What you need to know about healthy periods and how they affect your fertility
Any guys who are reading this might want to look away now. I’m about to go into a whole lot of detail about important ‘lady stuff’…
While most women don’t talk much about the ‘mechanics’ of periods, it’s actually very useful information to have, because it can give you clues about your hormonal health and fertility potential.
There are so many myths floating around about this time of the month, that it’s no surprise to find that women are often confused about whether their periods are ‘normal’ or not.
Menstrual periods can vary hugely, not only from month to month, but also from year to year, or due to different life events. Hopefully these tips will give you some clues as to what’s going on inside your body.
How far apart are your periods?
This is a very important question to answer if you are trying to conceive.
If your period is arriving too soon (i.e. anything less than 26 days, or with spotting leading up to the period) you could have something called ‘luteal phase defect’ where your progesterone levels are tailing off, causing the period to arrive early.
This is a problem for fertility because it could lead to early miscarriage or chemical pregnancies because the hormone levels aren’t high enough to sustain the pregnancy after implantation.
Thankfully, you can help this situation by taking progesterone support, but this should only be done after having your hormone levels checked to be sure that low progesterone is actually the root cause and that nothing else is going on.
If on the other hand, your periods are very far apart, (i.e. over 35 days) then you may have issues with ovulation and could have a tendency towards PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
What this means, is that your testosterone levels could be too high, which inhibits the normal function of the ovaries and oestrogen/progesterone levels. Even if your period is ‘regular’ (i.e. you always get your period every 40 days), it would still be advisable to have your hormones checked and consider an ultrasound scan to check the ovaries and see if there are any signs of cystic activity.
If you do receive a diagnosis of PCOS, there is plenty you can do to improve your symptoms.
According to the latest research, it’s true that a healthy period should be arriving in or around the 28 day mark. If it falls one or two days either side of that, it’s no cause for concern, as life events, such as flying abroad, falling ill, surgery or just dealing with stress can impact when the period arrives.
However, if you had been experiencing a regular period and notice that it has changed recently, it would be worth investigating to see what the underlying cause may be, especially if you are thinking of getting pregnant.
How light or heavy is the period?
There can be a huge amount of variation in the quality and amount of flow during a woman’s period.
It may not be dinner-party, or frankly anytime, conversation, yet it’s so important to be aware of what your period symptoms may be telling you each month.
If you have what would be described as ‘scanty’ or very light flow periods that last one to two days max, often starting with brown blood, before becoming red for a short while and then back to brown, this is not a good sign and should be investigated.
Women who fall into this category may be more prone to early miscarriage because the endometrial lining is not thick enough to support implantation. Hormonal health is generally the first area to explore, as well as anatomical issues if you recently had surgery (e.g. D & C or other abdominal procedure).
It’s not uncommon to find that a stressful life event such as a bereavement, loss of employment etc.. took place before the period quality started to change. If stress levels can be managed and a good quality diet and lifestyle habits maintained, the period quality should start to improve.
If your period is lasting over seven days, with extremely heavy flow, clotting and is very painful, you could be experiencing ‘oestrogen dominance’, which may in turn make you more vulnerable to the growth of fibroids or endometriosis.
Explorative surgery can be used to assess these conditions, as in the more complex cases, surgical removal of growths may be necessary to reduce the severity of the period symptoms.
It’s also important to rule out any growths in or around the uterus if you are trying to conceive, as otherwise your chances of success could be reduced or miscarriage could be more likely if the growths (e.g. fibroids, polyps, cysts, endometriosis patches) were not addressed.
So what’s the ideal period?
We know from the research that a healthy period should ideally be arriving around 28 days, should last about four days and the blood should be bright red, free of clotting and with minimal pain or discomfort. Women with these type of periods tend to find it easier to conceive and are less likely to experience miscarriage.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of women out there who have managed to conceive in spite of having erratic periods with varying flow.
However, if you have experienced problems conceiving or have dealt with miscarriage, then it would be worth focusing on this area to see if there is anything that needs to be improved, as it could affect your chances of success in the future.
Jessica Bourke is a Natural Fertility Specialist, who deals with all aspects of reproductive health. Her clinical approach is based on evidence-based nutrition protocols, acupuncture treatment, and she also offers functional lab tests to support you on your journey to parenthood. She's a regular contributor to Irish media and co-author of the 'Guilt Free Gourmet' cook-book. As a Mum of two, Jessica understands the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. For more, visit jessicabourke.com.