One thing that’s bound to make any of us tense is coming up to and passing by the date we know we should get our period, without anything happening at all. But this doesn’t have to mean that anything bad is happening, and some of the most common causes of irregular periods are things that you can take care of in your own time.
Below we’ve set out a friendly, helpful guide on irregular periods. This includes what they are, the main causes of them, how a period returns after delivery of a baby, and how a lack of exercise (or even too much of it!) could all be affecting your monthly cycle. We’ve even given a few quick tips on how you can get your flow back to the way it was before!
We also suggest talking to your doctor before doing anything else if you’re ever worried about symptoms you’re having.
What is an irregular period?
For many of us, once we’ve gone through puberty and our hormones have settled down, our periods will fall into a natural routine. This is the regular menstrual cycle that should start all over again in a period every 28 days or so (it can be a bit longer or shorter than this as well). Menstrual bleeding, which is the part everyone knows as a period, should last between 2 and 7 days.
An irregular period is anything which doesn’t quite follow the expected pattern. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to worry, or to start stressing out that something may be wrong. It’s perfectly common for some cycles to vary, especially from one month to the next, and often the issue will resolve itself without any outside assistance.
You might have an irregular period if:
- The length of your menstrual cycle keeps changing
- Your menstrual cycle occurs less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
- You often miss periods entirely
- You experience unusually light or heavy bleeding
- Your periods last for longer than 7 days
- Your periods come with painful cramping, severe nausea, or vomiting
- You find that you’re having issues with bleeding or spotting between periods, after menopause, or following sex
Types of irregular period
When looking at them scientifically, irregular periods can be split up into different types:
- Abnormal uterine bleeding, which refers to a number of different menstrual issues, from longer, heavier periods, to spotting between periods, after sex, and after menopause
- Amenorrhea, a medical condition in which a person’s periods have stopped completely. It’s also the condition diagnosed if a teen hasn’t started menstruating by the age of 16
- Dysmenorrhea, which is often diagnosed if the person’s periods are extremely painful, with terrible cramping and other symptoms
- Oligomenorrhea, which is the case when a person’s periods happen infrequently
With some of these different types, it’s totally possible to still have all of the symptoms of a period, but to never have it actually come along. If you’ve had all of the period symptoms but no period and you’re anxious about why, take a look at our blog post.
We’re confident it’ll have all the info you need, so you can take the next step towards getting it back to normal (if it’s not already normal and natural for you, of course!).
Common causes of irregular periods
There are many reasons you might be experiencing sudden irregular periods, or even reasons you might have never had regular periods at all. We’ve made a list of some of the most common causes here, so you can either rule them out and relax or think about them a little more as possibilities:
- Stress (often the main cause of irregular periods)
- Early pregnancy (take a pregnancy test if you need to, to rule this out)
- Breastfeeding The start of the menopause (this usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55)
- Hormonal contraceptives and birth control, like the contraceptive pill or having an intrauterine system (IUS) fitted A medical condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, or problems with your thyroid
- Extreme weight loss (this might be experienced with eating disorders or excessive exercise)
- Extreme weight gain (which may be caused by a lack of exercise or medical conditions)
- Uterine fibroids or polyps (harmless growths)
- Premature ovarian insufficiency (a condition in people under 40 whose ovaries don’t function like they should. They may get sudden irregular periods or they may just stop, like the menopause)
Less common causes of irregular periods
We understand that these less common causes of irregular periods might not be something you want to think about, but it can be important to get them ruled out for your health and peace of mind. It’s more than likely that they’re not the cause of your own irregular menstrual cycle, but you’ll feel a whole lot safer and more secure if you know it for definite.
Some other causes of sudden irregular periods include:
- Uterine or cervical cancer
- Changing medications (particularly if you’re starting steroids or blood thinners)
- Complications that come with pregnancy
As always, if you’re ever feeling nervous or unsure about anything that might be happening with your body, the best thing you can do is have a chat with your doctor or healthcare provider. They’ll be able to provide the expert advice and reassurance you need.
Can I have irregular periods after the delivery of a baby?
It’s completely possible for you to have irregular periods after the delivery of a baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding. This is because the hormones that support breastfeeding can also cause the body to delay ovulation.
It’s also natural and nothing to be worried about if you find that your periods are heavier after pregnancy and childbirth, or there’s more or less cramping than usual, or there are small blood clots in your flow.
If anything has changed after the birth that concerns you, or you have any more questions about periods after pregnancy, you should always talk to your midwife, health visitor, or your GP. They’ll provide the professional care and understanding you need at a time when you could be feeling that little bit more sensitive.
