Paying close attention to your menstrual cycle and period can help you spot possible symptoms of a health problem, including infertility symptoms. But how can you know if something is wrong if you're not sure what's normal?
Many women aren't sure if they have a normal period or not. Talking to friends isn't always helpful, since the range of normal can be wide. And this assumes period-talk is common with your friends! Even the closest buddies may not reveal how many days they bleed or discuss mid-cycle spotting.
Something to keep in mind as you review what's normal and what's not is that when your period just begins after puberty, it's normal for your cycle to be a little off as a teenager. The same goes for the years just before you reach menopause.
Also keep in mind that if your periods suddenly change, even if those changes fall within the norm, you should speak to your doctor. While the below list talks about the normal for the general population, you should also pay attention to your personal "normal."
How Many Days of Bleeding Are Normal?
The average woman bleeds for three to five days, but it's normal to bleed for as few as two days or as many as seven days.
It can also be normal to bleed beyond seven days if it's just spotting. However, if you experience heavy flow beyond seven days, it is not considered to be normal.
How Much Blood Is Normal?
Though it can look like much more, the average woman bleeds just two tablespoons worth of blood during their period. Two to three times as much is also considered to be normal.
It's not considered normal to need to change your pad in the middle of the night or to pass large clots (golf ball size or larger). Small, tissue-like clots on the first day or two of your period can be normal.
Experiencing a heavier flow during the first few days of your cycle is normal, but it should not be so much that you need to change your pad or tampon more often than every hour or every two hours.
If you find yourself changing pads every hour for two to three hours in a row, call your doctor right away.
How Many Days Between Periods Are Normal?
The average menstrual cycle length -- that would be from the first day of your period until the next period begins -- is said to be 28 days. There's a misconception that anything shorter or longer than 28 days is not normal, but this isn't true. A cycle as short as 21 days or as long as 35 days is considered normal.
How Much Variation Between Periods Is Normal?
Slight variation in the length of your cycles is normal. For example, if one month your cycle is 28 days and another cycle is 30 days, this would be within the normal range.
A large variation is not considered to be normal. For example, if some cycles were 21 days long, and others 33 days long, that would be considered an abnormal variation. If you have menstrual cycles that vary this much, you are experiencing irregular periods.
Sometimes, due to stress or illness, your cycle may be delayed. Having one off cycle is nothing to be worried about, though if you go longer than 60 days without a period, and you're not pregnant, you should speak to your doctor.
Is Spotting Between Periods Normal?
Some women experience light spotting during ovulation, which is approximately in the middle of your cycle. There is also something called "implantation spotting," which may occur about seven days after ovulation, around the time the embryo would implant itself in the uterine lining. Not all women experience this, but it's considered to be normal.
If you experience heavier bleeding between periods, or the spotting seems to occur throughout your cycle, that would not be considered normal.
What Period Symptoms Are Normal?
Normal period symptoms include...
- food cravings
- emotional sensitivity or mood swings
- feeling irritable
- light cramping (especially the day before your period and the first couple days of your period)
- mild headaches
- increased acne
- breast tenderness
- trouble sleeping
While slight mood swings are normal, serious depression or manic states are not normal period symptoms. Tearing up at a hallmark commercial is normal. Crying on and off all day for no apparent reason is not.
Mild headaches are normal, but you should speak to your doctor if you experience migraines before your period.
Food cravings are very common, but craving non-food items, like rocks or sand, is not normal.
How Much Cramping Is Normal?
Mild cramping, especially the day before and the day of your period, is normal.
Cramping that is so bad that you consider calling off work is not normal. Cramping that occurs at times besides your period is also not normal. Severe pelvic cramps may be symptoms of endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or another medical problem that needs attention.
What Is Considered a Normal Luteal Phase?
The luteal phase is the time between ovulation and the first day of your period. If you track ovulation using a body basal temperature chart, or with ovulation predictor kits, you may know how long your luteal phase is.
The average luteal phase is 12 to 14 days, but anything between 10 and 16 days is considered normal. If you chart your cycles and notice a luteal phases of less than 10 days, mention this to your doctor.
There is some debate on whether or not a luteal phase that is on the short side, say 10 or 11 days, is a problem or not. If you're having difficulty getting pregnant, you should mention this to your doctor.
Is Vaginal Odor Ever Normal?
We're often told that vaginal odor is a sign of infection, but in fact, some odor is normal. During your period, you may notice a blood-like scent, which makes sense. A mild, musk-like scent at any time during your cycle can be normal.
A pungent scent or strong fishy smell is not normal and may indicate an infection. Speak to your doctor, especially if you're experience itching, fever, or other symptoms.
While you may feel embarrassed talking about vaginal odors, it's important to talk to your doctor and not just try covering up the scent with vaginal deodorants. Some vaginal infections can interfere with getting pregnant, and many, if not all, vaginal deodorants can interfere with fertile cervical mucus (which you need to get pregnant).
More on getting pregnant with infertility:
- Symptoms and Risk Factors of Infertility
- We Can't Get Pregnant. What Now?
- Talking to Your Doctor About Getting Pregnant
- Day-by-Day Guide to Clomid Treatment
- What to Expect During Fertility Testing
- How to Cope When Trying to Conceive Overwhelms You
- A Complete Guide to Baby Making Sex
- Take a Fertility Quiz
Menstruation and the Menstrual Cycle. WomensHealth.gov. Accessed June 2, 2011. http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/menstruation.cfm
Menstrual periods - Heavy, Prolonged, or Irregular. MedlinePlus. Accessed June 2, 2011. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003263.htm. Link expired.
Normal Menstruation. ClevelandClinic.com. Accessed June 2, 2011. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/anatomy/female_reproductive_system/menstruation/hic_normal_menstruation.aspx