Irregular periods: how to tell what’s normal for you

Every body is different, so it’s no surprise to learn that every period is different too. And as someone with a period, you might already know how all over the place they can be.

Some months it can seem like there’s more blood than usual. In other months, it might show up fashionably late – days past its routine arrival. And short of having psychic powers, our periods are the one thing we can’t predict (trust us, we’ve tried).

Although irregular periods can be totally normal, they can also be a cause for concern. And if what you’re after is finding out what ‘regular’ really means, you’re in the right place. Today we’re exploring the ins and outs of an irregular period, what can cause them and how to manage their unpredictability.


So – what is an irregular period?

First things first: how do we define irregular? Typically your menstrual cycle involves the uterine lining shedding in response to various hormones. And as we’re all told, it should be pretty consistent. So an irregular period is a menstrual cycle that varies from the norm.

But how long is a period cycle? For most people, a menstrual cycle ranges from 21 to 35 days, with 28 days being the average. The length of your period can also differ, with most people bleeding anywhere from 3 to 7 days.

Dr Soma, from the Athena Women’s Clinic, is a GP obstetrician with 15 years of experience in gynaecology and obstetrics. As she explains, ‘regular’ can look different for everyone. Instead it’s about what’s regular for you.

“An irregular menstrual cycle can be anything that’s not normal for that person,” she says. “Normal variations can happen in anyone’s cycle.”

For some, their periods follow the same approximate cycles (where roughly every 28 days they’ll bleed for 5 of those days). Others will find that their cycles are slightly longer or shorter each month. Getting in tune with your body is the best way to determine your version of normal.


The signs of an irregular period

As well as the timing being out of whack, irregular periods are also those where you get unusual bleeding or abnormal symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • Spotting and bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Bleeding after you’ve reached menopause
  • Heavier bleeding during periods

It’s also worth noting that cycles change throughout our lives. For the first couple of years, periods can be wildly inconsistent, with some cases where they can take up to 6 years to settle down. If you’re currently going through puberty and are noticing unusual symptoms, just know that irregularities with your bleeding during this time are part and parcel of the experience.


What are the causes of an irregular cycle?

Our bodies are clever things, sometimes tipping us off when other things might be going on. These common causes of an irregular cycle are worth checking out if your periods are changing.

  • Pregnancy. If you’re having sex and your period is irregular, taking a pregnancy test can rule this out. A missed or unusual period can be one of the early signs of pregnancy.
  • Weight changes. Extreme weight loss or weight gain or excessive exercise can cause an irregular period. Often a change in periods can be a symptom for people experiencing eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia.
  • Stress. We all tolerate stress differently. And for some of us, it can cause irregularities in our cycles. The higher cortisol levels in the body can lead to lighter, delayed or missed periods.
  • Medications and contraception. The pill or an intrauterine system (IUS) can impact periods. And this is true whether you’re starting, stopping or swapping them over. Likewise, anti-inflammatory and hormone medications can also affect your cycle.
  • Medical conditions. There are many medical reasons why your period might be late or irregular, including uncontrolled diabetes, hyperprolactinemia and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). “One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods,” says Dr Soma. “And many people struggle with this in varying degrees of impact.”


Tips for managing irregular menstrual cycle

A period that’s never on time is not what we had in mind when we asked for a surprise. But if yours is famous for being erratic, there are ways to manage it. Check out these tips that’ll help you deal with an irregular menstrual cycle.

  • Be prepared. Modibodi period undies eliminate surprises by keeping you protected – and comfy – all day and night. With options in swimwearsleepwearactivewear and everyday undies, there’s something to suit whatever’s happening.
  • Learn your cycles. Life can get in the way of remembering the most basic things, so keeping track of your period feels impossible. However, Dr Soma advises keeping a cycle diary so you know what your normal looks like. “Learn your cycle and become aware of what’s happening with your body,” she says. To do that, you can track periods digitally using one of the many apps available or a simple handwritten diary.
  • Consider medication. Some medications can help with irregular cycles and bring consistency. The contraceptive pill, tranexamic acid and hormone therapy are options worth discussing with your doctor to see if any are a good fit for you.
  • Focus on health. Prefer a natural approach? Some studies suggest that yoga, regular exercise and a healthy diet can all help get your period back on track. Check in with your body and mind regularly to see if there’s anything they need.

    Preparing for the unpredictable

    As you’ve probably guessed, your period is pretty happy doing its own thing. But if the irregularity of your cycle is concerning or you just want to learn more, chat with your doctor. In the meantime, leave the surprises for the good stuff, and check out Modibodi’s range of period undies.


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