Having your period is normal and healthy. A period is part of the cycle you’ll go through each month as your body prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. If you don’t become pregnant, the lining of your uterus comes out of your vagina, as a period.
WHAT IS A PERIOD?
Each month hormones cause an egg (ova) in the ovaries to start maturing and be released from the ovary. This process is called ovulation.
The egg moves along the fallopian tube towards the uterus. At the same time, the lining of the uterus becomes thick and soft with blood and tissue. This happens in anticipation of the egg being fertilised. It would then implant itself into the lining of the uterus and grow.
Fertilisation only happens if the egg joins with a sperm. More often than not, the egg isn't fertilised so it is just reabsorbed back into the body.
When the egg is not fertilised, the lining of the uterus is not needed so it comes away and is released through your vagina.
This is what is called menstruation or a period.
You can read more about how periods work here.
Symptoms that come with periods
Getting your period means the hormone levels in your body change. The two hormones are oestrogen and progesterone.
These hormone changes can cause different symptoms before or during your period, such as:
- Cramps – it is common to have some cramps at the beginning of a period. They may be mild or severe enough to need medication
- Headaches - or migraines in the few days leading up to or during your period
- Sore breasts - swelling and soreness can happen before your period
- Diarrhoea - prostaglandins (chemicals released during your period) help the muscles in your uterus and intestines to move, but can also give you diarrhoea (runny poo). Prostaglandins can also cause vomiting
- Bloating – feeling full and tight in your tummy before and with your period
- Pimples – you might get pimples on your face or body seven to ten days before your period
- Cravings – you might really want to eat particular foods before your period
- Tiredness – anaemia (very low number of red blood cells) from heavy bleeding can be a cause of tiredness.
What’s in a period?
- Blood, cells from the lining of the uterus, cervical mucus and vaginal discharge
- You will normally lose between 4 and 12 teaspoons of blood each period.
The colour of the blood might change from red, to brown or black, towards the end of your period. This colour change is normal. The darker colour is a sign that the blood is slightly older, because it is not leaving your body as quickly.
There might also be clots in your blood. Usually your body tries to stop period blood from clotting, but if you have a heavy period, there might not be enough time to do this, so clots form. If they are large (about the size of a $2 coin or larger), it is a good idea to see a doctor or nurse at Family Planning.
Looking after yourself
Treating period pain
- Gentle exercise might help with cramps
- Try some relaxation techniques
- Heat pads (wheat bag/hot water bottle)
- Taking pain relief medication like ibuprofen, paracetamol or aspirin
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
- Talk to a nurse or doctor about what types of contraception might help your period pain.
What to use:
- Pads - These are cotton pads that stick to your underwear to soak up blood, and which you throw away after use. They come in many different shapes and types of absorbency (the amount of blood they can soak up).
- Tampons - These are pieces of cotton with a string at one end. You put them into your vagina to soak up your blood, and pull them out using the string. You should change a tampon every 4-6 hours, or as needed. You can choose from a range of sizes, depending on how heavy your period is.
- Menstrual cups - These are soft rubber cups that are put into the vagina to collect the blood. You empty the cup every 8-12 hours, rinse it with water, and put it back in.
- Reusable pads - These are cloth pads that you can wash and reuse. They are usually made of absorbent material like cotton or bamboo. It is recommended that after using the pad, you rinse it, soak it overnight and then wash it.
- Period underwear - These look and feel like your regular underwear, but are very absorbent. They can be used instead of pads or tampons when you have a light flow, or as a back-up when you have a heavy flow.
Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.