Periods, Fertility, and When to Talk to Your Doctor
Although periods can vary widely from woman to woman, there are certain standards that help to determine whether or not someone’s menstrual cycles are considered normal and healthy. In some cases, these standards can help doctors identify potential reproductive health issues. Depending on the circumstance, your period can offer a small window into your fertility that will help your doctor advise if further testing is needed.
What is a “normal” period?
When it comes to defining what makes a period normal, there are a few basic expectations for what your cycle should look like. These parameters are considered to be a sign of good health because they mean that your reproductive organs are functioning optimally. Some of these attributes include:
- Your cycle starts about every 28 days, although fluctuations of one to five days are expected and considered normal; your cycle length can also be affected by birth control, age, or childbirth
- Your menstrual flow is manageable, meaning you change your pad, tampon, or cup every few hours comfortably
- You can function normally, meaning that you can attend work, school, or other responsibilities without being overwhelmed by pain or discomfort
- If you do have pain or discomfort, you are able to manage these symptoms with over-the-counter pain relievers or a heating pad
- You typically do not experience consistent spotting between period cycles
How is my period connected to my fertility?
Your menstrual cycle is connected to how your body regulates fertility. Ovulation is the act of your body releasing an egg so it can potentially become fertilized. This is the time of the month when you are considered to be at peak fertility. When fertilization does not occur, your uterus sheds its lining so that it can be released out of the body through the vaginal canal. In an average 28-day cycle, ovulation typically takes place 14 days after the last day of your period. If your menstrual cycle is irregular, it can be difficult to successfully track your fertility window, making pregnancy harder to achieve on your own. Abnormal periods can also indicate an underlying reproductive issue.
What if my period isn’t “normal”?
If your period veers far off from the above bullet points, it’s important to connect with your gynecologist, especially if your cycle is irregular or if you are unable to function during your period. They will be able to address your specific concerns and note if there is a need to screen for underlying reproductive conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, both of which are common sources of menstrual abnormalities. If necessary, your gynecologist can prescribe a treatment plan that will help regulate your period cycles and alleviate painful symptoms.
If you feel your quality of life is lessened because of your period, or if you plan on trying for a pregnancy in the near future, but are uncertain about how to track ovulation, please consider connecting with your gynecologist.