Your period isn’t an exact replica of anyone else’s, and that’s okay.
This article exists because I was thinking about my period. How, for as long as I can remember, since I’ve had a regular period, I’ve had strong flow for three days, and then, on the fourth day, the flow stops being as intense, and it’s as though it’s all over. I somehow managed to be fooled into thinking it has ceased, until the next day, when it returns and hangs out for another day or two. This pause has been part of my period experience for a really long time, and there’s nothing nefarious going on, but why does it happen?
First of all, it’s okay if the flow of your period isn’t the same every day, or every time. We have gotten deeply trapped within the idea that there’s such a thing as a perfect period, when in fact, every period has its own rhythm and its own blips.
“You’re going to have variations in your period,” says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, an Integrative Medicine physician who practices traditional Chinese medicine. “There are a million and one reasons why your period acts like it does.”
There are a few reasons for that pause, and they include the possibility that there’s a chunk of tissue blocking your cervix and it needs to pass before the flow can resume. Also, estrogen and progesterone levels change during your period, so the flow is going to be different throughout – steadier bleeding at the beginning and less so towards the end, when estrogen levels start to elevate again. (Incidentally, when I did some poking around the Internet on the subject of this period quirk, I found a number of people who, upon hearing the question, responded that they had thought they were the only ones to whom this happened.)
“If something’s happening that’s not normal for you, take a breath,” Trattner advises. “Have some introspection. Think about if you’ve been stressed out, if you’ve been eating enough, if you’ve had a really bad month.” Trattner notes that a change in season can affect how periods look, as can sleep cycles.
It’s not that a change in your period never means anything is wrong – if your pause comes with pain, or continues for more than a day and then comes back, or the bleeding that follows it is super intense, you should see a doctor. That being said, be cautious of buying into the idea that the right kind of period, the period “everyone” has, is a flawless 28 day cycle. In order to actually evaluate what’s going on with your period, Trattner says, you need to understand what’s normal for you, take ownership of your cycle, instead of comparing your period to everyone else’s.
You can use a period tracker, those seemingly ubiquitous apps that vary in accuracy, especially for those with irregular periods, to see how things are going, or you could record things the old fashioned way, on paper. (Trattner told me she has 10 years worth of notes on her period in a FiloFax.)
“It’s especially important to keep track of your mood,” says Trattner, since clinicians can discern a lot about what’s happening in your body based on that. The same is true about your period, by the way. One of the first questions Trattner asks her patients is what their periods are like.
Another way to figure out patterns and what you might expect from your period, suggests Trattner, is to ask your family. What has your mother’s period looked like throughout her life? What about her mother’s? (A good argument for transparency about sex and bodies with more than one generation of a family – learning about your family’s health history from them is invaluable.)
It’s not only important to look closely at your cycle so you can tell if something is wrong, but so you aren’t constantly thinking that something is. We know that stress and anxiety can impact how your period acts, and understanding that something is normal and natural as opposed to potentially pathological can help keep you out of that anxiety spiral.
“Women are very quick to give power over their health away to others,” Trattner says, “when we should be keeping that power, honoring our bodies and what they do.”