A common misconception about the female body is all vaginal bleeding incidents are periods. The truth is periods are one of the many causation of vaginal bleeding. However, this doesn’t mean all non-period related bleeding is abnormal. Vaginal bleeding is a sign your body gives to let you know what’s going on—good or bad. Sometimes vaginal bleeding may mean you will ovulate in a few days or you suppressed your period. You’ll learn more about causes of vaginal bleeding later on in this post but first let’s focus on determining when you are on your period. Don’t worry, it’s easy. You’ll need to remember the facts listed under “Healthy Menstrual Cycle” or bookmark this page for future reference. Okay? Let’s get started.
Healthy Menstrual Cycle:
What’s a period?
- A period is when your body sheds the uterine lining (womb). The menstrual blood travels from the uterus to the cervix and out of the body through the vagina.
- A period lasts between 2-7 days.
- There are 2 ways the menstrual flows:
- Light -> Heavy-> Moderate -> Light -> Very Light
- Heavy -> Heavy -> Moderate -> Moderate -> Light
- A period occurs about 12-16 days after ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary).
- Premenstrual breast tenderness, mild cramps, or mild mid low back pain may be experienced during menstruation.
What’s a menstrual cycle?
- The menstrual cycle is the recurring monthly process of ovulation. If the egg is fertilized, a baby will develop. If the egg isn’t fertilized, a period follows.
- A menstrual cycle last between 21-35 days for adults and 21 to 45 days for teens.
- Any other type of bleeding that doesn’t meet the requirements for a healthy menstrual cycle is either anovulatory bleeding, normal spotting, or symptomatic of a problem.
How do I track my menstrual cycle?
- The best way to keep track and understand your menstrual cycle is to use the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler is a great to book to learn how to use FAM.
Other Causes of Vaginal Bleeding
- Withdrawal Bleeding
When taking hormonal birth control such as the pill or the patch, your body experiences menstrual suppression. Menstrual suppression is using hormonal birth control to avoid periods. The week of bleeding you experience while taking the pill or patch is called withdrawal bleeding. Withdrawal bleeding is, “The body’s reaction to not having the hormones [from the hormonal birth control] it gets the other three weeks of the cycle.” Although withdrawal bleeding may feel or act like a period, it is not since hormonal birth control contains active hormones that prevents ovulation and keeps the uterine lining thin.
- Anovulatory Bleeding
Anovulatory bleeding is when you don’t ovulate because there isn’t enough estrogen to release an egg.However, the estrogen produced is sufficient to cause a slight shedding of the uterine lining.
Another cause of anovulatory bleeding is when estrogen continues to stimulate the growth of the uterine lining until it can’t support itself anymore and breakthrough bleeding occurs.
If you are over 40, decreased sensitivity to the hormones follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) causes anovulatory bleeding.
- Implantation Spotting
Implantation spotting occurs when the egg attaches to the uterine lining about a week after ovulation.
- Breastfeeding Spotting
Breastfeeding spotting occurs at about 6 weeks postpartum after spotting due to childbirth (initial lochia) has stopped. It’s caused by withdrawal of hormones that had been circulating at high levels during pregnancy. While breastfeeding, hormone level fluctuates due to the varying needs of the baby. This temporary hormonal imbalance causes nursing women to experience spotting.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT is used to treat menopausal symptoms and it causes spotting for the first 4-6 months of treatment as a side effect. If you experience heavy bleeding, spotting for more than six months, or if bleeding occurs after your first 4-6 months of spotting stops, please consult a doctor.
- Ovulatory Spotting
Ovulatory spotting is a secondary fertility sign to notify you where you are in your menstrual cycle. It occurs a day or two before ovulation; when your estrogen levels decreases.
- Dark Brown or Blackish Spotting
Dark brown or blackish blood is old blood and it usually occurs days leading up to your period or at the end of your period. It changes to theses colors when oxygen is exposed to blood that slowly flows out of the body.
- Spotting After Office Procedure
Spotting often occurs after office procedures such as pap test, cervical biopsies, cryosurgery, cautery, laser surgery, pelvic exam, and IUD insertions.
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