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Periods 101

Know Your Menstrual Cycle

Whether you menstruate like clockwork or a little irregularly, how heavy your flow is and how long your period lasts is unique to you. Still, there are enough commonalities between people to answer a range of questions you might have about your menstrual cycle. And while periods are where we direct most of our attention, there’s a lot more to your cycle than just menstruation. Read on for the lowdown on everything from the luteal phase (the lu-what? don’t worry, we’ll get there) to when you’re least likely to fall pregnant.

The 28 Days of your cycle

Menstrual phase
Days 1 - 5


Day 1 marks the start of your period. It’s when your uterus releases a mixture of blood and nutrients out of your body. This menstrual fluid can vary in colour and texture.

Although you may feel like there’s a lot 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 ovum. Your body also prepares for a possible pregnancy so the uterine lining starts to develop. The follicular phase is the most unpredictable part of your menstrual cycle and the reason why your cycle can be longer or shorter than the 28 days we often hear about.

Ovulation
Day 14

About half way through your menstrual cycle, one of your ovaries releases an ovum, which journeys down your fallopian tube. This is where fertilisation would take place if the ovum were to come into contact with sperm.

Speaking of sperm, if you’d like to avoid falling pregnant or are trying to conceive, it’s good to know that sperm has a small window of around 48 hours to fertilise the ovum before it is absorbed into the body. The six days leading up to ovulation and the two days after this event are when you’re most fertile. Since this is the fertile phase of your menstrual cycle, 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.

The luteal phase of your menstrual cycle lasts for 14 days while your body produces more oestrogen and progesterone, which causes the lining of your uterus 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.

Q and A

All the answers to the most common questions we get asked. Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Check out our other articles for more help 

Q&As

So, you are most likely to conceive 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).

Knowing how to use tampons correctly is extremely important when it comes to your period. Tampons should be worn for between 4-8 hours each day, and if you need to change your tampon after less than 2 hours of use, consider switching up to a higher absorbency tampon for your heavier flow days.

Remember to change to a less absorbent tampon once your flow becomes lighter. Not changing your tampon often enough can put you at risk of developing TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).

Follow our Tampon Absorbency Guide

This actually varies throughout your cycle, with the heaviest blood flow usually occurring at the start of your period. We suggest you change your tampon absorbency to match the heaviness of your flow to ensure you’re well protected throughout.

Here’s an example of what your period flow may look like.

As you can see, your period flow can differ from day to day. If you use tampons, you may need to use different sizes for each stage of your period.

Some people may use up to three different tampon absorbencies during their period. However, this is not true for everyone and you'll have to work out your own period pattern.

Yes you can. Be careful though: in rare instances, you can still get pregnant. You should also bear in mind that you can still contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases when on your period.

Um, why weren’t we told about this back in Life Orientation? To answer your question: no, you’re definitely not the only person who has irregular bowel movements or diarrhea during your period, and you have prostaglandins to blame. These hormone-like substances cause your uterus to contract, which is how it sheds the uterine lining. However, these contractions can also affect your intestines, causing symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and upset stomach.

If you’re unsure of how to use a tampon, Lil-Lets is here to help. We’ve created the following guides for both applicator and non-applicator tampons. Watch the videos below or follow our step-by-step guide!

How to insert applicator tampons

  • Wash your hands (use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol if you don’t have access to soap and water)
  • Make sure the cord is hanging outside the inner tube
  • Pull the inner tube out until it stops at the bottom of the outer tube
  • Hold the applicator with your thumb and middle finger just below the ridge
  • Place the tip of the applicator into the vaginal opening and gently push the applicator towards your lower back
  • Continue to ease in the applicator until you’ve inserted it as far as the rim of the outer tube
  • Then using the finger between your thumb and middle finger, push the inner tube inside the outer tube until both rings meet
  • Gently pull out the applicator, leaving the cord hanging down and you’re all done
  • Once it's in place you shouldn't be able to feel it inside you, that's how you'll know it's in the right place
  • Now wash your hands (or use your hand sanitizer) again

How to insert non-applicator tampons

  • Wash your hands (use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol if you don’t have access to soap and water)
  • Unwrap the tampon and pull the cord away from the base of the tampon, giving it a gentle tug to ensure its secure
  • Use your fingertips to guide the tampon into place, aim up and backwards towards the small of your back
  • You’ll know the tampon is in place when you can no longer feel it. If you still feel it, you may need to push it further into place
  • Sometimes a little cough helps relax the vaginal muscles and ensures the tampon fits into place
  • Now wash your hands (or use your hand sanitizer) again

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

 

Menstruation can vary from two to five days and could be up to 10.

Have a look at our monthly cycle video for more information on the length of your periods.

Some brands of contraceptive pills can reduce your flow or shorten the length of your period. Chat to your doctor or the nurse at your clinic when you are prescribed your pill.

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 (if there are no water restrictions) or snuggle up on the couch with a hot water bottle.

If none of these help, your local pharmacy can give you guidance on suitable pain relief. See our article on handling painful periods

That’s our 101 on periods. If you’re looking for specific information on your menstrual cycle or period irregularities, please check out our other articles.

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