I often get questions about whether X (Insert just about anything about periods and the menstrual cycle here) is “normal.” Meaning, does that happening mean that the asker has some kind of hormonal issue, or is it ok that it’s happening and not indicate any kind of issue.
When you start charting your menstrual cycles, suddenly you have a decent amount of information about what is going on with your hormones. Not only do you know when or if your period arrives, but you also are paying attention to and recording how long it is, how much of that might be spotting and what the coloring is like. You pay attention to and record your cervical fluid, your peak day and temperature rise, and the amount of days it takes from your likely ovulation until your next period begins.
With all of this information, it’s only natural to wonder if everything is happening as it should, especially if you are not seeing the “textbook” patterns in your own cycle.
Important note: These parameters that I am listing are appropriate to measure yourself against only if you are in a stage that you should be having a normal “adult” menstrual cycle. That means if you are close to puberty or menopause you can see completely different things and it’s ok. Same goes for if you are breastfeeding, coming off hormonal birth control, or in some kind of hormonal flux like that.
Let’s get into the details…
Your cycle length
This is the time from the beginning of one period until the day before the beginning of the next period. Healthy cycles generally fall between 24-36 days and they generally keep a range within that that is smaller (anything within a 6 day range is good) for your personal cycle. So, your personal cycle may run on the shorter side of that spectrum, the longer side, or somewhere in the middle, but if you are frequently having a cycle that jumps from one end of that spectrum to the other then that could indicate a problem and you should check with a cycle savvy doctor.
3-7 days with at least one day of medium or heavy flow. Ideally, you do not have a lot of spotting at the end of your period, particularly brown spotting.
Your cervical fluid
3-6 days of cervical fluid with at least one day of peak-type fluid (this is the most fertile type of mucus). Many people see more fluid than this, which I commonly see on charts, some of the reasons could be checking/charting incorrectly, elevated estrogen levels, or inflammation. If your follicular phase (that’s the pre-ovulatory part of your cycle) is irregular/long you can also see more mucus than this, often building up and dropping off before ovulation happens. This is due to hormonal imbalance.
Your luteal phase
You can count your luteal phase from the first day after your peak day and/or the first day of your temperature rise. Ideally, you want to see 10-16 days in your luteal phase. Some sources contend that 9 days is ok, as well, but 9 days can be an issue for fertility and can also be an issue for those with a longer follicular phase, meaning they have a lot more time that their body is dominant in estrogen than in progesterone.
Cramps, PMS, heavy and very clotty periods, migraines, and the list goes on. What is a normal part of being a cycling person and what is a sign of a problem? Honestly, most everything you can complain about is not. If something interferes with your quality of life and is associated with your cycle (and therefore your hormones) you can make the safe assumption that it is not normal. It may be common, but it is associated with a hormonal issue that can be fixed.
Has carting helped alert you to anything going on with your hormones? Let me know in the comments.