Periods: the complete guide to menstruation

Periods, menstruation, the menstrual cycle, ragnagnas, the English coming in... They accompany most women at every stage of life: from adolescence, through their fertile period, pregnancy and right up to the menopause.

What are periods?

Menstruation occurs around 400 times in a woman's lifetime, i.e. a total of just over 3,600 days, 13 times a year. This bleeding corresponds to the breakdown of the endometrium within the uterus. These days, women can choose from a wide range of solutions to cope with their periods: menstrual panties, tampons, pads, hormonal contraceptives and more.

To help you understand what menstruation is all about, we've listed below all the information you need to know about the menstrual cycle and flow. Unfortunately, menstruation and its social acceptance have been taboo subjects for generations. So it's important to talk about this subject, to democratize it and get people talking!

The color of menstruation

The color of men struation can vary according to a number of factors. Blood tissue will change color according to its exposure to oxygen in the air, its viscosity and its quantity.

  • Bright red bleeding generally occurs at the peak of menstruation, around the second or third day of the period. This is blood that has no time to oxidize, as it flows quickly and abundantly.
  • Some blood flows can be very dark red or black when they take the form of blood clots.
  • Blood can be reddish or dark brown and very thick at the start of menstruation.
  • At the beginning and end of menstruation, blood can be brown in color. Don't worry, this color is due to the blood taking longer to detach from the uterine wall and pass through the vagina into your panties.
  • Spotting, ovulation bleeding or the use of hormonal contraceptives can result in pink, light red or pinkish discharge.
  • If the color of your discharge is gray or grayish, it could be a sign of infection or miscarriage. Don't forget to consult a health professional!

Length of the menstrual cycle

A "normal" cycle lasts about 28 days, but can vary from 25 to 33 days. This is different from the length of a menstrual period. The cycle begins with the onset of menstruation and ends the day before the next period. However, excessive variations in these average durations may indicate a menstrual disorder.

How does the menstrual cycle work?

The female cycle is made up of different phases, each of which forms part of a pattern that recurs from young girls through to the menopause.
Let's take the example of a 28-day cycle:

  • The cycle always begins with menstrual bleeding, which lasts an average of 5 to 6 days. This is called the follicular phase.
  • The ovulatory phase: 14 days after menstruation, ovulation takes place, when the body is ready to receive sperm and create an embryo. At this point, the oocyte(s) released by the ovaries will transform into an egg.
  • This is followed by the post-ovulatory phase, also known as the luteal phase. Under the influence of progesterone, the body prepares to eliminate the endometrium, the layer of the uterus that has not supported an embryo.

Is it possible to menstruate twice in the same cycle?

It is possible to have vaginal discharge several times in the same month. You may experience bleeding at the moment of ovulation and a few spotting phases. However, menstruating several times a month is a sign that you have short or irregular cycles.

The end of menstruation at the start of pregnancy

It's not uncommon for a woman to have pregnant periods, especially in early pregnancy. This phenomenon is known as anniversary menstruation. But amenorrhea, at the end of the menstrual cycle, is normally one of the symptoms of pregnancy. Those with a regular menstrual cycle will be able to guess the onset of pregnancy when menstruation is late or absent. In this case, don't hesitate to take a pregnancy test!

At what age do periods start?

The first menstrual periods appear at puberty in girls, generally between the ages of 10 and 16, although it's not unusual for them to arrive a little earlier or later. The average arrival of the first menstrual period is around age 12, and often within 2 years of the appearance of breasts.

What are the effects of menstruation on health and the body?

Menstruation can have a number of effects on your health and body. Between premenstrual syndrome, which occurs a few days before, and menstruation itself, most of the classic symptoms are exacerbated fatigue and pelvic pain due to contractions of the uterus to evacuate the endometrium!

Premenstrual syndrome: symptoms of menstruation

Premenstrual syndrome or PMS is the sign that your period is imminent! There are a number of symptoms that can alert you to the arrival of your period:

  • extreme fatigue and/or insomnia
  • stomach pains, diarrhea due to uterine contractions and/or bloating
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • chest pain

Possible menstrual disorders

Menstrual disorders of varying degrees of severity can also punctuate your menstrual cycle. These include the following main disorders:

  • Dysmenorrhea, painful periods
  • hypermenorrhea, abnormally abundant and long periods, or its opposite,hypomenorrhea
  • anaemia, the well-known iron deficiency of menstruating women, if your blood loss is abundant or even haemorrhagic
  • amenorrhea, the absence of menstrual flow
  • oligomenorrhea, very long cycles longer than 35 days, or its opposite, polymenorrhea, shorter than 25 days
  • metrorrhagia, bleeding outside the menstrual period

The case of endometriosis

Endometriosis, a gynecological condition that affects around 1 in 10 menstruating women, is due to a disorder ofendometrial-like cells found in other parts of the body. As these endometrial cells and their reactions are intimately linked to hormone levels in the menstrual cycle, localized pain at these lesions in the body can occur before, after or during each period.

