The onset of menstruation is a physical and emotional event in a female’s reproductive life. Most will have their first period between the ages of 11 and 14, and depending on the type of contraception used, will continue monthly until menopause.
The term “menstrual health” links period with general health, wellbeing, education, empowerment, equality, gender, and rights.
Expectations vary hugely on females’ views about what they define as “normal’’ menstruation. 51% of people on the planet have a period every month, on average, for 40 years, and therefore, menstrual health forms an integral part of wellbeing. It’s an essential indicator of female health, often overlooked by lifestyle, external factors, and chronic stress. Apart from a gynaecologist, when was the last time a health professional asked about your menstrual cycle as part of taking a general case history?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) considers periods and the menstrual cycle to be the fifth vital sign – meaning menstruation is as essential as changes in blood pressure, pulse, breathing rate, and body temperature.
It also informs what happens at the end of female reproductive years and the transition to post-menopause. Every *menstruator needs to be an expert on their own individual story and experience.
Menstruation or period stigma is a term used to describe the discrimination faced by people who menstruate. Self-stigma may cause many girls and women to tolerate unnecessary bleeding, pain and other associated symptoms significantly affecting their lives e affecting education and sports, work and family life, social life, and general quality of life. Society stigma can cause shaming as “dirty” or “unclean” Or inappropriate jokes about premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These forms of stigma can be compounded by “period poverty” – lack of access to sanitation supplies.
Learning how our body and brain work should be considered a life skill, but sadly, most of us know more about the technology we carry around than the thing that carries us around – our body?!
Track your periods.
Getting in the habit of tracking periods; monitoring changes on a month-to-month basis could provide four decades – 40 of valuable information about hormonal health. Simple options could be pen and paper, a calendar, or using one of the many free Apps, which will predict your cycle over time and send you reminders.
Tips for tracking periods.
- Note the start and end.
- Record if it’s getting longer or shorter?
- Note heaviness by day.
- Are they painful? While this is common, it’s not normal.
- Note other symptoms; mood, energy levels, appetite.
- Record back, leg or joint pain; while this is also common, it’s not normal.
- Record gut and bowel changes, such as bloating, loose stools, constipation.
If things change for the worse, take this information to your doctor or gynaecologist.
Did you know there is a group raising the profile of menstrual health in political and policy agendas? The Menstrual Health Coalition (MHC) aims to reduce the stigma around talking about periods and campaign for change to help women adversely affected by their menstrual health.
- Menstruator – people including girls, women, transgender and non-binary persons who menstruate/have periods. It’s a much more inclusive term used by informed healthcare providers and others.