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The menstrual cycle is a key part of a woman’s health, and it can tell us a lot about our overall well-being. Every woman’s cycle is different, but there are some common signs that show everything is working well. In this blog post, we’ll explore what makes a menstrual cycle healthy, including how long it should last, what a normal flow looks like, and how to know when to reach out for support. Understanding these basics can help you spot any potential issues early on and take better care of your hormonal health and fertility. 

Cycle Length

Contrary to popular belief, less than 15% of women have a 28-day cycle, rather a healthy normal cycle can fall anywhere between 24 to 36 days depending on when you ovulate. While some variation is normal, having a regular cycle means that the length of your cycle stays relatively consistent from month to month. Minor variations of a few days are usually not a cause for concern, but significant changes in cycle length could indicate hormonal imbalances. 

Red Flag: cycles that are consistently less than 24 days are considered short cycles while cycles over 36 days are considered long.

Menstrual Bleeding

The quality and quantity of your menstrual blood can give us good insight into our hormonal activity. Estrogen plays a key role in the menstrual cycle by helping the uterine lining grow and thicken during the first half of the cycle. This prepares the uterus for a possible pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t happen, estrogen levels drop, leading to the shedding of the uterine lining, which is your period. The amount of menstrual flow can give clues about our estrogen levels: a normal flow suggests balanced estrogen, while very heavy or light bleeding may indicate hormonal issues. Therefore, estrogen directly affects how much and how long you bleed during your period.

Duration: optimal duration of bleeding is 3-7 days.

Colour: The optimal color of menstrual blood is generally bright red to dark red. This color indicates fresh blood being shed from the uterine lining.

Flow: optimal flow consists of at least one day of moderate bleeding (requiring 3-4 pads or tampons) or heavy bleeding (requiring 4-5 pads or tampons). 

Red Flag: a period that has zero days of medium or heavy bleeding (only requiring 2 pads or tampons or less daily) or that is overly heavy lasting 8 days or more, requires you to change your pad or tampon more than every 2 hours, regularly soaks through clothing, requires you to wake up throughout the night to change your pad, and/or contains blood clots the size of a quarter or larger are all signs of possible hormonal imbalance.

Clear Signs of Ovulation

Ovulation is truly the superstar of the menstrual cycle and our ability to ovulate regularly is a good indicator of hormonal health. Regular ovulation is not only needed to make progesterone in the second half of the cycle to keep our uterine lining intact for pregnancy but also to prevent premenstrual symptoms like spotting, mood imbalances, fatigue, bloating and breast tenderness. Ovulation is also important for long term breast, bone and heart health in women. Below are some hormonal shifts that occur around ovulation.

Cervical fluid changes: Cervical mucus becomes increasingly more abundant, clear, stretchy, and/or slippery as you approach ovulation followed by a clear switch to dryness afterwards. Note that this would be something to observe externally while wiping after every trip to the washroom and does not require any internal observation.

BBT: A slight increase in basal body temperature occurs after ovulation due to the hormone progesterone. We call this pattern of lower temperatures pre-ovulation and slightly elevated temperatures post-ovulation, a biphasic pattern (biphasic, meaning having two phases).

Other: LH surge (positive ovulation test), mild cramping, increased libido, and a change in cervical position (higher and softer). 

Red Flag: less than 2 days of fertile quality fluid, no clear cervical fluid pattern after observing for at least 3 consecutive cycles, or unchanging fluid that persists all month long. Some other signs include no biphasic pattern of BBT temperatures, very long cycles (more than 36 days) or missing periods (absent for more than 3 cycles).

Luteal Phase length

The luteal phase is the second half of the menstrual cycle, starting after ovulation and ending with the onset of menstruation. A healthy luteal phase should be between 9 and 16 days. A luteal phase shorter than 9 days can indicate insufficient progesterone production, which may affect fertility and the regularity of menstrual cycles. 

Red Flag: a luteal phase shorter than 9 days, premenstrual spotting, trouble getting and/or staying pregnant.

Manageable Symptoms 

It is normal to experience some mild symptoms like increased appetite, need for more rest and mild cramping around your period due to hormonal changes but symptoms that feel overly intense or disruptive to your quality of life are not normal. 

Red Flags: severe cramps that require medication or for you to miss school or work, overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression, extreme irritability, persistent bloating, sleep issues, nausea or vomiting, debilitating fatigue and headaches or migraines are all signs of potential hormonal imbalances that require attention.

I created my free guide The Hormone Checklist to help women uncover the root cause of their hormonal symptoms and conditions. Download and take the quiz to discover what the root of your hormonal symptoms are so you can start implementing personalized strategies that will help to improve your hormonal health and fertility. I’ve also created a free digital webinar and e-book combo called Go With The Flow to help women better understand their body and cycles and how to support themselves in the different phases of the menstrual cycle. In this guide, I also explain the basics of how to pinpoint your own personal fertile window to increase the chances of conception in each cycle and/or to prevent pregnancy naturally. You can find both resources at www.jvictoriahealth.com.

To learn more about your hormones and fertility, you can also find me on Instagram @jvictoriahealth or by email at info@jvictoriahealth.com.

Feature image via https://drforghani.org/

GLW Contributors - Professionals in their field. Contributing to Girls Living Well their knowledge, experience and advice.

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