Despite menstruation being a commonplace experience, there’s still a stigma around periods. While some women are comfortable discussing menstrual miseries like cramping, hormonal changes and bloating, there are a few things many of us are too ashamed to admit happen during that time of the month. But can we let you in on a little secret? Chances are, the same period woes you’re experiencing are probably happening to other women.
In order for us to reduce the stigma and eventually end period shaming, we have to openly talk about menstruation and our bodies. Below, we’ve highlighted five things that may seem like period taboo for you, but are actually pretty normal. Not only that, we’ve also included the things you should really be alarmed about. The biggest takeaway here is that you should still speak up about your period and its associated symptoms, whether they’re deemed as normal, weird or gross.
1. Your pooping habits change.
"It’s normal to have mild constipation several days before your period and then loose stools when your period starts," Alex Golden, a functional medicine doctor and co-founder of Zesty Ginger, tells ESSENCE. "This is because of the normal controlled inflammation that occurs in the area. However, constipation that lasts more than a few days or severe diarrhea should be checked out by a doctor."
Also, according to Popular Science, prostaglandins, which are sort of like hormones, are created during a chemical reaction to help control certain body functions, like constricting and dilating blood vessels and contracting and relaxing muscles. When this chemical sends prostaglandins to the uterus to contract during menstruation, sometimes a few prostaglandins stray and end up near your bowel. Due to those stray prostaglandins getting their signals crossed, they end up alerting the bowel to contract instead of the uterus.
2. You feel tired all the time.
Golden suggested that feeling less active during the first two days of your period is par for the course.
"While your energy levels should never tank, the desire to rest more is totally normal," suggested Golden. "This happens because the hormonal levels, the brain and the central nervous system are all geared to rest at this time. Getting extra sleep and gentle activity (walking, yoga, etc) are all good things to do at this time."
3. You see bloody clumps.
At some point, you’ve probably spotted a few clumps in your pad or when urinating. No need to worry! Golden advised these clumps are totally normal, along with actually feeling your blood flow. As the uterine lining sheds, these globs of coagulated blood, mucus and tissue develop and leave the body during the menstrual cycle.
"Small clots are normal but shouldn’t be happening past the first day or two," Golden advised.
However, if you consistently have large clumps, you should get checked out by your physician or gynecologist.
4. You notice discharge.
The body is weirdly fascinating. Sometimes the very things we think are problems is actually the body functioning as it should, including experiencing discharge during menstruation. By now, you should know that the color of your period blood could mean different things. That same varying color spectrum applies to discharge as well. So don’t panic when you see brown discharge. It’s just your uterus cleaning itself of the last of your period blood.
"Discharge is normal, but it shouldn’t have a strong smell or be yellow or green," added Golden.
5. You have two different kinds of periods during one cycle.
"The ovaries take turns creating the dominant egg for the month," explained Golden. "Sometimes the function of the ovaries can differ a bit, so it’s normal to notice slight changes between your periods."
On the other hand, here are three things that you should absolutely be concerned about during your period:
1. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Though Golden admitted that we often make light of PMS, the symptoms associated with it could "represent hormonal imbalance and dysfunction of the endocrine system."
2. Extreme Bloating
Blame it on hormones, water retention and increased blood flow as to why your abdomen may swell during that time of the month. However, according to Golden, if you’re experiencing extreme bloating, it’s usually a combination of "gut dysfunction leading to an exaggerated inflammatory response."
3. Heavy Periods and Painful Cramps
While it’s okay to experience mild cramps during your period, due to uterine contractions, severe cramps and heavy blood flow is another thing altogether. It could mean you’re suffering from endometriosis or that you have fibroids.
"If you feel your period is heavier or more painful than you see in other women, it’s good to get yourself checked out early so that future fertility isn’t compromised," recommended Golden.
For more on what you can expect during your period and things that aren’t normal, you can download this free guide on all things menstruation.