Menstruation is defined as the shedding of the endometrial (innermost) lining of the uterus which occurs in the form of bleeding. This extends from 3 to 5 days. It is also described as “weeping of uterus for the lost ovum (egg cell)”
The onset of menstruation is called as menarche which occurs around age 12 to 15.
Menopause marks the end of the occurrence of the menstrual cycle which begins approximately around age 50
The biological changes that take place during menstruation – Understanding why menstruation occurs
In order to understand menstruation, it is important to understand the changes that occur during the menstrual cycle in a women’s body. Every month, there are natural periodic changes that occur in the female reproductive system which are divided into four stages which make up the menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle consists of changes that occur simultaneously in the ovaries and uterus due to the result of fluctuating hormonal levels.
The four stages of the menstrual cycle are-
- The bleeding phase (1 to 5 days) includes the shedding of the endometrial lining (the innermost layer of the uterus) which results when the ovum is not fertilized.
- The proliferative phase (6 to 13 days) comprises of a spike in the hormonal levels which leads to the development of the endometrial lining and the follicle inside the ovary.
- The ovulatory phase (Day 14) is when the Graafian follicle inside the ovary is ruptured and ovum is released. This ovum is viable for fertilization only for 24 to 48 hours. The day of ovulation depends on the length of the menstrual cycle (i.e the number of days in the menstrual cycle – 14) It is during this phase that fertilization occurs.
- The luteal phase (Day 15 to Day 28) comprises of a drop in the hormonal levels, the ruptured Graafian follicle forms the corpus luteum which is maintained for a while. Corpus Luteum releases a hormone called as progesterone which holds the thickness of the endometrial lining for fertilization. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum degenerates into a white structure called as Corpus albicans.
Symptoms that occur during menstruation
Menstruation is more than just the bleeding, there are other physical and psychological changes that occur in a woman’s body during the whole process due to fluctuating hormones.
Physical changes commonly experienced during menstruation include –
- Acne outbursts
- Abdominal pain
- Lower back pain
- Breast soreness
Cravings and emotions in overdrive during menstruation (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome has been described as a condition where a woman’s emotions and behaviour are affected during the menstrual cycle. This causes mood swings, food cravings and irritability.
“3 in every 4 women experience PMS”
Dealing with different mood swings is extremely challenging which can leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of control. It can lead to heightened levels of anger, excitement, arousal or sadness. Insomnia also occurs quite often.
Studies have found that the food cravings occur due to the rise in the progesterone levels in the body which is associated with a bigger appetite.
Fluctuating changes in the estrogen and progesterone levels during the menstrual cycle also influences the serotonin levels in the body (a neurotransmitter that controls and regulates our mood and is responsible for feelings of happiness).These changes in the serotonin levels are responsible for the mood swings that are commonly experienced.
Menstrual hygiene and management
Having your period should not interfere with your everyday life. With the increasing technology, period products are now accessible worldwide and are constantly improvising. There are now a range of products that can keep you comfortable and maximize your convenience.
Some of the common products available out there include-
- Sanitary pads– little napkins that absorb the blood flow during menstruation. They are available in different types and sizes depending upon the absorbency level and blood flow.
- Tampons– small cylindrical, plug- shaped products designed to fit inside your vagina which absorbs vaginal secretions and menstrual flow. They come with an applicator which helps you insert and place it inside the vagina. Tampons are available in different sizes. Heavier the flow, the bigger your tampon should be. Tampons are more convenient and flexible to use. They aren’t visible from the outside and if placed properly, you don’t feel them. (Note- it should be changed every 6 to 8 hours max)
- Menstrual cups – flexible silicon or rubber shaped cup devices placed inside the vagina to collect blood. It forms and seal and rests against your vaginal walls. They create a vacuum which collects all the blood inside the cup. Most menstrual cups are reusable and hence eco-friendly. They come in different sizes and can stay in for longer up to 12 hours depending on your blood flow. Menstrual cups are now emerging as the best to hold menstrual blood and are now preferred over tampons and sanitary pads
Myths and common misconceptions around menstruation
The primary cause for all the restrictions levied on women stems from the common myth and misconception that looks upon period flow as a symbol of impurity and un-hygiene.
Due to prevailing misconceptions around menstruation in the society, women are excluded from certain social and cultural activities during their menstrual flow. In certain cultures, women are restricted from religious practices and worshipping God during their period flow. Sometimes women are even prohibited from indulging in cooking.
In traditional societies, there has been a myth that menstrual blood is used by evil spirits and hence burning of the menstrual cloth was essential to prevent them from being used by evil spirits or for black magic.
One of the most common modern misconception about menstruation prevailing in the society today is that tampons and menstrual cups will break your hymen making you impure (Hymen is a fleshy tissue that covers your vaginal opening, it only stretches and does not break.)
The notion of period syncing (two women spending enough time together get their periods at the same time) is also found to be prevailing in the society. Research has proven this notion to be inaccurate and is considered to be purely coincidental.
Putting an end to the period-stigma
Bodyform tampon ad – breaking through the stigma
Menstruation is a naturally occurring process in a healthy female body and is not something to be ashamed of. A period flow can be messy and inconvenient but one shouldn’t be embarrassed or shameful about it. The stigma around menstruation still persists in the society. It is associated with shame and secrecy. Women experience an intense fear of staining in public and this is looked upon as a scene of embarrassment.
So why all the silence around menstruation?
And why all the sneaking around of menstrual products?
Speaking about menstruation openly and putting an end to all the secrecy is the only way to normalize it and eradicate the stigma and gender inequality coming along with menstruation.