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6 Things to Know About Your Irregular Period

wrote this on May 18, 2015

Worried about your irregular period? Here’s what you need to know.

1. Your cycle doesn’t have to be 28 days.

It’s perfectly normal to have a period that comes every 21 to 35 days. 28 days is the average—not the rule.

Tip: To determine the length of your cycle, start counting from your first heavy day of bleeding.

2. Your follicular phase can vary.

Your follicular phase is your pre-ovulatory phase when your follicles (eggs) grow and progress toward ovulation. It can last anywhere from 7 to 21 days, and will vary depending on stress, diet, exercise, and even age. For example, it’s common to have a shorter follicular phase after age 35 (because you have higher levels of follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH).

##3. Ovulation is what matters (even if you don’t want a baby)##

Ovulation (release of an egg) is the key hormonal event of your cycle. It’s how you make your wonderful hormone progesterone, which is essential for a normal period. Progesterone matures and differentiates your uterine lining, so you have a proper menstrual bleed that starts easily, and then stops again after two to seven days.

Without ovulation (and without progesterone), you may still have a bleed, but it’s not a true period. Instead, it is an “anovulatory bleed” or “anovulatory cycle”. Anovulatory cycles occur very irregularly (14 to 100 days), and they typically have spotting and long bleeds of more than seven days.

If you do ovulate every cycle, then you’re probably okay—despite your irregular periods.

If you don’t ovulate, then that is what matters—not your irregular periods per se.

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4. Ovulation is pretty easy to detect.

How do you know if you ovulate or not? You can ask your doctor to test progesterone during your luteal phase, or you can look for physical signs of ovulation yourself. Signs include:

A regular cycle. A cycle of 21 to 35 days usually means that you ovulate, but not always. It is possible to have a somewhat regular anovulatory bleed.

Changes to your cervical fluid. Fertile mucus is slippery and fluid, and you should see it during the days just before ovulation (when estrogen is high). Unfortunately, you can also see fertile mucus during anovulatory cycles.

Position of your cervix. It will be higher and softer just before ovulation.

Twinges in your ovary. You may feel some mild discomfort in your lower pelvis as the egg ruptures out of your ovary. Not every woman experiences this.

Rise in basal body temperature (BBT). Your temperature should rise by 0.9°F (0.5°C) in the few days after ovulation, and then stay high for the rest of your cycle. A luteal phase temperature rise is the single most reliable way to know if you have ovulated.

Did you know? Luteal phase temperature rises because progesterone stimulates your thyroid gland to release more hormone.

5. Your luteal phase should not vary.

Your luteal phase is your post-ovulatory phase when your corpus luteum makes progesterone. Unlike your follicular phase, which can vary by up to two weeks, your luteal phase should not vary at all. Your luteal phase is defined by the lifespan of your corpus luteum, so it can never be longer than 14 days (unless you are pregnant).

6. Your period can become more regular.

You may have an irregular period now, but it won’t always be like that. Your body wants to ovulate regularly. It will do so as soon as it’s given the right support.

Common causes of irregular periods include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance, excess prolactin, stress, thyroid disease, nutritional deficiencies, eating disorders, smoking, and excess soy in the diet.

Find the underlying problem, and correct it. Your period will come.

Dr. Lara Briden is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor. She qualified from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1997, and currently runs a busy hormone clinic in Sydney, Australia. Earlier this year, she released her book Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods.