When trying to get pregnant, it can be surprising how much there is to learn about your menstrual cycle and ovulation that you didn't know about beforehand. And it may be the first time you ask yourself: Is my period normal?
So what can your period reveal about your fertility? The length of your cycle can be a key indicator of hormonal imbalances that affect whether you are ovulating or not. Obviously, ovulation is essential for conception. The information available online, however, can scare a woman with a perfectly normal cycle into believing something is wrong and that there may be fertility issues.
We met with Dr. Don Aptekar, who has over 30 years experience helping couples to get pregnant, to get to the bottom of the most popular questions when it comes to what is a normal period.
Before we begin the Q&A, make sure you are measuring your cycle length correctly. Your cycle length is counted by using the first day of bleeding to the start of the next menses. For example, say you start bleeding January 1st and stop bleeding the night of January 6th. This means your period is 6 days long. Say then you start your next period on January 29th, this means your cycle length is 29 days.
If you don't use one already, there are free period tracking apps that you can download onto your smartphone, which are super helpful in keeping track of your cycle.
Q&A: What your period says about your fertility
Q: What is a normal cycle length?
A: If your cycle is in the range of 21-35 days this indicates that you are probably ovulating regularly. The biggest concern Dr. Aptekar finds with cycle lengths closer to 21 days or 35 days, are couples missing their fertile window. You can use a variety of products to determine if you are ovulating (click here to learn more).
Q: Does my cycle need to be the exact same number of days in between bleeding each month to be considered regular?
A: No, it’s perfectly healthy and normal to have some variation by a few days each month.
Q: What does it mean if my cycle is 21 days or less?
A: It is advised that you talk to your doctor. Having a period less than 21 days apart may mean nothing at all, but also may indicate that you may not be ovulating. Many factors could be causing a short cycle length such as hormonal imbalances, stress or if you are in your 40s, approaching menopause.
Q: What does it mean if my period is long or irregular?
A: Longer and irregular cycles indicate that you may not be ovulating on a regular basis and that you have fewer chances per year to get pregnant. You may ovulate 10 times in a year instead of 13 times.
Typically 35 days is not pathological, but if your cycles are 40 days or longer you should check in with your doctor about any hormonal imbalances or PCOS.
Q: Is a light period ok?
A: Most likely the answer to this question, is yes. The vast majority of women with a light flow are perfectly fine. It is very uncommon to have a problem in regards to the amount of bleeding you have.
If, however, you do not have any signs or symptoms of having a period this may indicate a potential for hormonal problems. In other words, if your period appears to come out of the blue without warning (i.e. no breast tenderness or change in mood) then there may be a concern that you are not ovulating.
Q: What about cycle length? What does that tell me about my fertility?
A: Take notes on your cycle each month (and make sure it’s your natural cycle you are taking notes on, not your cycle on birth control). Most likely your cycle length is healthy unless it’s longer than 10 days. Again, if you have premenstrual symptoms or notice cervical mucus changes, that is a good sign that you are ovulating.
Q: What if I bleed for more than 7 days?
A: If you bleed longer for 10 days, then it is suggested that you have some investigation done. Bleeding for that length of time could be suggestive of something going on in your uterus that could interfere with pregnancy and you should see your doctor.
Q: My period length is normal, but seems really heavy. What is a normal amount?
A: The amount of time you change your sanitary pad or tampons and the heaviness of a period has a lot to do with your own comfort and how often you check.
Women’s flows are highly variable and should you chose to pay attention to your flow, look at how much bleeding you have over the length of your cycle, not just in a day or two. If you are heavy for one or two days and then taper off, that is perfectly normal. The biggest concern with a heavy flow is that you have enough iron. If you are feeling really fatigued after your period, you may want to get your hemoglobin levels checked to make sure you are getting enough iron.
Q: Is it true that my sex drive may increase right before ovulation?
A: Yes, it seems for many women that sex drive hormones increase around the time of ovulation. Don't be concerned if you don't notice a change in your sex drive, but it is noted in studies that many women do have an increased sex drive at this time.
Q: I am concerned that I fall out of the normal cycle range. What can I do to regulate my period naturally?
A: Keep in mind that you do not need to have a 28 day cycle to be normal- you are most likely healthy if you are ovulating 10 - 13 times a year and feel healthy. If your cycle is not regular and you do not feel healthy, stress, diet and exercise can all have a major impact on your cycle and even PCOS. Check out this blog post on a personal story about healing from PCOS naturally.
Q: When do I need to see the doctor about my menstrual cycle?
A: It is always appropriate to talk to your doctor should you have any concerns. Here is a list of situations in which it is highly recommended to speak to a doctor:
You do not have a period or your period has suddenly stopped for more than 60 days and your pregnancy test is negative
Your periods are very irregular: your cycle length are shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days and trying to conceive
Severe cramping (to the point of having to miss work)