Your Period, Explained

What is a period?

A period, or menstruation, is the time of the month when a woman sheds the lining of her uterus or womb. During a menstrual period, the blood passes from the uterus via a narrow opening in the cervix. Then it leaves the body through the vagina. Typically, a menstrual period lasts 3-5 days. The length and flow will vary from one woman to the next and may change throughout life. 

What is the menstrual cycle?

The menstrual cycle refers to the regular cycle of periods or menstruation. Consistent menstrual cycles indicate that a woman’s body is functioning properly. The cycle provides key body chemicals or hormones for regulating health. It also prepares the body for pregnancy. A cycle count begins on day 1 of the period and runs through day 1 of the next period. The average menstrual cycle length is 28 daysi. For teenagers, average cycles range from 21-45 days. For adults, average cycles range from 21-35 days. Carefree® provides a free period tracker that can help you better understand and plan for your cycle.

What do you experience during typical menstrual periods? 

During a period, you shed your thickened uterine lining and extra blood through the cervix opening and then the vagina, which is how the substances leave the body. The menstrual flow may be light, moderate, or heavy. It’s not unusual for the flow to be different from one month to the next or to change over time. Typically, a period lasts between three to five days. Anywhere from two to seven days is considered normal. Generally, when you first begin menstruating, your cycles are longer. As you age, your cycles often shorten and become more regular.

When do you typically get your first period?

In the United States, the average age to begin menstruation is 12. Beginning a period anywhere between ages 8 and 15 is considered normal. Generally, periods begin approximately two years after breasts begin to develop. If you have not started your period by age 15 or have not started your period more than two or three years after your breasts have started developing, consult with a physician.

How long do you have your period for?

Women have periods until they reach menopause. Typically, menopause occurs around age 50ii and can happen anywhere between ages 45 and 55. When menopause occurs, a woman is no longer ovulating or producing eggs and having periods, which means she can no longer become pregnant. Like menstruation, menopause varies from one woman to the next and may change over the course over several years.

The stage of life in which menopause begins is referred to as the menopausal transition. Menopause lasts anywhere from two to eight years. Some women experience early menopause due to illness, surgery, and other medical treatments. If you go 90 days without a period, consult with your doctor. He or she will test for pregnancy, early menopause, and other health issues, which may result in a period becoming irregular or stopping altogether.

After starting menstruation, there are several problems that may occur, including pain, heavy bleeding, and skipped periods. Factors that may contribute to changes in menstrual periods include stress, eating disorders, significant weight loss, excessive exercise, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and serious untreated medical issues.

Once you’ve started menstruating, it’s recommended to schedule yearly checkups with a gynecologist to ensure your menstrual cycle is normal and the gynecologist can address any issues that do arise in a timely fashion. If you ever have questions about your menstrual cycle, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

iInformation provided by, 2017.

iiContent distributed by Everyday Health Media, LLC– Menopause © 2017. Ornstein, B, Marcellin, L. (2012, November 21) Why Menopause May Begin Earlier for Some Women [Blog Post]. Retrieved from: