If your menstrual cycle education was anything like mine, you were given precious little information about what a normal period is supposed to look like, and since your only experience of menstruation is your own, it’s easy to assume that your period is normal and everyone else’s period must be kind of like yours. If so, you’re not alone. This phenomenon actually shows up in the research since women who have heavy periods often report that their periods are light, and women with light periods often report that their periods are heavy.
Ultimately, your opinion of what a heavy or light period looks like is highly subjective, and very much based on your personal experience.
So what’s normal anyways? And where do you fall on that spectrum?
A normal period lasts about 3-6 days, has a bleeding pattern that starts out moderate or heavy, gradually tapers off, and follows a crescendo/decrescendo type bleeding pattern.
You can expect that 90% of your total blood loss will take place within the first 3 days of your period with your second day of bleeding being the heaviest.
What colour should it be?
You can expect your period to be a variant of red. Bright red, deep wine, burgundy, or look something like beet juice. On your light and very light days you can expect to see light pink or brownish coloured bleeding.
Now for the big question…
How much should I be bleeding?
The amount of bleeding you have will vary and definitely isn’t the same from woman to woman, but even with individual differences taken into account a normal range of bleeding has been identified.
Although the specific range of “normal” will vary a bit depending on which study you’re looking at, a normal period ranges from about 25 to 80mL of bleeding. This is the total amount if you were to measure all of your bleeding from the first to the last day of your period.
The average amount of bleeding between women ranges from about 35 to 50mL over the course of their menstrual cycle (2 – 3 menstrual cups full), and the upper limit of 80mL is used to define what’s normal because women who regularly lose more than 80mL of blood during their periods tend to have an increased likelihood of developing an iron deficiency.
To put that into perspective 25mL is just under an ounce, and if you use a menstrual cup, you would be able to fill your cup at least once with the total amount of bleeding you had on all the days of your period combined. 80mL means that you’ve filled at least 3 1/2 to 4 menstrual cups over the course of your period.
If you use pads or tampons you can do the math considering that depending on their level of absorbency, you can expect each pad or tampon to hold anywhere from 1mL (very light) to 10mL (super/very heavy) of bleeding.
In my client work I have found that there is a wide variety of bleeding between women. Some women experience much heavier bleeding than the upper normal limit of 80mL and others experience much lighter than the lower limit of 25mL.
An important caveat to mention is that there is no such thing as a “perfect period” or some magical amount of bleeding you’re supposed to have. What’s more important is how healthy your menstrual cycle is overall, and how your period fits into the broader context of your menstrual cycle health.
Why do I bleed so much?
If you find that you regularly have more than 80mL of bleeding during your period, don’t panic. Your period is not necessarily abnormal, but there are a few things you’ll want to consider: Have you been checked for fibroids? Adenomyosis? Endometriosis? Uterine polyps?
There are a number of conditions that are associated with heavy bleeding, and if you find that your period is akin to a great flood of biblical proportions, to the point that you need to change your pad or tampon every hour on the first 2 days of your period (or you have to change your menstrual cup every 2 hours), then it’s worth asking your doctor to do an ultrasound (abdominal and trans vaginal) so you can get a complete view of your reproductive organs (uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, vagina).
Endometriosis is not something that is easy to diagnose unless you have a laparoscopy, but either way, having an ultrasound done is a good starting point on the path to figuring out if your periods are normal.
You’ll also want to have your iron levels checked. Iron is an interesting chicken or egg situation when it comes to heavy bleeding. It makes perfect sense that if your period is extremely heavy you could go on to develop an iron deficiency because you’re loosing so much blood every month, but on the flip side, an iron deficiency can actually cause you to bleed more in the first place.
If you find that your iron is low and you go on to correct that deficiency, you’ll likely see a reduction in the amount of your bleeding.
What if my period is way lighter than normal?
If your period is consistently less than 25mL, you’ll want to take a closer look at your other menstrual cycle parameters to get an overall picture of whether or not your cycle is healthy.
You only have true menstrual bleeding after you ovulate. Your period is a reflection of how effectively your uterine lining has developed over the course of your menstrual cycle in response to your estrogen and progesterone levels.
There are two important stages in the development of your uterine lining: 1) the proliferation of your uterine lining as you approach ovulation, and 2) the maturation of your uterine lining in your postovulatory phase. In order for your uterine lining to develop, grow, and completely mature you need to be pumping out healthy amounts of estrogen and progesterone over the course of your cycle.
