Almost every woman who walks through my virtual doors has a powerful desire to better understand what is going on in her body and with her lady parts. She wants to know how her hormones function, how to recognize the signs of a hormonal imbalance — and ultimately, how to address the symptoms she's experiencing.
Unfortunately, most women have never been taught the language their bodies communicate in, much less how to decipher the often-confusing messages they send. This has led to a widespread misunderstanding of what is actually going on "down there."
One of the best ways for women to get back in touch with their bodies and take charge of their endocrine health is to begin carefully observing and taking note of various menstrual signs and symptoms each month. Our menstrual cycles can tell us a lot about what is going on in our bodies in general.
While there is no such thing as one perfect menstrual cycle, there are many indicators of a healthy cycle that you can easily pay attention to starting now. Here are my top five …
1. Your menstrual cycle should be between 25-35 days long.
It should be a consistent length each month and not fluctuate. In other words, if your period lasts 29 days one month, 34 days the next and 26 days the following month, you might be dealing with irregular hormonal fluctuations.
If your cycle is less than 25 days you may have a condition called Luteal Phase Defect, which is characterized by a short luteal phase (the second half of your cycle after ovulation). This condition is typically caused by a hormonal imbalance called Estrogen Dominance, where estrogen levels rise too high in relation to progesterone levels. If your cycle is longer than 35 days, you may have a condition that is delaying or preventing ovulation from occurring. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Amenorrhea are common culprits.
In any of these cases, it's important to visit your doctor to see what might be going on with your hormones. A healthy period is a sign of a healthy body and mind.
2. When you get your period, the blood should be a bright red color (kind of like cranberry juice).
This is a sign that there is adequate blood flow to your pelvic region and that blood isn't stagnating in the uterus. By contrast, dark red blood, brown blood or clots may be caused by a sluggish flow and/or poor uterine circulation. These issues might also be caused by an underlying hormonal imbalance (usually Estrogen Dominance). If there is blood stagnation, I recommend a hot water bottle or castor oil packs applied directly to the abdomen to stimulate blood flow.
3. Your cervical fluid will change throughout your cycle.
Cervical fluid is one of the most important indicators of healthy, functional ovulation because it changes according to the most dominant hormones in each phase of your cycle. What is cervical fluid? Well, do you ever notice that once your period finishes, you tend to experience a dry sensation? It's then that you're producing very little cervical fluid. This is because estrogen is very low.
As you approach ovulation, and your estrogen levels rise, your cervical fluid will be wet and may even appear slightly opaque. Then, during the ovulatory phase, your cervical fluid will become even more wet, possibly watery and/or might take on an egg-white-like consistency (long and stretchy). As soon as ovulation occurs and progesterone production begins, your cervical fluid will almost immediately become sticky and begin to dry up. It will typically stay dry until your next period.
4. PMS is definitely not the norm.
No matter how many women you know who deal with cravings, mood swings, and other "typical" symptoms each month, remember that PMS is not the norm. Yup, you read that right!
In fact, physical and emotional PMS symptoms like bloating, breast pain and swelling, mood swings, anxiety, cramps and acne are usually manifestations of an imbalance between estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol.
Interestingly, progesterone makes a woman's body more sensitive to blood sugar swings during the second half of her cycle — and the symptoms of blood sugar instability are almost exactly the same as PMS symptoms! So make sure to keep your blood sugar stable by eating protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats at each meal.
5. You should only bleed during your period and not at other times in your cycle.
Irregular bleeding, also known as "breakthrough bleeding" outside of your period days — during your luteal phase — could indicate low progesterone. This is the hormone that holds your uterine lining intact until the end of your cycle when it plunges and causes the endometrium to shed.
There is one exception to this rule that occurs during ovulation. Some women experience ovulatory bleeding (a sign that ovulation is happening) which typically lasts from 1-2 days and resembles very light spotting. Don't panic if this happens, it is actually very normal.
To help yourself keep tabs on potential irregularities in your cycle — to make sure you have a healthy cycle — I recommend using a period-tracking app like Kindara and iPeriod to record all the data you collect during each cycle.
Taking a little extra time to check in with your body gives you the chance to recognize abnormalities and take steps to effectively address them. Hopefully these five important clues will help you get started on the journey to balanced hormones!