Menstrual cycles are a vital health indicator. The scientific community now recognizes our cycle as a key determinant of our overall health, holding equal significance to other vital signs such as heart rate, body temperature, respiratory function, and blood pressure. This means that it's also time for us women to recognize and honor our cycle as a vital part of our overall well-being.
Menstrual cycles are a vital health indicator. The scientific community now recognizes our cycle as a key determinant of our overall health, holding equal significance to other vital signs such as heart rate, body temperature, respiratory function, and blood pressure. This means that it's also time for us women to recognize and honor our cycle as a vital part of our overall well-being and to use our cycles as a better way to understand our bodies.
The first step to doing that is to determine what your unique cycle looks like. Keeping in mind that it will fluctuate throughout your life, having a baseline and determining what is normal for your body can help you spot any irregularities or changes that could potentially indicate an underlying health issue. Being attuned to your personal cycle patterns not only aids in understanding your body's rhythms but also empowers you to take charge of your health, and recognizing any sudden shifts in your cycle can guide you to seek professional medical advice when necessary.
It’s important to note that no woman has 28-day cycles every single month. There is no such thing as a perfect cycle or a perfect period. Every woman is different, and so is each cycle. That means we each have our unique definition of what makes up our “normal”.
We've pulled together averages across five key indicators*: length of cycle, length of menstruation, amount of bleeding, period color, and levels of pain to help you determine your own unique baseline.
Indicator 1: Cycle Length
The average cycle duration is 24 to 36 days. We recommend using a period-tracking app to help you record the length of your cycles.
Indicator 2: Period Duration
The average menstruation duration is three to seven days. Similarly, a period-tracking app can help you record this data.
Indicator 3: Amount of Blood
The first two to three days of your period will typically be the heaviest, with 90% of your total blood loss.
The average amount of bleeding each period is 25 to 80 mL. It might feel like a gallon of blood, but in fact it's only two to five tablespoons.
Indicator 4: Color of Blood
The normal period blood color is a variant of red, from bright red to deep burgundy or brown. It’s also normal to see shades of pink, red, and brown depending on what stage you’re at in your period. Menstrual fluid may or may not have an unpleasant odor, especially when it comes in contact with air.
Remember, the quality of your blood may vary from month to month, which is why it’s important to continue to observe what's happening every cycle and to use that as a way to tune into what your body needs.
Indicator 5: Levels of Pain
While period pain is common, severe menstrual pain is not normal and is a sign that something could be wrong. Our advice is never to ignore it, but rather to use this as an invitation to try to listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Indeed, debilitating, extreme pain is almost always a sign that something is wrong and could be associated with endometriosis or other conditions. Read more about this here.
We recommend seeing a healthcare professional if this has been your experience.
It’s important to emphasize that every woman is different and no two cycles are the same. Although some variation between cycles is totally normal, you should be more or less consistent with what’s normal for you. Consult your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following symptoms:
The duration or frequency of your period suddenly changes.
Your period blood suddenly gets heavier or lighter.
You bleed between your periods.
You haven’t gotten your period in 90 days.
You are experiencing extremely painful periods that stop you from carrying out your daily activities.
You notice any other symptoms that don’t feel normal to you.
A final note
Navigating the intricacies of your menstrual cycle can seem daunting, but it's a journey well worth taking. By understanding the unique rhythm of your cycle and your own baseline or “normal”, you empower yourself to take proactive steps in managing your health. As we've explored, your menstrual cycle isn't just about having your period; it's a complex process indicative of your overall wellbeing.
Remember, while we've shared averages for various indicators, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' model for menstrual cycles. Yours will be as unique as you are, and that's perfectly okay. Listen to your body, trust your instincts, and never hesitate to seek professional advice when something doesn't feel right.
*These indicators are based on cycles that are not influenced by hormonal contraceptives.
The fifth vital sign: master your cycles and optimize your fertility Hendrickson-Jack & Briden – Fertility Friday Publishing Inc. – 2019