So you’ve been menstruating for a while now and things seem to be going pretty well, but do you ever stop and wonder — are there things I should know about my period blood? Is it trying to tell me something? And how do I know if my periods are ~normal~ or not?
We were curious about all these things, too, so we chatted with a couple of experts to find out exactly what to look for in “healthy” menstrual blood, and how to know if our bodies are sending us a message.
The two menstrual authorities we interviewed — women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider, and Dr. Alyssa Dweck, author of the forthcoming book The Complete A to Z of the V — both wanted one thing clear up front: “normal” varies widely from person to person, and women know their own bodies best. So if your periods don’t match up exactly with what we outline here, but they’re the same every month, you’re probably more than fine.
1. When it comes to color, there’s a huge “normal” range.
If your blood is on the red spectrum, you’re in the normal range. Says Dr. Wider, “What may be normal for one woman may be different for another. The color can range from pink to bright red to dark red to brown and all be in the realm of normal.”
If the color of your blood changes, though, that could be cause for concern. “Really thin, watery — but still bloody — but very watery blood can signal anemia,” says Dr. Dweck. “Women will notice this and not even realize they’re noticing it. They’ll say, ‘Oh my god, my period is so watery, and I feel kind of light-headed and dizzy.'”
2. In terms of texture, some clots are normal — even though you might not always notice them.
The texture of your blood will change throughout your period, says Dr. Wider, but typically it should be a liquid consistency and may contain clots that are smaller than a quarter, especially on your heaviest days.
“Clots always freak people out,” Dr. Dweck says. “[However] with so many women and young women turning toward Diva Cups now, we’ll see more people actually recognizing that they’re having some clots.”
So don’t panic!
3. There are flow-related red flags to watch out for.
Also, if you’re suddenly bleeding in between periods, that could signal the presence of a uterine polyp (a benign growth). And if your flow is suddenly way heavier than usual, that could signal a thyroid issue or other hormonal change. Finally, changes in your cycle’s regularity could be one indication that you’re suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and need to get checked out.
4. If your period blood smells abnormal, pay attention.
According to Dr. Dweck, abnormal-smelling blood could signal an infection. And no, period blood doesn’t smell like a warm spring day (despite what the tampon commercials would have us believe) but it does have a smell that’s normal for you — and if that changes, you should seek medical advice.
While you are an expert on your own body and will best be able to gauge what odors are normal for you, there are some specific, atypical smells to watch out for. If your menstrual blood suddenly becomes smells fishy, damp or musty, or rotten, then you might want to schedule a visit with your OB-GYN.
5. Period tracker apps are your friend.
“I love tracker apps,” Dr. Dweck says. “[They] put somebody in charge of their period and give so much information, and make people more aware of what their bodies are like on a monthly basis.”
She prefers apps that track how many days you bleed for, and how often you’re bleeding, adding that such information is particularly helpful in the doctor’s office. Plus, she says, tracking your moods, cramps, and other PMS symptoms can help women to prepare for their cycles “by changing their diets, sleep patterns, or exercise habits a couple of days beforehand. They can put that into their app and then take care of that problem before it ever starts.”
6. If you’re pregnant and see blood, you might not need to panic.
There’s one situation when a pregnant woman might see blood and have nothing to worry about (which we’ll get to in a second). But, says Dr. Dweck, “I always put a disclaimer: Bleeding during pregnancy should be addressed by your healthcare provider. With that said, a lot of women [who are] early in pregnancy will stain or bleed after intercourse. Oftentimes they come in frantic, of course, just to find that the cervix is more delicate during early pregnancy.”
However, Dr. Dweck points out, staining or bleeding early in pregnancy can also sometimes signal a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy — which is a non-viable pregnancy that develops outside of the uterus — so if you’re expecting and you see blood, talk to your doctor.