For Better or For Worse: Understanding Your Normal Period

Monthly cycles are a woman’s companion, for 3-4 decades of her life, for better or for worse. Hormonal and mood changes associated with it have been the subject of many anecdotes and tales.

Many of us think of our cycles as unproductive times, both work-related as well as spiritually.

It doesn’t have to be so. Planning and prioritizing tasks can take the burden off from days that you don’t feel 100%.

Spiritually, it does not have to be a complete break, even though we don’t pray during our cycle. We can increase in remembrance of our Creator (dhikr) and other good deeds like charity.

What is a normal period?

A complaint I hear frequently is: “My periods are all over the place. I don’t have any pattern.”

Many of us have a preconception that there is a “date“ on which the cycle must start. If that’s not so there is a problem, and our cycle is irregular.

This is not true. 

Cycles can vary greatly and still be considered normal.

The monthly cycle starts on the first day of your last period and ends on the first day of your next period.

This can range from anything between 21-40 days. Periods normally last between 3-5 days, but again 2-7 days is a normal duration.

Then comes the actual flow. What some women consider normal, others may call heavy. 

If you see clots in the flow bigger than a penny, or you soak through and stain your clothes, your periods are heavy, and you may want to see your doctor.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

When do periods start and when do they stop?

For most girls, menstrual cycles begin at the age of around 12. But girls are starting periods earlier and it is common to see girls as young as 9 or 10 having periods. Read here to learn more about when to seek medical help if your daughter or sister starts experiencing their periods early.
Menopause, or the time that periods pack up, is around the age of 51 but may vary from 45-55 years. If periods stop before the age of 40, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Some women would need either hormone supplements or medication to strengthen their bones.

Feeling moody before periods?

You are not the only one!

As many as 3 in 4 women can be moody for a week or sometimes two weeks before their period. You may also have headaches and bloating. 

Many women will miss work at some point in time because of severe PMS (Premenstrual syndrome).

However, this does not, entitle women to use this as an excuse to be disrespectful or uncompromising with others. A healthier approach is to find excuses for somebody who is moody when it is not in their nature to be so.

However, if you are feeling snappy and short-tempered, and you know it may be because of your hormones, explain to your near and dear ones how you are feeling to prevent misunderstandings.

An exaggerated form of PMS is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).

Women experience the symptoms of PMS, but on more intense levels. Some may feel depressed, anxious and even suicidal. 

Do not ignore these symptoms in either yourself or a family member. Sometimes the one suffering from PMDD may not have insight into the severity of the problem and a close friend or family member may pick it up.

You need to refer yourself to emergency services, which may vary depending on the country where you reside. Most countries have emergency mental health services.

Changes in the pattern of your periods

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

Each one of us recognizes what is normal for our cycle.

It is not unusual to have early or delayed periods, heavy or light periods for a couple of cycles. Stress may cause hormonal imbalances and it usually settles back into a normal pattern.

However, if your periods start getting heavier and you are above the age of 40, do see your doctor.

Spotting in between cycles is a common complaint. If there is any possibility of pregnancy at all, do a pregnancy test to read more about the causes of spotting in different age groups, read this article.

If periods start spacing out and becoming lighter near the age of 45, you are probably going through the menopausal phases. No need to worry!

Should menstrual leave be universal in workplaces?

Japan is one of the few countries where women are allowed a menstrual leave. This law has been in place for nearly 70 years. South Korea also allows women to take leave during their periods if they suffer severe pain or heavy periods. Despite being entitled to menstrual leave, a 2017 survey in Japan showed that only 9 in 1000 women claimed menstrual leave. The reason being, there is a stigma attached to the menstrual cycle and women do not like telling their male employers that they are off sick because they are menstruating.

India is one of the countries where there is a lot of shame associated with periods. In some rural areas, girls are not allowed to cook or touch people when they are menstruating!

“Girls in India typically miss 20% of the school year because of their period, and 70% of mothers consider menstruation ‘dirty,” according to a 2014 report by philanthropic organization Dasra. as quoted in an article in CNN in 2021.

No wonder Indian food delivery company, Zomato, made recent headlines when CEO Deepinder announced period leave for their female employees. Read the note here.

Shockingly, the biggest opponents of period leave is women!

Westernized countries are yet to offer period leave, although it has been debated.

Feminists have widely debated the matter and are divided if menstrual leave helps or hinders women in the workplace.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Befriend your monthly cycles and embrace your womanhood!

Understanding your cycle and accepting the changes that your body goes through will make you happier and productive. 

Focus on what you can do rather than the limitations.

