Ah, periods; those lovely monthly visitors that all women have to deal with but few of us want to talk about. Many of us have negative feelings about our periods, whether we dread them, resent them, are mildly annoyed by them, or simply find them embarrassing. This is unfortunate, because a period is actually a truly incredible thing. Here are four facts about your period that might just help you feel a little more warm and fuzzy about that time of the month.
1. A period isn’t just a period
Menses, which is a woman’s monthly bleeding, is actually only a small part of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle encompasses everything that happens between the start of one period and the next. The 3-7 days of bleeding that happens in the beginning is clearly the most recognizable part of this cycle, but it is certainly not the only part nor the most important.
Most women know that a period is when your uterus sheds the lining that it has been building up throughout the month. This lining is meant to sustain and nourish a baby; and if conception doesn’t occur and this lining isn’t needed, it simply sheds away and a new period begins.
Between two periods, however, an incredible cycle takes place. Your brain and your reproductive organs communicate using chemical messengers called hormones, which have varying effects on your body. Your uterine lining grows and changes. A follicle in your ovary prepares and then releases an egg. Estrogen rises and falls. Progesterone appears. Your cervix alters shape and secretes a special fluid, which changes in consistency and chemical makeup as the weeks go on. Your body temperature fluctuates. All of these processes are connected to each other, depend on each other, and have a specific purpose in your body. And when it’s all over, your period comes and everything starts anew. This vibrant and delicate balance is what dictates your fertility, and the bleeding you see every month is only a very small part of the incredible work your body is doing. Pretty neat, huh?
2. Your period is good for you
All of the hormonal changes associated with your cycle affect your reproductive system, but they have an influence on other bodily symptoms as well. Ovulation (the release of an egg) has been linked to bone health. Your hormone levels influence everything from mood, sleep, energy, metabolism, to creativity. Your period itself is part of your reproductive organs’ self-cleansing system, taking care of any built up tissue or bacteria that may have accumulated throughout the month. Allowing your body to cycle naturally, without being deterred or suppressed by the presence of hormone-mimicking chemicals or devises, is a wonderful to way to encourage optimal health.
3. Not all women have 28 day cycles, and that’s okay.
There are all sorts of myths surrounding what is normal for your period, and the ’28 day cycle’ is one of them. Not all women have perfect, 28 day cycles, or even have cycles exactly the same number of days each month. A woman’s cycle can vary in length up to a week without anything being wrong! So next time your period is ‘late’, don’t panic right away – it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re unintentionally pregnant or sick. And it’s also not quite true that worrying about your late period can delay it even longer, but that’s a topic for another article.
4. Your period is trying to talk to you.
This stuff about your cycle is pretty fascinating and everything, but you might be wondering: how is this relevant? Is this information useful at all? Very useful, in fact.
The processes described above may seem mysterious, but many of them give off physical signs that can be easily detected by the average woman (no lab tests or invasive procedures required!) A woman can learn to observe these signs, write down what she observes in a chart, and then interpret what that chart means. Because this chart represents actual physiological processes at work in her body, it can show a woman a number of things, such as:
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