How do contraceptives affect menstruation?

Contraception and menstruation are often interrelated, as the various contraceptive methods will have an impact on menstruation or the production of uterine lining to prevent ovulation or implantation. Their format and mode of action differ, but the result is the same: to avoid pregnancy.

  • Hormonal contraceptives based onestrogen, such as the patch, vaginal ring or estrogen-progestin pill, or simply progesterone, such as the hormonal intrauterine device, implant or microdose pill: under the action of hormones, they act on the thickness of the cervical mucus, limiting the development of the endometrium and causing "false periods" known as withdrawal bleeding.
  • Non-hormonal contraceptives, such as condoms, copper IUDs and spermicides: these are mechanical, hormone-free barriers to fertilization, so menstruation is natural and follows a woman's basic rhythm.

How can I protect myself from blood loss during the day and at night?

When you find yourself in this phase of your cycle, the first question that springs to mind is that of period protection to contain your periods. There are a plethora of solutions for absorbing or retaining blood flow, and each woman must adapt her choice according to the abundance of her discharge, her personal comfort and her sporting or non-sporting activities during the day. Sanitary protection can be disposable or reusable: at Elia, we have a particular weakness for menstrual panties, which are durable and adaptable to the different flows of day and night, but there are also tampons, sanitary towels, panty liners, cups, menstrual sponges... The choice is wide! There are also special techniques such as free instinctive flow, which consists in retaining blood in the vagina, but which is more suited to daytime use.

Are there any contraindications to menstruation?

There are no formal contraindications orforbidden sporting activities. It's more a question of personal comfort and feeling at ease during this period. Sport during menstruation, for example, is recommended to relieve menstrual pain, but some women prefer to rest so as not to accumulate additional fatigue. Swimming and bathing also make menstrual logistics a little more complex than usual, but there are now menstrual swimsuits available which, in addition to the classic pool tampon, offer an absorbent solution so you don't have to go without. Getting your period shouldn't be a fate or a handicap: live it the way you want - you have every right to!

How do you calculate the length of your period and menstrual cycle?

There are several ways to calculate the length of your menstrual cycle. These methods are effective not only for anticipating the sight of bleeding, but also for avoiding or encouraging pregnancy:

  • Today, the easiest way is to use the services of a menstruation app on your smartphone, which will alert you to the moment of ovulation and the arrival of your blood loss. Some examples ofapps that might suit you: Clue, Flo, Glow, Menstrual Period Tracker, Eve
  • Period calendar. This method can be reliable and only used for women who have regular periods.
  • Use a female cycle necklace to help track ovulation and fertility. Each bead on the necklace is color-coded to represent a day in the cycle.
  • The mucus method, also known as the ovulation method. By observing her vaginal secretions several times a day from the last day of menstruation, you can determine the stages of your menstrual cycle.
  • Symptothermia is a method that combines resting body temperature measurements, a cervical mucus calendar and conventional calendar methods.
  • Lactational amenorrhea can be used after childbirth if the mother is breast-feeding her baby. For the duration of exclusive breastfeeding, and in particular for the first 6 weeks after childbirth.

FAQs on menstruation

What happens in the body during menstruation?

When a woman menstruates, she evacuates theendometrium, which detaches from the uterine wall, passes through the cervix and into the vagina, resulting in monthly bleeding. This is the result of hormonal variations, which trigger thickening of the uterine mucosa at the start of the menstrual cycle. When the ovum, which matures during ovulation, is not fertilized, the endometrium disintegrates, forming bloody discharge.

What should I do if I'm worried about my period?

When a woman menstruates, she evacuates theendometrium, which detaches from the uterine wall, passes through the cervix and into the vagina, resulting in monthly bleeding. This is the result of hormonal variations, which trigger thickening of the uterine mucous membrane at the start of the menstrual cycle. When the ovum, which matures during ovulation, is not fertilized, the endometrium disintegrates, forming bloody discharge.