Most of us have been there - you’re going about your daily business and a heavy or unexpected (often both) period decides to make a surprise appearance. Here’s why and how a freeing form of period protection could help
Periods - we have on average 2400 days of menstruation in our lifetimes, which you’d think would suffice, but sometimes our period sees fit to put in an unexpected (read: uninvited) appearance when we weren’t expecting it, typically on the day that we chose to wear a very Liz Hurley-esque pair of white jeans or during a particularly crucial exam or board meeting. Here’s why your period could be arriving impromptu, what to do if it does (other than legging it to the ladies) and when to see a doctor.
You’ve just started your period
Intimina Expert Juanita Salcedo highlights that irregular or erratic periods are most commonly linked to “hormonal swings and changes”, and puberty is one such period of hormonal upheaval (literally). In your first few years of menstruation cycles tend to be longer, and given that it's an anxious time anyway without the sudden appearance of unpredictable periods on the scene, finding a period protection solution that gives you peace of mind where leaking is concerned is often especially important.
The 'starter' menstrual cup
The Intimina Lily Cup One was designed specifically for women under 25 - it’s very soft, made of medical grade silicone and smaller than your average menstrual cup, allowing easier and comfortable insertion every time. The extra firm ring ensures that it fits in place easily with no risk of leaking, and the removal loop offers peace of mind in that you’ll never endure that ‘lost tampon’ panic - not something in reality that you need to worry about but a tampon string going AWOL can be a particular source of anxiety if you’re new to this period thing.
Also advantageous vs. other methods of period protection is the fact that the Lily Cup One can be worn for up to 12 hours no matter what your flow, so you can forget about it during the school or working day, and when you do come to removing it it folds flat into a protective case - it won't be swimming around in your bag for all to see. Just rinse with boiling water or wash with a purpose designed intimate rinse to keep it clean and extend its life. Speaking of which, unlike tampons and pads that often end up in landfill, the Lily Cup One is eco-friendly and reusable, not to mention cost-effective - it’s £18 but can last four years or longer, depending on how well you look after yours. If you notice any discolouration, weird smells or yours is misshapen, it's probably time for a new cup.
As for your menstrual cycle getting in the swing, the best way to assess what’s normal for you and better predict when your period will arrive is to keep a diary. It won’t be the most thrilling journal of your life, granted, but noting the start date and end date of your period every month, along with your flow, PMS symptoms or anything unusual can help you to both get a better picture of your unique cycle and your overall health. A period tracking app can make the process quicker and easier but pen and paper works just as well.
You’ve changed or come off your contraception
Finding a contraceptive method to suit you can often feel like hormonal roulette, whereby all sorts of physical and emotional turmoil can occur before you establish a solution that works across the board. Periods dropping in on you from out of the blue can be one side-effect of starting, changing or coming off of hormonal contraception, with IUDs and progesterone only pills in particular known to cause heavy or irregular periods in some women. Coming off of hormonal contraception is also known to trigger a heavier than average flow and inconsistent cycles as your body gets back to its natural hormonal balance.
See your doctor if contraceptive related period irregularity continues beyond the three month mark, but otherwise having reliable period protection such as a menstrual cup to hand during times of hormonal contraceptive transition will help to negate some of the hassle should your period pop up seemingly out of nowhere.
You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
It’s easy to mistake spotting during early pregnancy as lighter, irregular periods, so take a pregnancy test to rule out that particular possibility. If you’ve just had a baby or are breastfeeding it’s very common for periods to be late and heavier than is normal for you owing to the fact that the hormones implicated in producing breast milk affect your menstrual cycle. You may experience spotting, clotting or cramping when your periods begin again.
The menstrual cup for after you've had a baby
As far as protection goes, adjust your normal period products as required or try a purpose designed menstrual cup. Intimina Lily Cup B was created with postnatal women in mind in particular - it can be rolled as thin as a tampon yet is specialised to suit a heavier flow. It’s also ideally designed if you have a high cervix or weak pelvic floor (whether you’ve had a baby or not) thanks to its slanted rim. If you find initial insertion uncomfortable, you can try cutting the stem of the cup to suit the length of your vagina and height of your cervix, and as with all other Intimina menstrual cups it offers up to 12 hours of protection and is both eco-friendly and cost-effective. It's currently available exclusively at Sainsbury's so easy to get hold of.
