Menstruation is a normal part of life for women, and as much as it is a milestone for young girls who are just entering puberty, periods can be just as tricky and confusing for women in their teens, 20s and beyond. However, knowledge is power, and these basic but important facts about menstruation are a great way to get to grips with understanding their periods, no matter how old you are.
On average, girls will get their periods by age 12.
Around a century ago, girls got their periods around the age of 15 or 16, which health experts believe has changed over the years due to diet, lifestyle and stress levels. While girls in the modern era are more likely to get their periods around the age of 12, there are many young girls who start exhibiting signs of puberty at a much younger age. This is a condition called ‘precocious puberty’, and occurs in girls as young as the age of seven or eight years old.
Women typically lose anywhere between two tablespoons and half a cup of blood during their period.
Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different and depends on a variety of factors, including age, diet, hormone levels, health and fitness, and the presence of any medical conditions. Some women will experience a heavier flow than others, but losing any more than half a cup (125 millilitres) of blood during each cycle is cause for concern, and it’s important to seek medical advice immediately.
Period cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus
At the start of puberty, the ovaries contain around 400,000 egg-carrying follicles. Each month, one of these follicles containing a fully developed egg will move towards the surface of the ovary – it is during this time, women are most fertile. This is followed by ovulation which typically occurs on the 14th day of a woman’s menstrual cycle, when the ovarian surface and follicle open to release the egg. It’s at this point where women will feel a kind of cramp or discomfort in the lower abdomen or back, called ‘mittelschmerz’, which is a German word meaning ‘middle pain’. If the egg remains unfertilised, the uterus eventually begins to contract in order to expel the uterine lining, causing menstrual cramps.
PMS and other mood issues are caused by a drop in hormones
Oestrogen and progesterone are the two key hormones responsible for helping to build up and stabilise the uterine wall. Hormone levels begin to drop in the week before you get your period, which is what contributes to the mood changes and emotional shifts that some women experience around this time.
Some women experience mood swings and others are relatively calm throughout their periods; many women are fortunate enough to have a light flow, and there are those who have to change their pads or tampons more often than others. Every woman is unique and so is her period, and understanding how menstruation works is half the battle won.