It is surprisingly easy to go through life not knowing much about certain things that directly affect you. Stuff just… occurs and you deal with that and get on with your life. It is also surprisingly easy to be misinformed, or even downright clueless, about things like your period and what exactly is going on, down there, every month. From the entirely inaccurate to the often unknown, here are six questions about periods you can pretend you knew the answers to all along.
Most of us get our periods around the age of 12 or 13, and unless you’re actively trying to get pregnant or your life is ruled by the tyrant that is PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), you probably don’t think about the mechanics too much.
Q: Can you get pregnant during your period?
A: It is possible, yes. You are at your most fertile at the time of ovulation, (when an egg is released from your ovaries) which usually happens around 14 days before your next period starts. (If you’re looking to get pregnant, this is the optimum time.) While it’s unlikely you’ll get pregnant after your period, sperm can survive for up to seven days after sex, so if you have a short cycle it’s worth being extra careful.
Q: How much blood does a woman lose on average during a period?
A: It can seem like loads – especially if you’re dealing with a leakage crisis but actually the amount of blood over an average period isn’t that much. According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), the average amount of blood lost during a period is 30-40ml (about two to three tablespoons) with 9 out of 10 women losing less than 80ml, although some women do experience heavy periods, or menorrhagia, to give it the medical title.
Q: Are periods they the same for everyone?
You probably know this already but no. Cycles can vary significantly. Some women are crippled with symptoms while others sail through.The average cycle is 28 days long but they can last for anything from 21 to 35 days. Most women bleed for three to five days but some periods can go on for eight days, although in most cases the heavier bleeding happens in the first couple of days. (*If you are ever worried about any aspect of your period - too frequent, not frequent enough, too heavy, or not happening at all - talk to your doctor.)
Q: What exactly happens during a cycle?
A: You probably haven’t thought about this stuff since school so here’s a reminder. Your cycle starts on the first day of your period. In the middle of your cycle, an egg is released from the ovaries and makes its way to the fallopian tube. If sperm is present this is where the egg could be fertilised. In the meantime, your body gets busy producing increased levels of hormones which thicken the lining of the uterus (womb) so it will be ready for a fertilised egg to implant. If no egg implants, the hormone levels drop back and the uterine lining sloughs off, resulting in a period.
Q: What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
A: If you’ve bought a box of tampons at any stage you’ll have noticed the little leaflet that comes within. That’s warning you about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) which, while rare, is a real thing. It’s a life-threatening infection resulting from toxins produced by staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria and symptoms include a high fever, sunburn-like rash, and muscle aches. TSS can affect anyone but in the past had been linked to tampon use, particularly super-absorbent tampons that are left in for a long amount of time. We’re now advised to use the lowest absorbency tampon needed and to change tampons regularly.
Q: Is PMS a real thing?
Yes! It can involve a smorgasbord of symptoms too, involving anything from bloating cramps, and sore or tender boobs to irritable bowel issues and clumsiness, (really!). That’s before you get into all the emotional ups and downs. It’s all thanks to hormones undergoing cyclical changes in the body and fluctuating levels of serotonin, a brain chemical, are also thought to be a cause. In most cases, symptoms should fade within a day or two of your period starting.
The Protection Options
Tired of tampons or looking for something a bit more eco-friendly to try? The type of protection a woman decides to use during her period is a very personal choice. However, there might be more options out there than you think.
We’ll ignore the daft blue liquid of the ad campaigns (shoutout to Bodyform which produced the first ever period ad campaign to show, y’know, blood last year), a lot of women use sanitary towels for their main form of protection or as back up. Slimmer and increasingly more effective, they’ve come a long way since the thick, lumpy pads of old and for that we are grateful.
PERIOD UNDERWEAR (and not just your big, comfy pants)
One of the big developments is in underwear that removes the need for tampons or pads. An American brand, Thinx, has created “anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, absorbent, and leak-resistant” undies - and a sharp, inclusive ad campaign too. The general buzz is that they’re effective, particularly at night. Shethinx.com
Once considered a bit of a hippy-ish alternative to other means of protection, the reusable Mooncup are becoming increasingly popular. It’s a flexible cup-like device made from medical grade silicone that you insert into your vagina. According to the makers, Mooncups hold three times as much as a tampon and need to be removed and emptied every 4 to 8 hours, depending on your flow. Mooncup.co.uk
Another alternative to more traditional protection, Flex is a flexible disc that sits horizontally just past the vaginal canal and can be used for up to 12 hours at a time as it holds up to six teaspoons of fluid. It also doesn’t interfere with having sex. Currently, the brand just ships to the US and the United Kingdom (which, we presume, include Northern Ireland). If you’re keen to try it you could use An Post’s AddressPal. Flexfits.com