There are a few certainties in this world when it comes to our periods: They like to eat underwear, pay surprise visits, and hang out in the company of ice cream. Everything else can feel like a game of fact vs fiction. (Because asking the gyno straight up might mean spending another 30 seconds in the stirrups. #byefelicia.)
So we rounded up the top blush-worthy questions Women’s Health readers had about the ol’ crimson tide and took them to an ob-gyn to set the record straight. Here is everything you need to avoid any more monthly mysteries.
1. Why Does It Smell Funky Down There During My Time of the Month?
Your period itself probably doesn’t stink, but when the blood hits the air and mixes with bacteria and sweat, things can get, shall we say, ripe. Your best stench defense is to change your tampon or pad frequently (as the blood builds up and hangs out, the smell will get stronger), and flush out downstairs with water when you can, says Jessica Shepherd, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. (A warm shower is perfect, but steer clear of super-harsh soaps or douching, which could irritate your vajayjay.)
2. Why Is My Period Blood Brown for the First Couple Days?
“What you’re seeing is just older blood,” says Shepherd. (The red stuff turns brown over time.) That could be because leftover uterine lining from your last cycle is finally coming out. Or, your uterus may simply shed blood at a slower rate, giving it a chance to turn to brown before hitting your tampon. There’s nothing wrong with a slow-shedding uterus, says Shepherd, and while it’s kind of gross and tarry-looking, that brown stuff isn’t usually a cause for concern.
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3. I Have a Really Heavy Flow. When Should I Be Concerned That It’s Too Much?
“Women know their bodies best, so ask yourself, ‘Is it heavy for me or heavier than normal?’” says Shepherd. If you’re bleeding so much that you have to take off work or cut back on regular activities (or you’re going through a ton more tampons than usual) talk to your gyno. The good news is that docs can often control heavy bleeding by switching up your birth control (or putting you on one in the first place). “It’s less common, but sometimes fibroids are to blame for a heavy flow, and we have a small procedure we can do to really take down the bleeding in that case as well,” says Shepherd. That procedure is called a myomectomy, which allows the uterus to be left in place.
4. I’m in My Late 30s, and My Period Only Lasts a Day Now. Is That Normal?
Lots of women have short periods their entire life, and it doesn’t mean anything’s wrong. If this is a change from your normal period length (sounds like it is) and lasts for four to six cycles, bring it up to your doc. (Anything that happens once could be a hormonal fluke, so lots of gynos will want to see a pattern before raising a red flag, says Shepherd.) Sudden, super-short periods could be a sign of fibroids, polyps, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), so your doc will want to rule all those things out before giving you the green light.
5. Why Are the Blood Clots I Release During My Period So Large?
Most of the time, those chunky blobs of blood are more scary-looking than anything else. They usually coincide with heavy periods and mean your blood is shedding fast—so quickly that those anticoagulants in the body aren’t able keep up. So out comes a congealed, freaky blob. Now, how big are we talking? “Anything that’s grape or cherry-sized isn’t necessarily concerning, but if your clots are peach or plum-sized, talk to your doc so she can find a medication or treatment to help you deal,” says Shepherd. She might also want to test you for anemia since you’re losing a decent amount of blood.
6. Can I Get Pregnant if I Have Sex on My Period?
Heck. Yes. Here’s why: “People have abnormal periods all the time, so you might be bleeding while still in that ovulation phase where it’s possible to get pregnant," says Shepherd. Plus, little spermies can live for up to 72 hours in the vagina, so even if you weren’t ovulating when you had sex, it’s possible they could find an egg over those next few days as the hormonal tides change.
7. What Does It Mean if I Get My Period Twice in One Month?
“There are loads of reasons you could be having an irregular cycle—ranging from stress to medical issues like PCOS, diabetes, thyroid disease, fibroids, or obesity,” says Shepherd. If it happens just once, don’t sweat it. “We have this perception that our hormones are perfect, but sometimes they get thrown out of whack,” says Shepherd. That said, if your cycle is acting up for three or four months in a row, check in with your gyno. She might order some blood work or do an ultrasound to investigate why you’re doubling up on QT with your flow.
8. Why Is My Poop Looser When I Have My Period?
Lovely that the two coincide, huh? “When you’re on your period, it’s considered an inflammatory time in the body, and these hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins are released,” says Shepherd. They’re the reason you might have cramps (by causing contractions in your uterus), and they can also mess with your bowels, leaving you with soft stools or extra movement (a.k.a. pooping more frequently). The good news is that prostaglandins don’t hang around long-term—most people get back to their regular bathroom routine in a few days.