5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | October 29, 2020
While even the best period tracking app in the world can’t protect you from *all* surprises, I’m always surprised when I talk to people and they say they don’t track their periods at all (Yes, I do have enough conversations about menstruation on the reg to form an actual opinion about this.) Usually, they say, they know the general time of the month they should expect to have their period products at the ready, or their period is light enough that they can catch it before leaking.
I totally get it, I used to be a totally chaotic person that just, like, let my period happen. It wasn’t even leaks that convinced me to do otherwise, it was actually PMS symptoms. At my annual, I told my gynecologist I was experiencing menstrual cramps and light spotting at random times during the month, and the internet said I either had PCOS or cancer. When she asked me when my last period started, I took a little too long to make up a date.
“You don’t really track your period, do you?” she asked me bluntly, laughing.
She recommended I start, and also to note down when in the month I was experiencing the cramps and spotting. As it turns out, they weren’t random at all, they always occurred around Day 13-15 of my cycle — they were signs of ovulation.
I’ve continued to track my period since then, and I feel like I understand so much more about what my body is doing. It’s still a surprise to find out how much your menstrual cycle affects everything else. (Most recently, after 3 months of consistently timed headaches that are growing in intensity, I’ve realized that menstrual migraines is a new PMS symptom I get to add to my roster.)
Here are some other, science-backed benefits to ~getting to know your flow~ and simple steps to get started.
Even though my story is much more about the symptoms surrounding my period than my actual period, knowing when you are going to menstruate is helpful in itself. If you think your periods are irregular, you may find after jotting down your Day 1 for a few months that your cycle length may just be shorter or longer. After all, while the average cycle length is 28 days, it can vary from 21 to 35 days. (I’m a 31 day gal, personally!) In turn, cycle length can also inform when the phases of your menstrual cycle begin and end, which is useful info if you need to know when you ovulate, whether that’s to get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant.
Keeping a calendar for your period and your PMS symptoms will also help at the doctor’s office. Irregularities to your period could be indicating a health condition like thyroid or liver issues, diabetes, or a menstrual disorder. Or, it could just be a normal thing your body is doing, like mine sounding a dramatic alarm before I ovulate. Knowing what your normal is will help you and your doctor make informed decisions about your care. Even things like scheduling Pap tests — you get the clearest results if it’s done the week after your period, when your cervical fluid is the thinnest. The more you know!
It might seem straightforward, and it kinda is — it’s basically up to you how dedicated you think you need to be.
Noting Day 1 of your period (which is also Day 1 of your menstrual cycle) every month is a good start. If you suspect irregularities to your cycle or PMS symptoms, it’s also a good idea to start monitoring those. Here are a few other details that might be worth noting.
cycle length, which is the length of time between your Day 1s.
how many days you actually bleed, and whether your flow is light, medium, or heavy (remember that means different things for different folks!)
your PMS symptoms, and when they occur during your cycle
Tracking your period doesn’t have to be complicated. You should prioritize choosing a method that is easy for you to access, keep up to date, and you know you’ll actually stick with. For me, that’s an Excel spreadsheet I keep pinned on my phone, my boyfriend’s phone, and my laptop—one column for cycle length, one column for period days, and one column for PMS symptoms—but I get pretty intense about this stuff, if you haven’t been able to tell.
Here are a couple simple and dare-I-say fun ways to keep track of your flow:
the notes app on your phone, if you’ve read the same articles about period tracking apps selling your data that I have
an old school paper calendar
Now that I’ve shared this much detail about my cycle with you, please do the same! What’s your preferred method of tracking your period? Have you learned anything interesting about your body this way? Share with us in the comments.
by Toni Brannagan