – which is when your ovaries release an egg. The egg travels down your fallopian tubes to your uterus, where it hangs around for about 24 hours. If the egg runs into any sperm during that time, you can get pregnant. 

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Every month during this process, your womb or uterus builds a thick lining that will help you get pregnant. Every month you don’t get pregnant, this lining, which is mostly made up of blood, is shed by your body and exits your uterus through the vagina. If you do get pregnant, the lining delivers nutrients to the baby growing in your uterus – so your period stops. 

What will my period look like? 

We all know what blood looks like, but period blood can be quite different to the kind you get from a paper cut. It can range through a lot of different colours from pale pink to dark brown, and varies a lot in consistency. 

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Sometimes you may pass thick or clotted blood while on your period, and sometimes it will be pale and watery – this is all completely normal. It can feel as though you are bleeding a lot, but the average person will only pass between three to five tablespoons of blood over the course of their period. If you are worried about how heavily you are bleeding during your period, go and have a chat with your GP. 

How long will my period last? 

A period normally lasts between 3 and 8 days, but for the average person will last about 5 days. However, some people will experience longer and shorter periods than this, especially when  first settling in to their cycle. 

The first 2 days will normally be the heaviest in terms of bleeding. However, there will also be months where the bleeding is lighter or heavier than usual across the board. This is all normal! 

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Why is my cycle so irregular? 

We’ve already talked about the average cycle lasting around 28 days. However, it’s very common for periods to start sooner or later than this; they can range from anything between 20 and 40 days apart! 

When your period first starts, it can take a while for your body to settle into a regular cycle. So don’t worry too much if things can be a bit hit-and-miss. If your period is very delayed and you’re concerned, go and see your GP. 

How can I manage my period? 

There are lots of different products that can help you manage your period. Lots of people use sanitary towels or tampons, which you can buy at most supermarkets and chemists. Menstrual cups are also becoming increasingly popular. Take the time to figure out what works for you. 

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If you go to school in Scotland, you should now be able to get period products for free at your school. Sadly this is not yet universal in the rest of the UK, but it could still be worth checking with your school nurse to see if they have any you could use. If you are struggling to afford period products, check out places like the Red Box Project and Bloody Good Period to find locations where you can access them for free. 

What are some of the common side effects I might experience? 

Everyone experiences their menstrual cycle differently. For some people, it will rarely cause any trouble besides the minor inconvenience of some blood in your underwear. 

However, periods can sometimes be uncomfortable or painful. It is not unusual to experience cramps in your lower stomach before or during your period, and some people can also feel sick. This is because your womb is contracting as it gets ready to expel the lining of your uterus. 

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Some things that might help with this: 

🔴 Taking a painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

🔴 Warming up a hot water bottle, or hot beanie, and placing it over your stomach.

🔴 Having a hot bath

🔴 Taking some gentle exercise, such as a brisk walk, or some stretching. 

If you are in so much pain that your daily activities are restricted, you could have a chat with your GP about how to best manage your symptoms.

You may also feel unhappy, cross, or generally blue around the time of your period. This can be part of something called Pre-Menstrual Stress, or PMS for short. We have more on that here.

In summary… 

Having a period is a natural and normal part of growing up, and a sign that your body is working the way it is supposed to! It is not wrong or dirty, and you should never feel embarrassed by it. 

If you’re interested in learning more about your period, you can check out these great websites: Brook, NHS Periods, and this useful leaflet from the FPA. 

Happy Perioding! 

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