What is Menstruation?

6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Menstrual Bleeding

Woman with stomach ache period pain
Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

Menstruation has many names -- your period, monthly cycle, mensies, even Aunt Flo. Regardless of what you call it, menstruation is vaginal bleeding that occurs monthly in adolescent girls and premenopausal women.

During the monthly menstrual cycle, your hormones prepare your uterus (womb) for pregnancy. If you become pregnant, then your period usually doesn't return until after childbirth. If you don't become pregnant, then you shed the thickened lining of your uterus (the endometrial lining) and extra blood through your vagina.


What You Should Know About Your Period

Menstruation a totally normal process that happens to virtually every woman. And yet there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Here are six facts to demystify that time of the month:

Fact #1: What's Considered Day 1

The first day you experience any amount of bleeding is considered Day 1 of your menstrual cycle. While most menstrual cycles are 28 to 30 days long, periods that come anywhere from 21 to 35 days apart are usually considered normal.

Fact #2: Your Period May Change

Your period may not be the same every month—and that's okay. It may also be different than other women's periods (also okay). Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy in terms of the amount of blood. This is called menstrual flow. What's considered a normal amount of blood loss during menstruation varies. For the majority of women, however, it ranges from four to 12 teaspoons. 

Fact #3: You Should Change Your Sanitary Product Frequently

You should change a pad before it becomes soaked with blood.

You should change a tampon at least every four to eight hours. Try to use the lowest absorbency tampon needed for your flow. For example, use Lite or Regular tampons on the lightest days of your period, and reserve the Super and Super Plus tampons for your heaviest days only.

Fact #4: Every Woman's Cycle Is Unique

Most periods last from three to five days, but some last up to seven days.

 For the first few years after menstruation begins, longer cycles are common. With age, a woman's cycle tends to shorten. 

Fact #5: Not Having Your Period Is a Medical Condition

Not having a period? That's what's known as amenorrhea. The term is used to describe the absence of a period in girls who haven’t started menstruating by age 15. Women and girls who've gone without a period for 90 days also have amenorrhea. Causes can include pregnancy, breastfeeding, extreme weight loss, stress, or something more serious like a medical condition. In some cases, not having menstrual periods can mean that your ovaries have stopped producing normal amounts of estrogen.

Fact #6: You May Wan to See Your Doctor About Painful Periods

Dysmenorrhea is when you have painful periods, including severe cramps. Menstrual cramps in teens are caused by too much of a chemical called prostaglandin. In older women, the pain is sometimes caused by uterine fibroids or endometriosis. Over-the-counter pain medicines (including Ibuprofen and Naproxen) can help alleviate cramps.

For more information, be sure to read When To See Your Doctor About Your Menstrual Cycle.

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