If you’re not making enough hormones, (for instance if your progesterone levels are too low), then your lining won’t fully develop and mature to the point that it can support the life of a fertilized egg. If your lining is too thin you won’t be able to get pregnant because the fertilized egg won’t have anywhere to implant.
What does this have to do with my period?
If the total amount of bleeding you have during your period is extremely light, it is a reflection of your hormone levels, and to what extent your endometrial lining has (or hasn’t) fully matured.
An interesting study that examined the relationship between pregnancy and endometrial thickness found that there was a minimum endometrial thickness that was required for pregnancy. The study showed that participants whose endometrial lining was thinner than 7mm did not conceive.
It turns out that too little bleeding can be as big of an issue as too much!
Now I want to hear from you! Where do you fall on the continuum? Do you have heavy periods? Are they light? Are they somewhere in the middle? Did your periods change when you came off the pill? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Thank you for providing this information. You’ve provided a lot of answers to questions I’ve wondered about but have never asked.
Fertility Friday says
My pleasure Karen! Glad you found it useful 🙂
Thanks for the info. I’ve been doing a lot of digging lately on period health. I came off bc almost 6 months ago now and am progressively seeing normalised results. I have made a lot of changes to encourage this though: I now use stm, tracking my bbt with an app, I’ve also cut dairy, gluten and sugar from my diet. After bc I was having very short periods (only 3 days, which I do not consider to be normal), now I’m back up to 6. The colour is nice and bright red for my first 3 days but then changes to a pinkish-brownish colour for the last 2-3 days of lighter/spotty flow. I just wanted to ask if that is normal or if it is a sign of slight blood stagnation or poor circulation?
Thankful for any comments and advice,
Wow, I feel like I just read my own question! I also came off hbc about 5 months ago, cut dairy, gluten, and sugar, and have experienced my first two normal cycles (which I’m tracking too!) my first period was my idea of regular (how I remember my period before hbc) but my most recent one was super light! I think I’ll invest in a menstrual cup so I can assess my blood amount more objectively!
Fertility Friday says
Thanks Madelin! Glad you found it helpful.
Fertility Friday says
Alana, it is normal for spotting to be pink or brown. If you’re concerned about stagnant bleeding or blood flow you’ll enjoy the interview that I did with Rosita Arvigo on Arvigo Therapy and Vaginal Steaming here: http://fertilityfriday.com/18/
Thanks for the info! My periods are really only heavy on day 2, then fairly light to barely anything until day 5, Color is red, dark reddish. I use diva cup but I didn’t think to check amounts. I’ll do that on the next go around. Is this normal? I’ve also been ttc for 5 years w no results. Unexplained infertility is what they say. Cut dairy, gluten, caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Now I’m at day 40 with no period. And not pregnant. Periods can be very confusing sometimes! But I have hope!
My cycle seems to be “normal” however I do pass a lot of clots. Is this normal or should I be concerned?
I kept having lighter and lighter periods each month and now its about 2 days. I checked and it turned out that i have low AMH, 0.7, at age of 24. I can not accept this fact or do anything about it. I would love to hear that there is a way for me to be normal but it’s not possible.
Lately I found my whole night pad is full within an hour and the best days get less but it still fills up half my pad every 3 hours….my excessive bleeding stops on day 4…..
I am now anemic …had a pelvic exam as normal but still get heavy periods…..
That’s exactly what happens to me. I started having this problem @ 2012. I went to the gynecologist, had a sonogram done and they said everything was normal. Fast forward to 2014… I get another sonogram done and they find a fibroid in my uterus. I became severely anemic and every month my period is so painful. I changed my diet. No dairy (eggs, milk, cheese..) and I stopped eating meat and chicken. I eat fish 1-2 times a week. I eat LOTS of vegetables, beans, chickpeas, lentils… I completely changed my diet. I take iron pills and my iron level went from a 7 to an 11 in a month. It’s only been 2 and a half months since my diet change but I have noticed my periods getting better… I exercise at least 3-4 times a week and trying to lower my stress level. I have another sonogram next week to check on my fibroid.. wish me luck!
Very useful information given in the post. Many women face this problem. One of my friend suggested me to use coupe menstruelle cup for excessive bleeding.
