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Understanding your menstrual cycle

Whether your period is like clockwork or a little irregular, how heavy and how often you bleed is unique to your body. That said, your period is only one phase of your menstrual cycle.

How long is my menstrual cycle?

You’ll often hear that your cycle lasts 28 days. In all honesty, it varies a lot, from month to month, and person to person. Anywhere from 21 to 34 is common. Your period can also differ in length each. See our article on irregular periods

The 28 days of your cycle

Menstrual phase Days 1 - 5

Day 1 marks the start of your period. It’s when you (or your uterus to be precise) release a mixture of blood and nutrients out of your body, which can vary in colour and texture.

Although you may feel like there’s quite a bit of blood, in reality you'll only lose between 10 to 80ml. A period usually lasts between two to five days, but it could be up to 10.

The majority of blood loss occurs during the first two days and some people notice menstrual (abdominal) cramps, back, and leg ache too. If you often have severe period pain, you may be experiencing dysmenorrhea

Follicular phase Days 6 - 13

More oestrogen is produced at this stage and your ovaries prepare to release an egg (or ovum). Your body also prepares for a possible pregnancy so the uterine lining (we’re talking about your uterus again) starts to develop. This is the most unpredictable part of your cycle and the reason why your period cycle can be longer or shorter than the stated 28 days you'll often hear about.

Ovulation Day 14

About half way through your cycle, one of your ovaries releases a miniscule egg or ovum, which journeys down your fallopian tube, which is where fertilisation takes place.

The sperm has a small window of around 48 hours to fertilise the egg before the unfertilised egg is absorbed back into the body. The six days leading up to this and the two days after this event is when you’re most fertile. You could become pregnant if you are having penetrative vaginal sex, and don’t use birth control.

Luteal phase Days 15 - 28

The final stage before your period starts again.

This lasts for 14 days while your body produces more oestrogen and progesterone, which causes the lining of your uterus (you’re back here again) to thicken with blood and nutrients.

If you're not pregnant, progesterone levels drop which causes the lining to break-up and your cycle starts all over again.

You have fertile days

And not-so-fertile days. Your most fertile time and the most likely time to conceive is just before you ovulate, so take that into consideration if you are trying to fall pregnant, or trying to avoid pregnancy. If you fall into the latter group, make sure you use contraception over that time (which may be between day 14 and day 21, depending on how long your cycle is).

You’ll often hear that your cycle lasts 28 days. In all honesty it varies a lot, from month to month, and person to person. Anywhere from 21 to 34 is common

Why should I plan for my period?

Your menstrual cycle can start anytime from the age of eight to 18, and will most likely be a part of your life until you reach your 50s. As you will continue to have your periods for many years, it’s worth understanding what’s going on so you can make sure you’re the one in control of your cycle.

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Frequently Asked Question: Periods

Can I have sex when I'm on my period?

Yes you can. In rare instances, you can still get pregnant. You should also bear in mind that you can still catch a sexually transmitted disease when on your period

Will I smell when I’m on my period?

You might notice a slight odour when you're on your period. Tampons can help with this because they're worn inside your body. If you prefer to use pads, make sure to change them regularly if you notice a strong odour.

How will the contraceptive pill affect my periods?

Some brands of contraceptive pills can reduce your flow or shorten the length of your period. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you during your consultation.

My periods are really heavy, which products should I use?

You’ve got a few options available. Lil-lets Super Plus tampons have the highest absorbency in our range and are great for heavy periods. If you prefer to use an applicator tampon, our super tampons are a really good choice for medium to heavy flow. If you use pads, we suggest using our Night Maxi Pad, which is the highest absorbency pad within our range

What can I do to relieve my period pain?

Although you may not feel like doing it at the time, stretching or gentle exercise will ease this discomfort. Healthy eating is also known to help relieve any period pain. Alternatively, treat yourself to a relaxing bath or cuddle up on the sofa with a hot water bottle. If none of these help, your local pharmacy can give you guidance on suitable pain relief.

How long does a period last?

This can vary from 2 to 5 days and could be up to 10.

Is it okay to have a bath or shower when I have my period?

Yes, it's important to keep yourself clean during your period and hot water can help soothe cramps too!

What do you find is the most effective way to deal with menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps vary from menstruator to menstruator. For some, period cramps are little to no pain, whereas for others, it can be a truly excruciating experience. Thus dealing with period cramps can vary. We recommend exploring to opt for home treatments instead of relying heavily on over-the-counter medicine. These two options can assist with cramps:

• Getting regular exercise can help with blood flow and may reduce cramping.
• Put a heating pad or a hot water bottle on your belly, or taking a warm bath. The heat improves blood flow and may ease the pain.

However, if pain does persist, it is recommended to chat to your doctor or gynae

Can I wash my hair during my period?

You totally can! We've often been fed a lot of misinformation. That's not the case - you can take care of yourself (including washing your hair, why not throw in a face mask?), exercise if you're up to it, be around your loved ones and work as normal. Besides the pain and discomfort which accompanies some people's periods, you can continue on as normal.

Is it okay to swim when you're on your period?

Swimming during your period isn't a problem. However, you will want to use a tampon when swimming so you don't bleed on your swimsuit. Pads won't work and will just fill with water. The tampon won't fall out if it is inserted correctly. Go and make a splash!

Have more questions on periods?

Got a question you’ve been too embarrassed to ask? Wondering if what you are experiencing every month is normal?

Join our Lil-Lets Talk community for empowering conversations for people with periods.

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