Menstrual Health Day: Everything you need to know about menstruation
When it comes to menstruation, there’s a lot to learn. It’s so much more than understanding what periods are. Menstrual health has many layers – like who can menstruate, how your period can change over time, and how to understand your unique body and cycle.
In honour of Menstrual Health Day (often called Menstrual Hygiene Day), we spoke to women’s health specialist, Dr Jana Pittman, to get the ins and outs of menstrual health.
Before we get into it, you might wonder why we’ve chosen to call this day Menstrual Health Day. At Modibodi, we believe the term ‘health’ is more accurate and inclusive of the full spectrum of physical, mental and social well-being associated with menstruation. Plus, hygiene often comes with some negative connotations that we don’t think should be used to describe our totally normal and natural bodily functions.
Let’s unpack all things menstruation with Dr Jana.
Why do we call it menstruation?
Let’s do a little history lesson. Most medical terms often have their origins in Latin and Greek languages. It’s no different for menstrual health.
“In Latin, ‘Mensis’ means month, which makes sense since most period cycles come monthly,” explains Dr Jana. “In Gwell-beinge’ means moon as it was once thought it played a role in the cycle, which both are roughly 29 days.”
What is a period, who can menstruate, and why do we have them?
Period 101: A period or menstrual cycle is the shedding of the uterus lining in preparation for a new cycle and the chance of pregnancy. It’s driven by hormones related to your reproductive cycle – meaning any person with these hormones can menstruate.
“There are several menstrual cycle phases,” says Dr Jana. “Menstruation, the follicular phase (when the follicles that contain the eggs start to develop), ovulation (when the Graafian follicle, aka the most mature follicle inside the ovary, releases its egg, and the egg starts its journey towards the uterus) and the luteal phase (after ovulation when the endometrial lining thickens in preparation for potential pregnancy).”
“The egg only survives about 24 hours after release. If pregnancy doesn’t occur in that window, your body must shed that thickened lining in preparation for the final phase of menstruation. This allows a fresh start, and a new egg will make the same journey. A menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of your period till the first day of the next period and for most people is around 28 days.”
What does a period feel like? Does it hurt?
The bottom line? It’s different for everyone. Dr Jana agrees: “Most people who menstruate get mild cramps or pain that can be controlled with simple analgesia. But some have dysmenorrhea which means ‘painful periods’.”
If you experience painful periods that worsen over time or your symptoms change, it’s a good idea to go see your doctor for a check-up.
Do periods smell?
Yes, most people will report having a distinct smell from blood loss during their period. But let’s get one thing straight: natural body smells are nothing to be embarrassed about. Dr Jana explains where this smell comes from.
“Along with blood and tissue, there are lots of normal bacteria that reside in the vagina and uterus that come out with menstruation and can contribute to odour,” she says.
“However, if you notice the smell becomes overly offensive, it’s time to head to the doctor as this could indicate an infection like bacterial vaginosis. Burning, stinging, and itchiness associated with smell and pain also require further investigation. Good hygiene, changing your Modibodi undies regularly and daily showers can help a lot.”
Is there anything I won't be able to do during my period?
The short answer is no. You should be able to do anything you would normally do when you are menstruating, including things like sports, swimming and sex etc. Products like sports period undies and period swimwear make it easy to continue your day-to-day life while you’re on your period. However, it’s different for everyone.“It really depends on how comfortable you are physically and emotionally,” says Dr Jana, “so it's different for everyone. Some will have debilitating pain or such heavy bleeding that it's very hard to do normal daily activities.”
“These people need to see a gynaecologist who specialises in this to try and find solutions. An important ‘don’t do’ while on your period is douching. That is when you clean yourself internally with water inside the vagina. Your vagina has a healthy balance of bacteria, so this cleaning style is unnecessary and interferes with the natural biota and can lead to more infections and health issues.
What is the average blood loss during your period?
If there’s one thing you can take out of Menstrual Health Day, it’s that everyone’s bodies are different. “On average, people who have a period lose 30-60ml of blood in their cycle, which is about 2-3 tablespoons,” says Dr Jana. “However, some have ‘heavy periods’, which can mean a heavy amount for 3-5 days or a prolonged cycle duration.” This variety in blood loss is why our period undies are available in so many different absorbencies; from Super Light to Heavy-Overnight, everyone’s needs and flow are covered.
Will people know I am on my period?
No – it’s hard for people to know you are on your period if you have the right products (like Modibodi leak-proof underwear) and change regularly.
“If you’re worried about being caught unaware when your period is due, you can track your cycle and then start wearing your period underwear a day or 2 before it starts,” Dr Jana recommends.
When is your period officially over?
Let’s talk about the big M – menopause. “Our period stops when you eventually go through menopause, which for most people is around 51 years,” says Dr Jana.
“As the number of eggs reduces in the ovary, the hormones change, and the menstrual cycle phases fluctuate until they cease altogether. Some people may go through surgical menopause before they would naturally end their cycles if they have their ovaries surgically removed or if they have a hysterectomy.”
Dr Jana continues, “Throughout your reproductive life, there may be periods of amenorrhea (no periods). These occur when you are pregnant, with certain contraceptive options, and in certain stressed states like low body weight.”
Ready to celebrate Menstrual Health Day?
All menstruating bodies are incredible – and we all deserve to understand what’s happening inside us. If you’re hungry for more info, check out our other Modibodi blogs here.