Our bodies change as we grow older. Our hair turns grey, our skin develops wrinkles, and our metabolism slows down. So, why do we worry when out period changes? Changes in the menstrual cycle are normal as we age. Our hormones dictate our period. Anything that affects the release of hormones like stress, lifestyle changes, or health conditions can affect your menstrual period.
There is nothing known as a ‘normal’ period as your periods adjust and evolve all through your life. Women have around 450 periods during their lifetime, which gives you plenty of opportunities to learn about what to expect during periods. However, your period can surprise you with showing up when you least expect it or sometimes not showing up at all.
Read on to learn what changes to expect in your period in the decades to come and the signs that all is not well.
1. Tweens and teens
The median age of menarche in the US is 12.43 years (1). During menarche (the beginning of the menses), it is common for the periods to be irregular and unpredictable. It can take up to three years for a girl’s periods to become regular. Young girls do not ovulate regularly, which is why their periods are irregular.
Most girls get their first period around two years after their breasts start to develop. Another sign that they may get their first period soon is a vaginal discharge that they see in their underwear. The discharge begins a year before a girl gets her first period.
- Suggested read: How to Induce Period? 13 Ways to Get Your Period Fast
2. Your 20s
Your period becomes regular and predictable by the time you reach your 20s. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. Most women’s cycles occur between 21 and 36 days and last up to a week.
When your cycle becomes regular, you may also start experiencing PMS, cramps, and breast tenderness.
Many women start taking hormonal birth control in their 20s. This method of contraception can make your periods lighter and more regular and reduce cramping and other PMS symptoms.
Women are also experiencing many other things for the first time in their life at this stage. Tensions of the first job, relationship troubles, and many other such stresses can lead to irregular periods.
Many women become aware that they are suffering from a menstrual condition in their 20s. PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, premenstrual syndrome and painful periods are some such conditions. Visit your OBGYN if you suspect you are suffering from any of these problems.
3. Your 30s
During your 30s, your menstrual cycle will be quite similar to what it was in your 20s – predictable and consistent. Women will continue to experience PMS, cramps, pain in the lower back, and tender breasts during periods.
If you notice any changes like a heavier flow or intense pain, it may be a sign of a problem. Fibroids can cause heavier bleeding, and endometriosis can lead to severe pain.
Another significant change that you may experience in your 30s is pregnancy. You do not get your period when you are pregnant. Even after you give birth, your periods do not come back immediately. If you are not breastfeeding, you will get your period around six weeks after delivery. If you have decided to breastfeed, your period will not return till you choose to stop or reduce the times you feed.
You may also notice some other changes in your period after your pregnancy. For some women, the bleeding becomes heavier. Others find their cramps getting better. Since your cervical opening becomes bigger after pregnancy, the flow comes out without strong uterine contractions.
4. Your 40s
Your 40s mark the beginning of your perimenopause (3). While you won’t reach menopause till your early fifties, during perimenopause(8 to 10 years before menopause), you will experience hormonal fluctuations. This shift in hormonal levels can affect ovulation and cause changes in the menstrual cycle. As estrogen and progesterone levels do not follow their regular pattern during perimenopause, it could lead to irregular bleeding or spotting. The number of days between your periods may also increase or decrease, and you may even begin to skip periods.
Irregular periods alone are not enough to determine that you are perimenopausal. You must also watch for signs like hot flashes, night chills or sweats, a drier than usual vagina, loss of breast fullness, sleeplessness, and weight gain.
Irregular periods can also be a sign of thyroid dysfunction, PCOS, and other medical problems. It is always a good idea to consult with your doctor.
5. Your 50s
Though you can reach menopause in your late forties or early 50s, the average age for menopause in the US is 51. Menopause is diagnosed after you have gone 12 months without your menstrual period.
Most women that are nearing their menopause can expect symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms include:
- Irregular or missed period
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Sore breasts
- Frequent urination
- Dry skin
- Emotional changes
Any bleeding after your menopause is abnormal. Check with your healthcare professional if you notice bleeding after menopause.
Ways to track your menstrual cycle
If you suspect all is not normal with your menstrual cycle, you can track it by keeping a record on your calendar.
- Note down the date of the start and end of your period. Is it shorter or longer than usual?
- Record if your flow is heavier or lighter than usual. Have you also passed some blood clots?
- Note down if you notice any bleeding or spotting between periods.
- Does your period pain feel worse than usual? Describe it.
- Note down any changes in your mood.
What causes irregularities in the menstrual cycle?
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Eating disorders – excessive weight loss or weight gain
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Premature ovarian failure
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Uterine fibroids
When should you consult your doctor?
You should consult your doctor if –
- Your periods stop for more than three months when you’re not pregnant.
- Your periods suddenly become erratic.
- You bleed for more than eight days.
- You bleed heavily or soak through more than one pad or tampon every hour for two hours in a row.
- The frequency of your periods is less than 21 days or more than 35 days.
- You bleed between periods.
- You develop severe pain during your menstrual cycle.
- You suddenly get a high fever and feel sick after using tampons.
A women’s menstrual cycle can fluctuate throughout her lifetime. During menarche (the beginning of the menses), it is common for the periods to be irregular and unpredictable. When you reach your 20s, your cycle becomes regular; you may also start experiencing PMS, cramps, and breast tenderness. During your 30s, you may notice some other changes in your period after your pregnancy. Some women the bleeding becomes heavier; others find their cramps getting better.
Your 40s mark the beginning of perimenopause, during which you experience hormonal fluctuations and symptoms like irregular bleeding and spotting. Most women reach menopause in their early 50s, which is diagnosed after 12 months without your menstrual period. Any bleeding after your menopause is abnormal. You must consult with your healthcare professional if you notice bleeding after menopause.