I was interviewed for a podcast this week and we started talking about irregular periods. She was wondering what my advice would be to someone who had an irregular period and wanted to take the pill to regulate it.
Of course I had lots of ideas, but the first thing that came outta my mouth was:
I think it’s be important to first define what an irregular period is and make sure whoever is asking really is having an irregular period.
(the other most important thing to remember is that the pill does regulate your period, it takes it away, but that’s another story for another day).
But it got me thinking about how we perceive our cycles and what they should be, as well as the dreaded “late” period.
The length myth
A lot of women consider having a period that does not come every 28 days (or very close to that) irregular. In reality, you can have a cycle ranging from about 22-36 days and not have much to worry about. If your cycle frequently jumped around in between those two extremes that may not be great, but I’ll talk a bit more about that further down.
The “I’m pregnant” myth
This is where the late period comes into play.
Your cycle length is determined by the length of the first phase of your cycle (before you ovulate). After you ovulate, you are going to have your period around 2 weeks later (this can vary from woman to woman and it’s the second phase of your cycle, called the luteal phase). The time you ovulate can vary, though. It could happen because of something going on hormonally, or it could be delayed by stress or illness.
If you end up with a delayed ovulation and you are used to getting your period at a certain time, you could end up getting a “late” period. It’s not actually late at all, but it seems late because you are used to it coming around a certain time.
A truly late period (and the kind you could worry about pregnancy over) would be when you know when you ovulated and your period still isn’t coming even after what your normal luteal phase length is.
But still, don’t stress yet, just go take a pregnancy test :)
What’s really irregular
If I look at my charts right now, my shortest cycle in the last 12 months was 26 days, and my longest was 30. My hormonal health is pretty solid, too, though it’s been a bit messed up since moving to LA.
As a very general rule, if your cycles are varying by more than 6 days regularly you may want to check everything out. If your cycles tend to be within 6 day (say your shortest is 24 and longest is 30) you probably have nothing to worry about. Though, remember, it’s a general rule.
There’s more to hormonal health than cycle length
Even better than relying simply on how long your cycles are to figure out if your hormones are doing ok is having a handle on what’s happening with your fertility signs, namely, cervical fluid and progesterone.
When you know about and track these two puppies you will be able to tell with a very clear picture what is going on with both your progesterone and your estrogen throughout your cycle.
Place on top of that having a record of your cycle lengths, perhaps any symptoms you are experiencing, and what your period is like and you have a really good idea of what’s going on with your cycle health.
And to top it all off? You don’t have to worry about late periods because you will always know when your period should come.
It doesn’t get much better than that :)
I’d love to hear if you ever had a late period that freaked you out, only for it to come late? Do you know when you ovulate now and not have to worry about it?