For sporty sisters, don’t let your cycle dampen your spirits. Think of alternatives – treatment to control symptoms and be open with your trainers so that you can discuss options.

Working women need to adjust their commitments around their cycles if their periods hinder everyday life. There is still a lot of shame attached to admitting that you are unable to perform certain tasks effectively. It will take the collective effort of men and women to overcome this long-standing negative perception of periods and it’s connection to productivity.

Stay-at-home mums – tell your husband, children, and other family members if you are struggling and ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence. They don’t know till you tell them.

Be positive, be kind to yourself and spread positivity and kindness.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Umm Aasiya is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. She gave up clinical practice due to health and family issues in 2020. She uses her years of experience to share authentic medical knowledge. Her aim is to empower sisters through credible information, enabling them to make informed choices about their health. Her main focus is to connect with her Creator, learn and reflect upon the Quran as much as she can.
The rest of her time is spent looking after her husband, 3 lovely children and their cat, Lulu.
For more from Umm Aasiya, click here

Menstrual Products That Are Good For You (And The Environment) | OPINION

Blood comes out of my vagina every month and has been since I was really young. That means I have used a lot of pads and tampons. All of which has cost me money and cost my planet. Below are a few period products I have come to love, including a few BONUS Yoga-inspired moves (from my favourite YouTubers) that really help for those uncomfortable and painful periods or PMS days.

I love these products because they help me save money, they have a gentler impact on the planet and they all believe in the common cause to uplift and support women and humans with vaginas!

Bamboo Pads

Pads are one of the first menstrual products introduced to humans with vaginas. They’re really easy to use; with an adhesive strip on the back that sticks to the underwear. Most are made of cotton and some have added fragrances or layering. I used pads for most of my menstrual journey. However, the one thing that really put me off wearing pads was the harmful chemicals they leached out into the earth, air and (potentially) oceans after ending up in landfills. According to the OrganiCup blog, conventional pads contain chemicals such as chlorine, rayon and dioxin. I checked out three different brands of pads in my home, the Always and Stayfree brands didn’t have anything resembling an ‘ingredients list’, but the Libresse pack did. Although it didn’t mention the three chemicals listed above, it contained polypropylene and polyethylene. According to the Reliance Foundry blog, polyethylene is great to be recycled, but not suitable to be disposed of in a landfill. Tbh I wouldn’t want the same chemical that is used to make literally every other plastic product near my most sensitive body parts…

The closest answer to my dilemma was the Here We Flo Bamboo Pads. They’re incredibly soft, fragrance-free, cruelty-free, vegan and 99% biodegradable! Plus it’s plastic-free, does not contain dioxins, artificial dyes or chlorine – these pads tick all the right boxes. The pads come in two ‘sizes’: a Day-pad for regular flows and a Night-pad for heavier flow days. I purchased the ‘Combo Pack’ which contains 10 Day and 5 Night pads, so you can easily play around with the absorbency.

Here We Flo Bamboo Pads | Credit: Ethical Superstore

I bought these from my local Clicks store, but you can buy directly from their website (or schedule monthly deliveries to your door!) And if you thought this woman-owned company couldn’t get any cooler, they donate 5% of their profits towards organisations fighting against Female Genital Cutting (FGC) and who aim to provide menstrual products to humans who are unable to afford them (because pink tax is real).

If you’re used to thick chonky pads, these may feel like thin pantyliners to you – and there did come a point when I was not sure if I had put one on or not. Because these pads are really soft, light-weight and non-itchy.

These pads do come with a pretty price though, retailing at R69.99 at any Clicks store. But the quality and assurance these babies pack are so worth every rand! If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, try the ANNA Sanitary Pads or the Clicks MyEarth Organic Cotton Ultra Normal Pads.

Menstrual Disc

Not to be confused with a menstrual cup! The ‘disc’ and ‘cup’ are both inserted into the vagina and collect the menstrual blood rather than absorbing it. Once the disc is inserted, it fits snug behind your pelvic bone in the fornix (space where the vaginal canal meets the cervix) and you’ll know it’s inside correctly because you won’t feel a damn thing! Check out this Healthline article about the science behind the menstrual disc.

L – Menstrual Cup R – Menstrual Disc | Credit: POPSUGAR

Made from squishy and body-safe silicone, these discs make for a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly product. Some, like the Flex Menstrual Disc, are single-use items. But I got my hands on the Softcup Menstrual Disc, which offers 12 hours of period protection and can be reused up to three cycles!

