What to Expect When Your Period Normalizes.
Once you understand how your body works, you can treat yourself adequately and effectively.
Sixty-one women years ago completed a study with professor Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior. They struggled with irregular periods, regular cycles without ovulating, and a short phase between ovulation and their next bleed. They lived free of disease but under high levels of personal stress.
At the end of the year-long study half of those women walked away with a normal, fully restored period and ovulation.
Do you know why? Dr. Prior writes, “...these women’s perfectly normal menstrual cycles and ovulation, by the end of the study, were likely due to learning more about themselves in the supportive environment of a participatory, scientific study.”
And that’s what I’m trying to get you to do.
Learn about a normal cycle.
Understand where and why your cycle falls short.
Participate in restoring it to normalcy.
Because once you understand how your body works, you can effectively treat yourself.
If you recognize that a stressful week at work during your follicular phase will likely produce more cramps at your next bleed, you’ll add in more magnesium, relaxation techniques, and make sure your stock-piled with tried and true anti-cramping (anti-spasmotics) before your next period.
The farewell celebration at work won’t shake your resolve to avoid gluten and dairy when you know it makes you bleed heavier from the increased inflammation.
Missing your zinc supplements when you’re in menopause and want to prevent osteoporosis is non-negotiable so every morning you make time for breakfast to take it with a meal.
Knowing what’s normal for every stage of your cycle empowers you to live a peaceful, informed, healthy, self-loving life.
You can teach your loved ones and children how to be healthy as well.
Reproductive health is a report card for not only your cycle and sex hormones but for your overall health. What’s dysfunctional now can be a set-up for future disease and ailments.
The ultimate benefit - you live a longer, healthier quality of life because you’re in control.
That’s why you need to know what a normal period looks like.
Here are the details.
Day 1 - Day 5 to 7 of your cycle
Estrogen and progesterone fall toward the end of your last cycle making you bleed.
During this time you’re not feeling your best. Crampy, achy, and moody may describe you.
Read more about the shifts in your emotions during this time and what to do about it from this post.
But you’ll bleed smoothly without clots, cramping, heavy bleeds or PMS.
You’ll also bleed about 3 tablespoons worth of blood. Or, 5 - 10 partially and fully soaked regular pads or tampons over the entire 2 -7 days.
As your estrogen rises and uterine lining completes its shedding, your bleed wanes, coming to a complete stop.
Around day 5, the gland at the base of your skull - the anterior pituitary gland - makes follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) directing it to your ovaries.
This provokes a growth spurt in your follicles, the sacs that carry your eggs. Those sacs start producing estradiol, a form of estrogen, and you see your period bleed wane.
You also start feeling better. And by better, I mean a lot nicer, motivated, and content. You may crave sex more too.
Estrogen increases serotonin and dopamine which causes this mood boost. It also thickens your uterine lining in preparation for a fertilized egg to implant and grow a baby. And before ovulation, elevated estrogen - in the form of estradiol, a type of estrogen - changes your vaginal discharge to a slimy, slippery blog called cervical mucus. This helps sperm travel to the fallopian tubes faster than if they swam alone.
The follicular phase lasts for about 2 - 3 weeks depending upon the amount of FSH your pituitary forms. And it comes to an end at ovulation which luteinizing hormone signals.
LH, from your anterior pituitary, helps your follicle swell so it eventually releases the egg at ovulation. It also raises your temperature so you know ovulation is on the way.
Recording your temperature rise a few days before ovulation, maybe around day 8 of your cycle, and doing so until you bleed tells you a lot.
If you ovulated, your temperature will rise and remain steadily higher than in the earlier days of your cycle.
If you produce enough progesterone from ovulation, your temperature will remain steady until your next bleed.
The follicle that matured first - there were 6 - 12 follicles developing under the auspices of FSH - will swell and “pop” around day 14. It may not actually be day 14 because of normal, and healthy variations between women. But, after the follicular phase and during the rise in temperature that remains steady, you should ovulate.
Some women experience pain during ovulation called mittelschmerz. It can happen for two possible reasons.
