A Crash Course on Periods for Anyone Who Needs It


Jan 23, 2020


Image Credit: E. Espanak via mreclipse.com

Whether you’ve had periods for several years now, or have lived for several years with people who have periods — there’s still some bits about the menstrual cycle that remain fuzzy, thanks to the topic being a conversational taboo in Indian society. We, at The Swaddle, believe it’s never too late to learn, so here’s a quick crash course on periods — a phenomenon half the world experiences monthly.

What are periods?

A period is actually the range of time in a month when an individual bleeds out through their vagina. A period is the last stage of a healthy menstrual cycle when a uterus sheds its lining. Periods are a natural phenomenon for individuals whose reproductive systems possess a uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervix, vagina, and vulva.

What’s a menstrual cycle?

A menstrual cycle begins when the ovaries release an egg (ovulation). The uterus then starts building up a soft lining, just in case a pregnancy occurs, and the egg is fertilized by incoming sperm. If a pregnancy doesn’t occur, the uterus sheds its lining with blood and mucus through the cervix and vagina. Then the whole process begins again, designed for the eventuality that a pregnancy will occur at some point.

How long does a period last?

A typical period lasts for about three to seven days towards the end of a menstrual cycle (which typically lasts for 21 to 35 days).

So, roughly every four weeks, one can bleed for up to a week. But this keeps shifting from month to month and is different for each person. Sometimes a period can be delayed due to a host of other factors such as stress, sudden weight loss, or health problems such as thyroid or polycystic ovary symptoms. A period is considered missed if it hasn’t happened for six weeks since the last period. The first step, then, is to get a pregnancy test.

A period is considered irregular only if it lasts longer than seven days or occurs less than three weeks apart. In this case, the best thing to do is to visit a doctor.

What does a normal period look like?

There’s no normal-looking period; it’s different for everyone. It can be a mix of period colors, to even black and dark brown at the beginning and ends of the period. Iron in the blood released by the uterus during a period gets oxidized and turns black, and some of it is old blood and tissue from the lining. But, if the discharge during the whole period is black, then a doctor’s visit is on the cards.

As far as normal duration and timing of periods are concerned — those are different for everyone as well. Some people have regular, well-behaved, manageable periods every month, while others lose their minds trying to keep track of when their period will arrive. A normal period for each person also changes within their lifetime several times.

Related on The Swaddle:

Periods Don’t Sync Up, No Matter How Much Time People Spend With Each Other

What are heavy periods?

The occasional heavy period is all too common, but if it’s a regular occurrence, it’s best to see a doctor. An individual loses 4 to 12 teaspoons of blood and fluid during a typical period; loss of excess blood during a heavy period may have consequences such as the likelihood of developing anemia due to a dip in iron levels and can be a symptom of an underlying condition such as hemophilia.

Is clotting during periods normal?

Yes. The body releases blood-thinning agents called coagulants to keep menstrual blood from clotting as it makes its way out, but sometimes if the period is heavy or in its initial stages, there is just too much blood and not enough time for the anticoagulants to work. That’s the clotting seen in the discharge — it looks denser. It can also be more painful than having an even, steady period.

Is PMS real?

Yes. Premenstrual symptoms (PMS) are a set of symptoms that repeat every month in the days before a period begins due to hormonal changes and vary from person to person. Complex interactions between hormones, health, and chemicals in the brain all play a role.

What are some symptoms of PMS?

There are more than 100 PMS symptoms; most are uncomfortable, and it’s best not to joke or generalize about them because they can also be debilitating for some menstruating people.

Contrary to what cultural messaging would have you believe, PMS is more than just women eating ice cream and crying. Not everyone’s emotions change when they experience PMS, though anyone who’s in a significant amount of discomfort will be a little more grumpy than usual. Besides emotional symptoms such as mood swings, other common symptoms of PMS include painful cramps, hunger pangs, acne breakout, sore breasts, bloating, diarrhea and body ache. Severe cases of premenstrual symptoms are called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which usually requires a doctor’s attention.

What are period cramps?

During periods, the uterus sheds its lining, which basically means the muscles inside the uterus contract and relax repeatedly to break down the tissue that’s been building up and then expel it out through the cervix and vagina. This can feel like a tightening similar to a muscle cramp elsewhere in the body, sharp poking or a dull, constant ache. Again, there is no normal period cramp — it differs from person to person.

If, however, someone’s menstrual cramps are so bad they can’t even get out of bed after taking painkillers or after trying home remedies like using a hot water bottle — it’s time to see a doctor. Extremely bad period cramps are not a feature of the typical period and are likely a sign of an underlying condition such as endometriosis, acute dysmenhorrea or fibroids.

Related on The Swaddle:

Is It Okay to Use Birth Control to Skip a Period (or Several)?

Is it safe to have sex while a person is on their period?

Safe sex, absolutely — provided the individuals use protection. It’s never safe to have unprotected sex; the chances of pregnancy without contraception are never zero because sperm can live inside a body for up to a week, by which point it is possible that an egg has been released by the ovaries.

It is also safe, healthwise, but with protection. “Blood is a good medium for bacteria and viruses to grow. Also, the cervix is partially dilated at the time of menstruation, which allows easy access from the vagina into the cervix and uterus,” Dr. Veena Aurangabadwala, a gynecologist at Zen Multispeciality Hospital, told Healthshots. Condoms not only keep sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at bay, they also ward off viruses and any other bugs that might disturb the vaginal environment.

A quick guide to period pain relief

Over-the-counter painkillers like Advil and Meftal Spas can help, as can light exercise, meditation, sleep, soaking in a hot bath, and using a heating pad or a hot water bottle to relax the aching muscles. Sex can help, too, as can incorporating supplements like ginger and magnesium in one’s diet. But if after painkillers and home remedies, period pain persists, it’s best to go see a doctor.


Written By Pallavi Prasad

Pallavi Prasad is The Swaddle’s Features Editor. When she isn’t fighting for gender justice and being righteous, you can find her dabbling in street and sports photography, reading philosophy, drowning in green tea, and procrastinating on doing the dishes.

  1. Ose Verma

    And periods are considered bad too. Girls are not allowed to step inside kitchen or any temple . In fact, I’ll have to call someone else if I want a glass of water only! It is frustrating and I don’t think so if it makes sense at all! In fact, periods is just getting out the extra nutrition which was for babies.


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