Before I ventured down the disc drive, I trained myself to be comfortable with the idea of inserting something into my vaginal canal. Coming from a Cape Malay, Muslim family – matters of the female anatomy were not always taught with a hint of celebration and acceptance. So if you’re afraid of having a ‘foreign item’ (a tampon, menstrual disc or menstrual cup) being inserted into your vagina, have a look at this helpful article or this one!

The menstrual disc offers you the freedom to run, swim, laugh, sneeze and cough without the feeling of gushing blood. Plus, you can go to bed completely worry-free.

And just you wait until you discover auto-dumping….life-changing!

This product definitely put me in a love-hate relationship with my body. Hate – my fingers coming out full of blood when I removed the disc. Feeling frustrated when I initially need to insert it. Love – learning that the cervix changes position throughout the menstrual cycle. Knowing where my pelvic bone is. Seeing the actual colour and consistency of my blood. Realising that the vagina is not a scary long tunnel, but another little organ that can do amazing things! Some of the other benefits I found when using the menstrual disc, was that it doesn’t cause dryness, nor is there any unpleasant odour.

Just pinch and insert | Credit: Greatist

When you first use this product, add a pantyliner or pad to your underwear in case of spills or leakages. But once you start using it, you kind of choreograph a special dance with your vagina!

Get your very own Softcup Menstrual Disc via the Clicks Online Store or Takealot.com.

Reusable Pads

Also known as cloth pads or washable pads, are made from cloth and absorbent material. This product takes a very traditional approach to managing a period. According to this Hello Clue blog post, if we look at the time of our grandmothers, during the 1800s to 1900s, many would use homemade cloths made of flannel or woven fabrics that they would need to wash after use. Please do yourself the favour and ask the elderly people in your life just how they ‘dealt’ with their periods.

Soft, comfortable and stylish | Credit: SUBZ

Given the harsh ordeals that many humans with vaginas have to face in South Africa alone, many who start menstruating often miss out on school. This is because of a lack of access to conventional menstrual products and an inability to afford them. They make use of homemade pad-like products using old cloth or leaves or newspaper. Some are forced to make use of previously soiled and dried sanitary towels. Enter the rise of the reusable pad! According to this post on The Conversation, reusable pads are easy to adopt as it takes the same habit of needing to be washed after each use, yet boats a safer, more hygienic and kinder period experience.

Speaking of kindness, many local initiatives that make these pads strive to allow menstruating South African humans to attend school even on their period.

I love my comfortable and secure SUBZ reusable pad. It’s made with 6 layers of period protection which includes three layers of hydrophilic (water-loving) fabric, waterproofing layers and hydrophobic (water-repelling) fabric. The outer cotton-knit feels so luxurious against the skin, it instantly adds a sense of comfort when used. Like traditional pads, these come with wings that clip around the gusset of your underwear.

Now the moment you have all been waiting for – yes, you need to wash them after using them. This is something that I know freaks out a lot of people, but honestly, it’s not that bad or big of a deal. I kind of remember watching a video of a woman boasting about the plant-fertilizing properties of period blood and according to this post on the Pixie Cup blog, this has been a growing trend…so, there’s that!?

Rinse the pad under cold running water, this is similar to those pool deep-cleaning videos. It will help to remove the mucus and tissue on the outer layer. Secondly, wash it thoroughly with soapy water. I prefer using good ‘ol Sunlight soap – mild in fragrance and tough on stains. Finally, give it a rinse through clean water, and hang it up to dry. Easy peasy!

My only gripe with the pads is that it lacks something to really make it sit in one place. Throughout the day, I found that my pad would slide around to the back of my panty as I moved. And I don’t think I was actually alone in the aisle while I awkwardly adjusted myself.

These pads are great for people who want to save months’ worth of money on sanitary items, help the environment and protect their bodies from potentially harmful chemicals. Additionally when you purchase a reusable item from the SUBZ website or stockist you instantly support an organisation that actively fights for the freedom of South Africa, where all menstruating individuals can attend school without shame.

The Standard Pad Self Clipping reusable pad costs R27.20, which is roughly the same as an entire pack of pads. Except this one pad will last you between 3 to 5 years! Another brand you can show some love is Palesas Pads. They sell the coveted Flo Kits, which are like those dried fruit gift baskets, except their packed with everything a menstruating person needs in their life! It comes equipped with a pad-designated washing bucket, a variety of reusable pads, hand-washing sops and white spirit vinegar to make sure you really keep your handy-dandy sanitary towels fresh!

BONUS: Relaxing Moves That Help With Period Cramps and Discomfort – these videos are part of my pain-proof-period arsenal. Cassey (Blogilates) and Sarah Beth (SarahBeth Yoga) have these fantastic videos to keep you going.