Most people with a uterus have experienced the menstrual cycle firsthand, but many of us still don’t fully understand its importance. The menstrual cycle is often seen as something to endure each month rather than a tool for understanding our general well-being.
Taking the time to learn about your menstrual cycle and how to interpret your menstrual blood flow can help you better understand and track your reproductive health.
The menstrual cycle is not just a period
The menstrual cycle, generally lasting 21-35 days, is the natural process biologically female bodies go through that makes pregnancy possible.
Often, people use the terms “menstrual cycle” and “menstruation” interchangeably. In reality, your menstrual cycle involves much more than just menstruation or your period. The menstrual cycle is made up of four stages. The follicular phase, the ovulatory phase, the luteal phase, and the menstrual phase.
The nuances of menstruation
The amount of blood flow during the menstrual phase of the cycle differs from person to person. Paying attention to our cycles can help us identify potential health changes or concerns.
Fluctuations in cycle length or missed periods can be caused by reproductive conditions that would be good to discuss with a healthcare professional. For example, excessive bleeding or heavy periods could signal endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). On the other hand, lighter bleeding or skipped periods could indicate that you’re not ovulating regularly. This can be caused by undernutrition, high stress, or sometimes an underlying ovarian condition.
The power of cycle tracking
Try charting your flow over several months to better understand how your body experiences the menstrual cycle. Throughout the cycle, take note of physical symptoms like cramping or headaches and emotional symptoms like anxiety or moodiness.
During menstruation, pay attention to the color and texture of your period. Even things that seem like minor details can actually tell you a lot about your health.
Dark red blood could indicate a slower flow rate which could mean higher hormone levels or a longer-than-average cycle length. Darker red or brown blood often occurs at the very beginning or end of your period.
Pink or light red blood suggests faster discharge from the body and may be a combination of period blood and cervical fluid. In addition, pink blood could indicate low hormone levels or a shorter-than-average cycle length. Sometimes this can be caused by hormonal birth control, which lowers your estrogen levels.
Occasionally pink period blood can be caused by anemia, nutrition changes, or significant weight loss. If you experience pink blood along with other symptoms, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor.
Orange blood is also often a mixture of period blood and cervical fluid. Sometimes orange blood is a sign of an infection. Talk to your doctor if you experience orange blood flow along with symptoms like vaginal discomfort, itching, or an unusual odor.
Bright red blood generally represents fresh blood and part of a steady flow, usually right in the middle of your cycle.
Thicker menstrual blood is often associated with clotting, which is usually normal and healthy. Clots form when the body releases a large amount of hormones at once during ovulation; these clots may also appear when there is excess estrogen. Clots that are darker in color could indicate a circulatory system issue or dehydration.
A thinner or more watery flow can point to hormonal imbalances or infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Spotting between periods is another thing to pay attention to. Spotting is often completely normal, but sometimes it can be a symptom of underlying issues like high stress, thyroid problems, or fibroids.
Paying attention to period pains
When tracking your menstrual cycle, it’s also important to note any pain or symptoms you experience before, during, and after your period. Cramps before or during a period can indicate excess prostaglandin hormones. These hormones regulate muscle contractions that help your uterus shed the lining it has built up.
If you have too much prostaglandin, you may experience unusually painful periods. Doctors can prescribe medication to block prostaglandin production and reduce your discomfort.
On the other hand, dull pain after your period can be a sign of inflammation in your muscles. Sometimes lifestyle adjustments like adding more yoga or stretching to your routine can help you feel better in this phase of your cycle.
Knowing your body
In addition to understanding these factors, changes in your period can also provide clues about overall health. For example, if you notice consistently light periods after having had heavy ones, this may point towards decreased hormone production due to stress or age factors.
Generally, the more acquainted you are with your flow, the better you will recognize if something has changed. Changes to your symptoms or blood flow are good to bring up at your next medical appointment.
Charting your flow in the Oova App
If you are an Oova user, you will have noticed that we ask for the first day of your most recent period. This is important information to enter so that Oova’s algorithm can get to know your personal cycle. Once the algorithm knows when your cycle started, it will accurately be able to tell you when to take each scan.
In the app, you have four options for how to define your period flow.
Spotting: Spotting means that blood only appears when wiping, but you don’t need a pad or tampon. In the app, we do not consider spotting to be the first day of your period.
Light: A light flow means that the bleeding is enough to require a panty liner or, if using a pad or tampon, the bleeding will not soak through a single pad or tampon in 3 hours.
Moderate: Moderate bleeding means soaking through 1 pad or tampon in 3 hours.
Heavy: Heavy bleeding means that you are soaking through more than one pad or tampon in under 3 hours.
If you haven’t had your period in a couple of months, you can still use the Oova Test Kit. It will be more difficult for the algorithm to time exactly when you should start using Oova until we collect enough data. However, you can begin testing at any point, and the algorithm will figure out your cycle once it collects your baseline and daily hormone levels.
For users who haven’t had a period recently, we recommend testing for more than 15 days to fully understand where you are in your cycle.
It’s key to remember that every individual person’s menstrual cycle is different. Therefore, to make well-informed decisions about our bodies, we must understand them. Educating yourself about the menstrual cycle can help you feel more in control of your health which can be empowering. In addition, noticing subtle changes in our period can help us figure out what is going on in our bodies so that we are prepared to take action.
- Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (n.d.) my.clevelandclinic.org
- What Your Period Says About Your Health. (n.d.) www.nm.org
Life With Oova
Join our community
Share your own stories with #MyFertilityTranslator