I'm A Geneticist & I Need You To Know "Normal" Menstrual Cycles Don't Exist
Think all the way back to biology class and even further back to health class. You were probably taught something along the lines of if you have intercourse, you're going to get pregnant. While that can be true, it's too simplistic of a teaching.
If you dive deeper into the textbooks, they have very traditional smooth, clean curves demonstrating a "normal" menstrual cycle. This information is ingrained in menstruating people, making them believe the cycle they experience should look exactly the same as everyone else's. Well, that's just not the case.
Why there's no such thing as a "normal" menstrual cycle.
The textbook "normal" represents a typical 28- to 32-day cycle. This means 28 or 32 days pass between the first day of your period in one cycle, and the day your next period starts. It also represents a female at her peak fertile age (early to mid-20s.)
While having a general understanding of what a typical cycle looks like can help people understand when their behavior is off, this data is outdated. The average age at which women had their first child has advanced from 21.4 years old in 1970 to 26.9 in 20181, and this is still rising.
On top of that, most people, whether they're trying to get pregnant or not, can have fluctuations in their hormones, which can disrupt their menstrual cycle. Hormones are not a physical thing we can monitor the way we can with hair growth or nail growth. You're not getting that daily feedback that something is off.
When women start monitoring their hormones, they may realize they're not fitting into this mold that society has deemed normal, and that starts raising alarms. Women need to be aware, whatever their baseline levels are, may be normal for them. There's so much variation, so being forced to fit into a model you believe is normal is completely inaccurate.
Understanding your personal cycle and hormones, however, can be incredibly valuable—especially when it comes to detecting true abnormalities for your body.
How to monitor your hormones to tell if something is off.
Typically, people don't really try to solve a problem until they've realized it's a problem. Whether you're trying to get pregnant or not, it can be helpful to know how your hormones are functioning.
One of the best ways to do this is by diligently tracking your cycles. That doesn't just mean draw a red dot on the calendar when your period comes. Ask yourself: when was your last period? How long did it last? How was your flow? What symptoms were you experiencing?
While it can be difficult to analyze your feelings and to stay disciplined in tracking, taking inventory of your body for a couple of months can help reveal whether or not something is off.
If you do notice concerning or irregular patterns, you can begin taking control of your hormones again. Eating foods high in vitamin D, adding more fiber-rich veggies to your diet to improve satiety and digestion, incorporating daily micro-movements, and getting quality sleep can all go a long way in hormonal balance. I recommend working with a doctor or OB/GYN to find the best plan for you.
At the end of the day, no two women have the same hormone trend, and they likely won't match up with the charts drawn in textbooks. So you may not be "perfect," but whatever cycle you have is perfect for you, and it's still possible to achieve your fertility goal (if you have one).
Amy Divaraniya, Ph.D. is the CEO and Co-Founder of Oova, a women’s health company. She has more than 10 years of experience as a data scientist and has both led and published original research in the areas of personal genomics and biomarker discovery. Her solid understanding of biology and being able to apply complex analyses have led to innovative projects in the healthcare space. In 2017, she chose to pivot her career as a data scientist and devote herself to improving women’s healthcare. After facing her own struggles with conceiving her son, Divaraniya decided to build a solution to help women having difficulty getting pregnant.
Today, she and her team have built the first at home test, Oova, that measures multiple hormones through urine samples and provides personalized results and insights on a woman’s fertility. As a response to COVID-19, Oova has done an early release of their product. Oova has resonated with many women and clinicians and is now being adopted by fertility clinics and hospitals across the country.