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What exactly is happening when you get your period?

To understand what your period, it's important to understand what the menstrual cycle is. The menstrual cycle is the monthly hormonal cycle a female’s body goes through to prepare for pregnancy. Your cycle is counted from the first day of your period up to the first day of your next period. Your hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) usually change throughout the menstrual cycle and can cause menstrual symptoms. The typical menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but everyone is different and there can be lots of variation in the length of one's cycle. 

Around the middle of the menstrual cycle, ovulation happens. This is when the ovaries release an egg through the Fallopian tubes into the uterus (btw if you're on hormonal birth control, this process does not happen!). Ovulation can last 12-24 hours, and it occurs so that if sperm were present, they could fertilize the egg to produce an embryo (pregnancy). Throughout your cycle your body also prepares for possible pregnancy by building up the lining of the uterus. However, if no sperm is  present and/or no fertilization happens, the egg will break down and the uterine lining will shed. So when you get your period, the fluids that your uterus releases through your vagina are a combination of the broken-down egg, parts of your uterine lining, blood, and some small amounts of uterine tissue.

Here's a helpful video that explains the menstrual cycle:

What causes cramps?​

Menstrual cramps are most likely caused by an excess of something called prostaglandins—compounds that are released from the uterine lining as it prepares to be shed. They are a necessary part of the menstrual process, but in excess, they cause pain.

People typically feel their cramps just before or at the time when bleeding begins each cycle. They usually last about one to three days. They may start strong and feel better as the hours pass, or come and go more randomly. Cramps can be barely noticeable, or quite painful or severe in some people.

Why is my period so irregular? Sometimes it's early and sometimes it's late.

Because your hormones are changing in adolescence,  it's really common to have an irregular period as a teenager. Periods can change/fluctuate/ be late for many other reasons too, such as stress, diet, the amount of exercise you do, and how much you sleep. If you're concerned about your periods being irregular, we encourage you to come talk to one of our providers. They can discuss some options for making your period more consistent, such as hormonal birth control. 

Is it safe to continually skip my period with the NuvaRing?

Yes, it is safe, just remember to get and insert a new NuvaRing on time every month!

Do period trackers work?

Period trackers (such as Spot On by Planned Parenthood) rely on accurate input of information from the user so that they can best generate an estimated day of ovulation, a five-to-six day fertile window, and the date of your next period. The longer you're tracking your cycle, the more data the app's algorithm has to work with, and the more likely it is to be correct.

In terms of accuracy, most period trackers are accurate IF if you're someone  who has a regular menstrual cycle and you consistently update the app. But the apps can sometimes be wrong—especially if you have an irregular or variable cycle.

How do I know if I'm pregnant?

The only way to know for sure is to take a pregnancy test. In order to get an accurate result, you must take a pregnancy test at least 14 days after last sexual contact OR after you  missed your period.

What's considered a heavy period flow?

A normal amount of menstrual fluid loss per period is between 5 mL to 80 mL, so it really varies in each individual. If you use a menstrual cup, these often have volume measurements (e.g., 10 mL, 15 mL, 25 mL) written on the side of the cup to help you estimate how much fluid you have lost.  A fully saturated light tampon can hold up to 3 mL of fluid, while a fully saturated super tampon may hold up to 12 mL. A regular daytime fully soaked pad may hold around 5 mL of fluid, and a fully soaked overnight pad may hold 10-15 mL.


As you mature, you'll start to understand what's "normal" for your own body. Keep in mind that different birth control methods may affect the heaviness of your period. Losing over 80 mL of menstrual fluid per period is considered heavy menstrual bleeding. 

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