If you are currently committed to avoiding or postponing pregnancy, you’re probably familiar with the sense of satisfaction or even relief that accompanies the appearance of your period every month. The arrival of menstruation is almost a sure sign that you are indeed not pregnant, and that your chosen method of family planning is working well for you. But if you’ve ever had a late period while avoiding pregnancy, you’ve probably wondered, “Could I be pregnant? What happened? Should I be worried?” You might even spend money on a plethora of pregnancy tests from the drug store, relieved that they all read negative but all the more confused as days go by and your period doesn’t show up. What on earth is going on?
You can’t always avoid a late period, but you can avoid feeling confused or concerned about it. How you may ask?
First, a little Cycle 101. The menstrual cycle consists of several phases. The follicular phase, which is pre-ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary), the fertile window (the time around ovulation when conditions are right for conception), and the luteal phase (the post-ovulatory part of your cycle.) While the length of the follicular phase can vary, the luteal phase is generally stable. A healthy luteal phase is between 12-16 days long - you can count on it being nearly the same length every cycle. Once you ovulate, the luteal phase begins, as well as the countdown to your period.
With this in mind, there are really only two reasons why your period might be 'late'.
1. You’re pregnant. Depending on where you and your partner fall on the ‘trying to conceive/trying to avoid’ continuum, you may have mixed feelings about this. But if you had intercourse or genital contact during the fertile window, and you confirm ovulation, then there is a chance you've conceived. After spending roughly a week traveling from the fallopian tube to the uterus and then embedding in your uterine lining, your baby will start producing HCG hormone. Once your body registers this hormone, your normal cyclical activity is put on hold, and your next period doesn't come. So if your luteal phase is longer than normal, that's a true 'late period' and you can take a pregnancy test.
2. Ovulation didn’t happen, or was delayed.
However, if you didn’t ovulate, you may be watching the calendar expecting your period to arrive, but your body hasn’t even started the two week countdown yet. No ovulation, no luteal phase, no period. So your period appears ‘late’, but it’s actually ovulation that is late.
It's a myth that all women ovulate on day 14 of their cycles all of the time - a little variation is perfectly normal. Beyond that, ovulation can be significantly delayed or even prevented for any number of reasons: stress, illness, sudden weight loss or weight gain, hormone imbalance, etc.
So how can you know if and when you ovulate? How do you know if your long cycle is due to pregnancy or delayed ovulation?
A simple way to track ovulation is to practice fertility charting, or natural family planning. This is more involved than simply keeping track of your period dates - fertility charting involves observing and recording your physical signs of fertility, which provide information about your hormones throughout your cycle. These signs can show you when your body is preparing to ovulate, and confirm when ovulation has passed. By keeping a fertility chart, you can know for certain if ovulation has happened and when you should begin the lookout for your period.
By charting, you'll know if your period is truly 'late' (and that you're having a long luteal phase indicating possible pregnancy), or if the delay is simply the result of the timing of ovulation. You'll also be able decide whether or not to avoid intercourse during your potentially fertile window, thus avoiding pregnancy naturally and worry free! Learning to chart your fertility signs is a fascinating process that not only gives you valuable insight into the workings of your body, but also a sense of empowerment and confidence that you understand your own reproductive health and can make informed choices about when to engage in sexual activity.
Are you interested in learning more? Send me a message, browse this website, visit the Facebook page, or take a natural family planning course from me!