You’re in the perimenopause
The hormonal roller coaster rides on, this time because oestrogen levels begin to drop pre-menopause (typically between the years of 45 and 55), often causing a heavier flow and out of whack menstrual cycle. A period cup can be beneficial in this situation as it’s easy to keep on you and adapts to all flows, as opposed to ‘graded’ tampons and pads. If you’re experiencing extremely heavy or irregular bleeding visit your GP who may be able to offer hormonal testing and medication to adjust your hormonal balance and prevent heavy and ‘out of nowhere’ periods from making life miserable . Speaking of which...
You’re under stress
That period coming on the scene mid-exam scenario? As most women are aware it’s not some kind of urban legend but officially a thing because excessive stress can disturb your menstrual cycle, making an early or late period a lovely side-effect of being stressed out. Everything from mindfulness to getting enough sleep to practising some gentle yoga can help to get stress levels and hormones back on an even keel, as can keeping a regular journal in tandem with your menstrual cycle diary - you may notice a high stress/ erratic period pattern emerging. Exercise can be a brilliant stress and menstrual cramp reliever, so try one of these seven exercises for mental health, although bear in mind that excessive exercise can also cause periods to stop and start so don’t go overboard in the gym. If nothing else, try GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s guide to fixing stress in the real world (i.e, when that exam is non-negotiable and you can’t simply scarper to the Maldives).
You’ve lost or gained weight
Just as emotional stress can alter your regular menstrual cycle, so dramatic physical change can affect the timing and flow of your period. Seek medical advice if your periods have stopped or have been irregular for three months or more and you suspect that weight loss or gain is the cause.
You had sex recently
Now this is a strange one and not a million miles from the ‘period beginning in the exam hall’ situation, but clearly a more intimate yet equally awkward occurrence. While there is no conclusive explanation for why your period may begin mid or just after sex, doctors, sex education specialists and authors of The Wonder Down Under Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl explain why your period popping in in the heat of the moment does make sense from a biological POV (a romantic one, not so much):
“The first potential cause is the cramps theory. Muscle contractions in the uterus push out period blood, but cramps can be caused by other things too. What we’re talking about here is the orgasm, the sexual climax in which the entire sexual apparatus, including the uterus, contracts in fabulous waves. It's possible that an orgasm may kickstart a period that’s imminent.”
The other possible ‘surprise’ period instigator is, as you’ll probably be getting used to by now, hormonal. Brochmann and Støkken Dahl give their take on this one:
"When we have sex, the body releases a hormone called oxytocin, often referred to as the pleasure hormone. Oxytocin is involved in triggering childbirth and it stimulates contractions so it’s pretty serious stuff. As if the orgasm alone wasn’t enough, oxytocin can also cause the uterus to contract thereby pushing out blood.”
Finally, there’s the physical action of having sex which can apparently “cause menstrual blood that’s accumulated inside the vagina to come out when the ‘floodgates open’.” All in all, a slightly horrifying mental image but you’re definitely not alone if this has happened to you, and it’s nothing that a hot wash and scoop of Vanish can’t take care of. The only red flag is an unsympathetic partner - if they make you feel in any way ashamed or embarrassed, it could be time to rethink your bedfellow.
You’ve got PCOS
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects a fifth of women in the UK and irregular periods are a common symptom of the disorder, often alongside excessive bodily hair growth, acne , weight gain, thinning hair on the head and fertility issues. Irregular or particularly heavy bleeding (that’s not normal for you) can also be underlying signs of other medical conditions, so if your periods have been irregular for longer than three months or you’re experiencing pain, periods that last for longer than a week, spotting between periods or you’re struggling to get pregnant, make a GP appointment to be on the safe side.
Intimina products are now available to buy exclusively at Sainsbury's
The feature was written in partnership with Intimina