What is a period?

What is a period?

Every month an egg is released into your womb from an ovary. This egg attaches itself to the womb lining, ready to be fertilised by sperm. If the egg is not fertilised, your body sheds the lining it has prepared and gets ready to start again next month. This cycle is called the menstrual cycle and the lining appears as blood from your vagina, which is called your period.

Bleeding can last anywhere from 2 to 7 days and can be light, heavy, short, long or intermittent.  Your period can start anywhere between the ages of 8 and 17 and is likely to be quite irregular at first. Everyone is different.

What to expect

What to expect

During your menstrual cycle, you will have different levels of hormones in your body and it’s only natural that this will have an effect on how you feel. Mood swings, stomach cramps, bloating, headaches, feeling tired or sad or angry a few days before your period starts are all very common. This is called pre-menstrual tension (PMT or PMS).

The amount of blood and its colour will vary depending on how heavy your period is. It may seem as though you are losing a lot of blood but the average is 6 – 8 teaspoons. The blood may be red, pink, brown or black.

When you get your period, it doesn’t mean that you will bleed constantly until it finishes. It’s very usual to bleed for a bit, then stop and then bleed a bit more.

Everyone is different. If your periods are very heavy or very painful then talk to your family doctor  about what they can do to help.

What might help

What might help

Gentle exercise and stretching can help to relieve bloating and stomach cramps. Holding a hot water bottle (or a wheat bag) over your tummy, a hot bath or taking pain killers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help as well.

Being prepared

Being prepared

If you are just starting your period or going through puberty it can be hard to predict when your period will occur. Having some spare underwear and some sanitary towels with you will help. If you are at school, let your teacher know. This may feel embarrassing, especially if you have a male teacher, but they will be used to this and won’t make a fuss.

Sanitary products

Sanitary products

To find out your size, look at the top of the chart above to find your shape and on the left of the chart to find your flow, and then pick the right number based on where those two points meet on the grid. For example, if you wear a medium and have light flow, we recommend Size 1. But if you have heavy flow, we recommend Size 3. For extra night protection you can use Size 4. The better the fit, the better it protects.

Other types and brands of sanitary products are available.

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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

How to access our service:

We have now implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Please contact our services to access this triage system. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus please do not attend the clinic. Clear advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus is available at nhs.uk/coronavirus .

Advice from our service:

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception during this pandemic here.

More details on the fitting of LARCs (coils and implants) at our service can be found here

If you need the combined contraceptive pill please try (if you can) to get updated measurements of your height, weight and blood pressure before calling us.

There is also specific advice on coronavirus available for People Living with HIV here, and for pregnant women here

Self-requested Sexual Health screening by post is available for for under 25s only - more info here

For others with testing requirements please contact the service on 0300 303 3989.

Alternative provision:

Please be aware that we may have to cancel, rearrange or shut clinical services in response to changing clinical and staffing pressures created by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - at your local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV postal testing - available to at-risk groups for a small fee -  more info
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info