The follicle swelling expands your ovary causing pain.
Or, when the follicle bursts, releasing blood and fluid, it irritates your abdominal lining causing pain.
The pain can alternate as you usually release an egg from one ovary one month and then the next ovary the following month. But again with healthy variation, that may not happen. So, you can experience mid-cycle pain in the same lower abdominal, diagonal location where your ovaries live.
After ovulation, the fallopian tubes pulsate like a jellyfish sweeping the egg into its tube. The egg travels to your uterus awaiting the sperm.
The follicular sac that housed the egg then transitions, or really it should be called Jekyll and Hydes, into a completely different structure called a corpus luteum.
Although not crazy like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the corpus luteum does only good by producing progesterone - the loving hormone.
If estrogen and progesterone where parents - estrogen would be your mama and progesterone would be your daddy.
Estrogen whips you up with energy, stimulates growth and metabolism in your bones, muscles, brain, heart, skin, etc. It does a lot of good things. But without balance, it also promotes breast cancer, suppresses thyroid hormone, and thickens your uterine lining.
So, progesterone, the sweet father figure comes in and calms your body down. It helps you sleep better, eliminates your anxiety, thins your uterine lining, boosts your thyroid hormone, reduces inflammation, and so much more.
(That’s why in estrogen dominant or excess situations you bleed more. Your bleed gets rid of your uterine lining since you didn’t get pregnant. The thicker your lining, the heavier your bleed and the more likely you are to pass large clots. When you don’t have enough progesterone to thin it out - making you estrogen dominant - you bleed heavier and longer.)
You need both. And while estrogen decreases during your luteal phase, progesterone holds down the fort as it rises. If you get pregnant, your corpus luteum maintains the pregnancy until the placenta can make enough progesterone. And, if you don’t get pregnant, in 10 to 16 days it degenerates causing your progesterone to drop. This signals the end of your cycle for that month and you move into your next bleed.
During perimenopause, things shift and can do so quite wildly. Although, I’ll talk in more detail about that and menopause in a future post, just understand that progesterone decreases, estrogen increases, and FSH may increase or decrease.
That means you can have shorter or longer periods. Heavier bleeding, cramping, and breast tenderness may be new symptoms. And then come emotional shifts with mood swings, increased anxiety, and insomnia.
Now that you know what normal looks like, pay attention to your next cycle and see what you experience.
You’ll need the following tools to do so:
Body basal thermometer that records to the first decimal like 98.1 degrees and not just 98 degrees
To measure your body temperature do the following.
Record your day 1 - the day of solid bleeding - not spotting.
On about day 5 onward take your temperature daily
Upon waking and before moving about or getting out of bed - use your thermometer to measure your temperature.
Record it in your period app
When/if it rises - make note of the new temperature, how long it remains elevated when it drops.
Determine how many days it stayed elevated - hopefully until your next bleed.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
How many pads/tampons do I use in a 2-hour window?
Are they heavily soaked or partially?
Am I bleeding more or less than what’s considered normal?
Does my temperature rise?
If I’m monitoring from day 8 onward then when does it rise?
And low long does it stay at that new temperature? Until my next bleed? If not, then when?
As we move through what’s normal to what’s abnormal with the weekly blogs, all this information will come in handy. You’ll learn how to “read” your bleed, what to do about any potential issues because of lifestyle or stress, how to support your period with the right supplements and foods from your deciphered symptoms, and how to develop a better period and healthier life.
If you're inspired to learn and do more, download the infographic "31 Natural Therapies for a PMS-Free Period." It offers a starting point for a healthy foundation if you have PMS or any other period issue. Many of the variations in reproductive health come back to the same underlying causes. So, you can help yourself with the infographic no matter what.
Until next time, keep it simple, scientific, and natural.
Sembulingam, K. and Sembulingam, P. Essential Medical Physiology. London: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers (P) LTD, 2012. Print.
Briden, Lara. Period Repair Manual, Second Edition: Natural Treatment For Better Hormones and Better Period. Greenpeak Publishing, 2017. Print.