What about irregular spotting?
Many of the things we’ve described above can also cause irregular spotting between periods, though the main cause is usually starting up a new hormonal contraceptive routine. It’s common to spot for the first few months when you start any of the following:
- The combined oral contraceptive pill
- The progestogen-only contraceptive pill
- The contraceptive patch (transdermal patch)
- The contraceptive implant or injection
- The intrauterine system (IUS)
You might also bleed a little bit in between your periods if you miss any of your pills, have a problem with a patch or vaginal ring, or are on the Pill but end up getting sick or having diarrhoea. There’s no need to panic, if any of these are the case!
You might also find that you’ve got irregular spotting between periods if:
- You’ve recently taken the emergency contraceptive pill
- You’ve had an injury to your vagina (including from penetrative sex)
- You have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- You have recently had an abortion (please get in touch with a doctor if you’re bleeding heavily)
- You’ve recently experienced a miscarriage
- You’ve been having issues with your hormones
- You’ve recently been under a lot of pressure and finding yourself stressed
- You’re experiencing vaginal dryness
- Your body has undergone changes to the neck of the womb (cervical ectropion or cervical erosion ‒ both are harmless)
- You tend to get harmless uterine fibroids or polyps
When to talk to your doctor
If you’re still going through puberty, or if having irregular periods is (ironically) regular for you, then you probably won’t need to talk to your doctor. However, you should book in some time to go and have a friendly and beneficial chat with them if:
- You’ve suddenly gotten irregular periods and you’re under the age of 45
- You have periods more often than ever 21 days or less often than every 35 days
- Your periods are longer than 7 days at a time
- You have missed more than two or three periods in a row
- There’s a big difference (at least 20 days) between your shortest menstrual cycle and and your longest
- You want to get pregnant but you have irregular periods
- You’ve had spotting or abnormal vaginal bleeding after going through the menopause
- You experience overwhelming pain during or between periods You’re bleeding extremely heavily or passing large blood clots
- You’ve got an abnormal or bad-smelling vaginal discharge
- You’ve got a high fever
- You’ve had nausea or vomiting during your period
- You’ve had any other symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, such as diarrhoea, fainting, or dizziness
What can a doctor do for irregular periods?
When you go to your doctor or health provider for advice and info on irregular periods, they should always start by asking about your usual menstrual cycle and your medical history. They’ll probably then perform a physical examination, including a pelvic examination and sometimes a smear test (we know, it’ll be uncomfortable, but it could also be worth it).
Your doctor might also want further tests, cultures, biopsies, and ultrasounds carried out to check for issues like infections, growths, or hormonal imbalances. But these will all depend on individual cases, so you shouldn’t feel the need to fret or get distressed about any of them before you know you need them. They may not apply to you, after all!
Once your doctor has made their diagnosis, there should then be a range of treatment options. These include:
- Regulating your menstrual cycle with hormones such as oestrogen
- Advising on pain medication, like ibuprofen
- Arranging surgery to remove growths like polyps and fibroids
Tips and tricks you can use to help yourself
If you’d like to be more active and involved with looking after your body and keeping your menstrual cycle on the right track, there are even a few things you can do in your day-to-day life that might help:
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with moderate exercise and a balanced diet
- Gradually losing weight (not drastically) if your periods are irregular due to lack of exercise or a poor diet
- Making sure you’re getting plenty of rest and relaxation
- Keeping your stress levels low wherever possible
- Cutting back on more extreme exercise routines if you are an athlete
- Starting to wean your baby off breast milk (either onto a bottle feed, or onto solid foods)
- Using your contraceptive methods as directed by your doctor
- Changing tampons and sanitary pads regularly (every four to six hours) to prevent toxic shock syndrome and to keep away infections
- Visiting your doctor regularly for checkups, chats, and advice
Never be surprised by irregular periods or spotting again
We know exactly how it feels to suddenly find you’re bleeding when you wouldn’t normally be, and we want to spare you the trouble and the awkward embarrassment of being “caught short”. That’s why we’ve got a variety of gorgeous, super-soft period pants for you to choose from!
No matter what style or flow you decide on, you’re guaranteed a comfy fit that keeps you safe and secure from all kinds of leaks, including unexpected menstrual flow and spotting. Best of all, as soon as you’re done with a pair you can bung them straight in the wash so they’re clean and ready for next time! They’re completely eco-friendly and so much more renewable than pads or tampons!
Why not start off with a couple of pairs that you can wear around the usual time of your period, see what happens, and go from there? We’ll even help you set up a payment in instalments, if this works better for your budget.