We asked the experts to answer all your most embarrassing period questions.
You’ve been having your period for years. You’d think you’d know all there is to know by now, but there are still things you’ve never quite gotten a straight answer about – or that you’ve always been too embarrassed to ask. After all, society already tries to make us ashamed of our periods.
We asked board certified gynecologic surgeon and founder of The Gynecology Institute of Chicago, Nicole E. Williams, MD, FACOG, to tackle the questions you won’t even ask your closest girlfriends and your gynecologist. Because men aren’t the only ones who don’t know all the facts about menstruation. Read and learn…
1. Why does my period start, then stop for a day or two, then start again?
You think you’ve gotten your period, when it disappears for a couple of days – only to reappear at an inopportune moment. It’s annoying, but is it normal? And why does it happen? Dr. Williams says it’s nothing to worry about. “The menstrual cycle is a shedding of the endometrial lining which usually comes off continuously. Sometimes the tissue does not shed evenly. This is not usually a cause for concern.”
2. Should I worry if my cycle is super short?
Cycles vary in length, but if you’re getting your period every 21 days or more often, Dr. Williams advises getting checked out. “Shorter menstrual cycles may indicate some type of hormonal imbalance, not to mention the inconvenience of having your period so often.”
3. How much blood do I actually lose during my period?
Blood loss varies from woman to woman, but is generally between four tablespoons and one cup. It can seem like more when it soaks a tampon, but it’s usually not actually that much.
4. Are menstrual cups safe to use?
5. What’s better for my body, tampons or pads?
‘It’s really a personal preference; that’s why we have so many ways to handle menstruation,” says Dr. Williams. “We evolved periods as a way to protect ourselves against multiple pregnancies that don’t stick. How you choose to manage [your period] depends on your lifestyle.” So, do what works best for you.
6. Is it safe to have sex when I’m on my period?
Carrie Coleman, MD an OB/GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, gives the green light to have fun when it’s that time of the month, but warns agains skipping your normal method of protection. “Basically, ensuring you have good contraception and STI (sexually transmitted infection) prevention throughout the menstrual cycle should make it even more safe and enjoyable.”
7. Can having my period really “flush out” a yeast infection?
This one’s a myth, says Dr. Williams. “The yeast can cling to the sides of the vagina, and symptoms can recur right after menstruation.” Avoiding sugar and consuming plenty of good bacteria can help fight yeast infections, however. We’ll just be over here eating yogurt…
8. Why do I feel like I’m coming down with the flu right before I start my period?
“This is usually due to a shift in your hormones, primarily progesterone, which may cause mood swings, GI upset, and even flu-like symptoms of fatigue,” explains Dr. Williams. It’s definitely not all in your head.
9. Should I be worried if I see clots coming out during my period?
Sometimes when you have heavy flow, your body doesn’t have time to break down thick menstrual blood, resulting in clots. It’s nothing to worry about, unless the clots are bigger than the size of a quarter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
10. Are bad cramps normal? How much pain is okay, and when should I see a doctor?
“‘Bad’ cramps are not normal and should be evaluated by a physician,” says Dr. Williams. “If your cramps are not alleviated with traditional over the counter medications, you may have another condition such as endometriosis or adenomyosis – disorders with the uterus and menstrual tissue.” So, if popping a pain reliever doesn’t help, get yourself to the gyno to see what’s up.
11. Why do I bleed during the middle of my cycle sometimes?
The doctors behind the fertility awareness app Kindara explain that when you ovulate – usually mid-cycle – there is a dip in estrogen levels, when can cause spotting. In other words, this type of spotting is nothing to worry about, and a sign that all is working as it should.
12. What exactly is in menstrual blood, anyway?
Menstrual blood is made up of old parts of uterine tissue, cells from the mucus lining of the vagina, and bacteria that makes up the vaginal flora. Fun fact: it’s perfectly normal for period blood to be different colors throughout your cycle.
13. Is menstrual blood good for plants, my skin, or any other crazy things I read online?
“It is highly unlikely that menstrual blood is good for anything other than holding babies-to-be,” says Dr. Williams. “Once it is shed, the tissue and blood are just that: tissue and blood. It’s unlikely to make your skin better or your plants grow.” But pregnant ladies, listen up. “The placenta does contain progesterone, the pregnancy hormone, and other hormones and microorganisms made for fetal support. If you want to put that on your plant (or on your face), it’s your choice!” laughs Dr. Williams.
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