Your period: what’s normal and what’s not

Having your menstrual period is a normal part of a healthy life. But sometimes, things can go awry.

What’s normal?

If you are not on birth control pills, you should have:

  • menstrual (vaginal) bleeding every 21 to 42 days
  • heavy (eight to ten pads or tampons per day) to light (one to two pads or tampons per day) bleeding, often starting heavy and tapering off toward the end
  • bright red to dark red to pink blood
  • possible mild cramping, bloating, and breast tenderness

If you are on hormonal birth control:

  • menstrual bleeding will usually occur every fourth week
  • your periods might be lighter than before or you may stop bleeding completely—this is not a problem
  • bleeding may be pink to dark red
  • you should have less cramping

What’s not normal?

If you experience any of these symptoms of an abnormal period, see your health care provider:

  • cycles that are less than 21 days or more than 40 days
  • cycles that stop for three to six months at a time (and pregnancy has been ruled out)
  • bleeding in the middle of your cycle
  • bleeding that lasts more than 10 days per month
  • excessively heavy bleeding (soaking a pad or tampon in an hour for more than two hours)
  • cramping or pelvic pain so severe that you miss work or school

What can cause changes in your period?

These things can cause your period to change:

  • hormonal birth control
  • hormonal imbalances
  • other medications
  • illness
  • excessive weight loss or gain
  • intense exercise
  • pregnancy
  • poor nutrition
  • stress
  • travel