Found a scale called the Mansfield-Voda-Jorgensen scale for determining bleeding.; I went from heavy bleeder to a very light bleeder! No hormonal birth control (mum died of breast cancer so Doc refused) but use Norethisterone to delay period when going away.
Heavy bleeder aged 12 to 22 (but thought I was “normal” as I wasn’t affected by nausea/cramps where I had to stay home like some friends).
Like Mina aged 22 my periods started getting lighter every few months. Now aged 30 my last 2 periods were only 2 days long and the bleeding would have amounted to less than a single “normal” pad over that time. It is so light I practically stop when lying down or slouching on the sofa. The cramps are just as excruciating as when I was a heavy bleeder, but they go away after an hour without pain killers.
I did have a blood test 6 years ago when I was 4 days long but classed as “light” flow – it came back normal.
I started charting it appears that I ovulate but I get a temp dip several days before period, accompanied by spotting for 1-6 days before period. As your post suggests I am starting to wonder if I have a hormone (low progesterone) problem. I don’t think I will be able to get pregnant with such little bleeding, but I’m worried the Dr won’t listen until we have tried for a year 🙁
Everyone worries about the heavy end, I have worried every month for 8 years about how light it is, and what is wrong with me, and will I be able to conceive! I will have to check about these AMH levels Mina mentioned.
Perfect! All the things you learn make sense and one information match with other informations. Since I stopped HBC I discoverd I have low progesterone and now low bledding.
Thank you so much! This post was so helpful. I just started using the DivaCup and was worried. I have been diagnosed with Anemia and take iron due to my heavy periods but I am on day 2 and I have filled 2 cups and was panicking. This was extremely helpful, especially for a beginner using the DivaCup.
Hi. I have extremally heavy periods. This one started 16days ago and for first 14days it was just spotting (very annoying) then it started with serious sharp pain on the left, a lot of blood and the clot 10cm in diametr. I am using a cup. 24ml and I need to empty it every about 2h… yeah i know. Thay gives me 124ml per 10h. At night I am using a cup and super larde pad and i am soaked. I went to the doctor once with that when the pain was unberable, she laughed at me saying ‘oh so you have a period’ and say bye. I have to ad I am 30, have 2 kids and kind of know it is not right, those horrible periods started about 6 months ago and I feel like I am constantly bleeding. I dont know if this clot wasnt miscarriage, but if I will call nhs24 (as its weekend) they wont do a thing.
Fertility Friday says
Have you asked your doctor to do an ultrasound to rule out fibroids (or anything related)? Heavy bleeding is indicative of high estrogen, so have a listen to this episode: http://fertilityfriday.com/65 , and also ask to have your iron levels checked if you haven’t. If your doctor won’t support you it’s time to find another.
Joy Rieckman says
I’m 37 and my periods have evolved over time. Use Soft Cup (similar to Diva Cup) after reaction to tampons. Easily could fill cup a day for 4-5 days. Lately very heavy along with iron deficiency. 3-4 cups per day. Only thing that somewhat helps: cranberry pills. Take Vitex for mood depression too
I know you mention periods are typically 3-6 days. Is there concern for a period that is only 2 days but with normal blood loss? My period is typically 2 days with losing 45-50ml over those two days and then maybe a day of spotting. Thanks!
I have always had irregular heavy periods. I have used a cup for a few years now with a back up pad. I recently started charting more and adding up my flow. I am
Noticing total amounts around 170-220ml per period. I had my estrogen checked at cd3 this cycle and it was normal. Knowing that the normal average is 25-80ml this is crazy! I am not a fan of having my period because it is hard to manage. What a breeze a 25ml period would be!
Stephanie Belmont says
I am on day 6. I am bleeding so heavy I am overflowing my cup every single hour. It has kept me up all night. I had to call off of work and I have been on Google for hours. Everything is saying heavy bleeding is having to change your cup every 2-3 hours. I’ve had more than 80ml in just one day! Now I’m scared that something is very wrong. I am in so much pain, I’m nauseous and I am overwhelmed. The soonest appointment I could make is 6 weeks out.
isabell gibson says
what if i have really heavy periods that last for an average of 9-11 days a month, I don’t know when they are coming, and I have blood clots bigger than a silver dollar and I am also just about to be 13 and got my period in june last year and didn’t have it for 8 months but recently got it 2 months ago again?