What is menstruation?

Sexuality   ›   Puberty  ›   What is menstruation?

Menstruation begins for the first time during puberty, and occurs once a month. These bodily changes can be unsettling, but they are perfectly normal. Discover why you menstruate, what it's like, and what PMS is.

Menstruation, sometimes referred to as a “period,” is the discharge of blood through the vagina, which occurs about once a month. It begins during puberty and indicates that the individual is now capable of reproduction.


Why do we menstruate?

At puberty, the body prepares itself for reproduction by producing an egg every month. The endometrium, a layer of tissue that lines the uterus, thickens with extra blood vessels in preparation for the possible implantation of an egg. If the egg is not fertilized by sperm, the endometrium sheds from the uterus, causing bleeding.


Can I be pregnant if I have my period?

No. If you get your period as usual, it means that you are not pregnant. During pregnancy, some people have mild spotting, but this is quite rare. When in doubt, a pregnancy test is the best way to get an accurate answer.


What happens if I get pregnant?

During unprotected penis-vagina intercourse, there is a possibility of the egg being fertilized by sperm. When this occurs, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the endometrium. Menstruation does not occur during pregnancy, since the endometrium remains in place to supply oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and assist in its development. 


When does menstruation begin?

On average, a person’s first menstrual period will occur between the ages of 10 and 14. However it can also happen earlier or later. Generally, it returns every 24 to 38 days, but can be irregular in the first years as the body undergoes several changes. It is therefore completely normal if you have a hard time predicting the start of your period at first. On average, it lasts about 3 to 8 days. Around age 40 to 50, menstruation stops altogether. This is called menopause.


What is menstruation like?

In the first days, blood and tissue can appear brown, and then become either bright or dark red. You might also see slimy clumps in your blood. These are called clots, and they are perfectly normal.


That said, all periods are different. They can be shorter or longer, heavy or light, can come with cramps and other physical symptoms, or none at all. You might also notice changes in your period if you start or change hormonal birth control methods. If you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional such as the school nurse or your family doctor.


How much blood do you lose on your period?

The amount of blood lost varies from one person to another, and sometimes, from one period to another. On average, you lose 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood per month, but again, blood loss can be more or less abundant from one person to the next.


In any case, there’s no need to worry! This quantity is minimal compared to the volume of blood in your body. Plus, there are tampons, pads, menstrual underwear and menstrual cups adapted to all types of flows: light, moderate, or heavy.


What is PMS?

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome: these are temporary symptoms that appear a few days before the start of your period. They only last a few days and are totally natural.


The most common indicators of PMS are:


  •   Mood swings: your mood changes quickly
  •   Tender breasts
  •   Stomach pains
  •   Menstrual cramps


You might experience one or many of these symptoms, and others exist as well. To learn more, click here.


Symptoms and their intensity vary from one person to the next. A good way to get to know your body is to note down your observations, get used to these reactions, and better identify them the next time around.


However, if you feel that your symptoms are preventing you from enjoying your daily activities or are severely affecting you, it is important to see a healthcare professional.


How does menstruation affect my everyday life?

In most cases, you can continue your normal activities and hobbies as usual, such as playing sports and swimming. Different types of sanitary protection can help you feel more comfortable during your period. These include tampons, pads, menstrual underwear, and menstrual cups. Try out a few to find what works best for you. You can find them in pharmacies, in some public restrooms, and in some schools. If you have severe pain during your period or are experiencing very heavy bleeding that prevents you from enjoying your everyday activities, be sure to speak with a medical professional. There are various solutions that can help.


Can I get pregnant on my period?

Yes. If your cycle is irregular or on the shorter side, ovulation can occur near the end of your last period. Since sperm can survive in your uterus for up to five days, it might still be present when you ovulate, resulting in pregnancy. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, it’s best to use a contraception method.


When to seek medical attention

It is important to see a healthcare professional if:


  •   You have abnormally heavy bleeding
  •   You are no longer getting your period 📅
  •   You have severe headaches, stomach aches, or back pain
  •   You feel nauseous before or during your period 🤢
  •   You feel a burning or tingling sensation inside your vagina 🔥
  •   Your vagina has an unpleasant smell 😬


Source: La Société des obstétriciens et gynécologues du Canada