A period is the part of the menstrual cycle when you bleed from your vagina for a few days.
For most of us, this happens every 28 days or so, but it’s common for periods to be more or less frequent than this, ranging from day 21 to day 40 of their menstrual cycle. Your period can last between 3 and 8 days, but it will usually last for about 5 days. The bleeding tends to be heaviest in the first 2 days.
When your period is at its heaviest, the blood will be red. On lighter days, it may be pink, brown or black. You’ll lose about 30 to 72ml (5 to 12 teaspoons) of blood during your period, although some people bleed more heavily than this.
When do periods start?
Periods usually begin at around the age of 12, although some will start them earlier or later.
A delay in starting periods isn’t usually a cause for concern. You should be having regular periods by age 16 to 18.
Period products soak up or collect the blood released during your period. The main types of period products are:
Period pads are strips of padding that have a sticky side you attach to your underwear to hold them in place. One side of the pad is made of an absorbent material that soaks up the blood.
Pads come in many sizes, so you can choose one to suit how heavy or light your period is.
Pantyliners are a smaller and thinner type of pad that can be used on days when your period is very light.
Tampons are small tubes of cotton wool that you insert into your vagina to soak up the blood before it comes out of your body.
There are 2 types of tampon – ones that come with an applicator and others without an applicator that you insert with your fingers. In both cases, there’s a string at one end of the tampon, which you pull to remove it.
Tampons come with instructions that explain how to use them. If the tampon is inserted correctly, you should not be able to feel it inside you. If you can feel it or it hurts, it might not be in properly.
It is not possible for a tampon to get stuck or lost inside you. Your vagina holds it firmly in place and it expands inside you as it soaks up the blood.
Menstrual cups are made from silicone and you put it inside your vagina.
Menstrual cups collect the blood rather than absorb it, you can wash menstrual cups and and use it again.
27,938 Used Tampons And Applicators Are Found On The World’s Beaches Every Single Day
Some of us naturally have heavier periods than others, but if your periods are so heavy that they impact your life, there is help available.
Talk to your GP about your bleeding, including how often you have to change your period protection.
Your GP can investigate why you’re experiencing heavy bleeding. These investigations may include a physical examination, blood tests or scans.
Heavy periods do not always have an underlying cause, but they can result from problems such as fibroids or endometriosis, so it’s important to get your symptoms checked out.
A good indication that your periods are heavy is if you:
are having to change your period products every hour or 2
are passing blood clots larger than 2.5cm (about the size of a 10p coin)
are bleeding through to your clothes or bedding
needing to use 2 types of period product together (for example, your Heavy Fern Pad and Period Pants)
Treatments for heavy periods can include:
tranexamic acid tablets
anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen or mefenamic acid
surgery (depending on the cause)
A period usually lasts 2 to 7 days, with the average period lasting 5 days.
The length of the menstrual cycle varies from person to person, but the average is to have periods every 28 days. Regular cycles that are longer or shorter than this, from 21 to 40 days, are normal. But some of us have an irregular menstrual cycle.
This is where there is a wide variation in:
the time between your periods (they may arrive early or late)
the amount of blood you lose (periods may be heavy or light)
the number of days the period lasts
Irregular periods can be common during puberty and just before the menopause. Changing your method of contraception can also disturb your normal menstrual cycle. Irregular periods aren’t always a sign of a problem, but sometimes it’s a good idea to see a doctor about them just in case.
When do periods stop?
Your periods will continue until you reach the menopause, which usually happens when you are in your late 40s to mid-50s. In the UK the average age of menopause is 51.
Your periods may start to become less frequent over a few months or years before stopping altogether. In some cases they can stop suddenly.